February 2020, Nonfiction

Games of Deception by Andrew Maraniss

Games of Deception: The True Story of the First US Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler’s Germany by Andrew Maraniss. November 5, 2019. Philomel Books, 217 p. ISBN: 9780525514633.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

On a scorching hot day in July 1936, thousands of people cheered as the U.S. Olympic teams boarded the S.S. Manhattan, bound for Berlin. Among the athletes were the 14 players representing the first-ever U.S. Olympic basketball team. As thousands of supporters waved American flags on the docks, it was easy to miss the one courageous man holding a BOYCOTT NAZI GERMANY sign. But it was too late for a boycott now; the ship had already left the harbor.

1936 was a turbulent time in world history. Adolf Hitler had gained power in Germany three years earlier. Jewish people and political opponents of the Nazis were the targets of vicious mistreatment, yet were unaware of the horrors that awaited them in the coming years. But the Olympians on board the S.S. Manhattan and other international visitors wouldn’t see any signs of trouble in Berlin. Streets were swept, storefronts were painted, and every German citizen greeted them with a smile. Like a movie set, it was all just a facade, meant to distract from the terrible things happening behind the scenes.

This is the incredible true story of basketball, from its invention by James Naismith in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891, to the sport’s Olympic debut in Berlin and the eclectic mix of people, events and propaganda on both sides of the Atlantic that made it all possible. Includes photos throughout, a Who’s-Who of the 1936 Olympics, bibliography, and index.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism



Booklist starred (September 1, 2019 (Vol. 116, No. 1))
Grades 7-10. Basketball—which, after its invention in 1891 Springfield, MA, quickly became beloved worldwide—was not an Olympic sport until it debuted at the 1936 games in Berlin. The story of how it came to be showcased as an exhibition in front of the Nazi hierarchy makes for an interesting saga, especially since journalist Maraniss doesn’t gloss over the various controversies behind the event’s conception, including the role played by U.S. racism and antisemitism. American teams of the 1930s were segregated, so no African Americans would be running up and down the court in Germany, even as the Olympics were dominated by track star Jesse Owens. Avery Brundage, the American Olympic Committee president, was untroubled by efforts to boycott the games and spoke glowingly of their Nazi hosts. Even so, ironies abounded: the American team included players as well as a founder of Jewish background. Maraniss weaves these various stories into that of basketball’s inventor, James Naismith, who helped hand out medals in Berlin. The milieu of the games, the way the Nazis covered up their human-rights transgressions while showing readiness for war, makes a fascinating tale for history lovers, and the heavy use of historic photographs will draw readers in. Given its widely appealing combination of sports and history, this is a must for all library collections.

Kirkus Reviews (September 1, 2019)
Political events surrounding the 1936 Olympics intersect with the evolution of basketball in this outstanding history. The first game of basketball was played in 1891 without nets or dribbling. Created by James Naismith as an indoor winter activity that would support Muscular Christianity, early participants from the YMCA training program in Springfield, Massachusetts, soon spread the new game worldwide. When basketball was added as a sport in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Hitler saw it as an opportunity to showcase German might and athletic superiority. Meanwhile, American basketball players were holding fundraisers to help with travel costs while many Americans were calling for a boycott of the games altogether. Maraniss (Strong Inside, 2016, etc.) includes little-known facts about basketball, brutal information about Nazi Germany, and the harsh realities of blatant racism in the U.S. and Germany alike. The U.S. basketball team was all white; despite feeling conflicted by rampant anti-Semitism on both sides of the Atlantic, one Jewish player still chose to compete. Written with the captivating voice of a color commentator and the sobriety of a historian, Maraniss peppers readers with anecdotes, statistics, and play-by-play action, shining a spotlight on names found only in the footnotes of history while making it painfully clear that racism affected both politics and sport, tarnishing, a bit, each gold medal and the five Olympic rings. An insightful, gripping account of basketball and bias. (afterword, Olympic basketball data, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 12-18)

About the Author

Andrew Maraniss studied history at Vanderbilt University and as a recipient of the Fred Russell-Grantland Rice sportswriting scholarship, earned the school’s Alexander Award for excellence in journalism. He then worked for five years in Vanderbilt’s athletic department as the associate director of media relations, dealing primarily with the men’s basketball team. The son of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best-selling author David Maraniss and trailblazing environmentalist Linda Maraniss, Andrew was born in Madison, Wisconsin, grew up in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas and now lives in Brentwood, Tennessee, with his wife Alison, and their two young children.

His website is www.andrewmaraniss.com.

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