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  • Outside the Paint: When Basketball Ruled at the Chinese Playground
  • Murry Nelson
Yep, Kathleen S. Outside the Paint: When Basketball Ruled at the Chinese Playground. Philadelphia, Temple University Press, 2009. Pp. 199. Notes, bibliography, and index. $25.00.

This short volume is more about the sociology of sport than sport history, but it is an interesting view of basketball as a vehicle in a marginalized community, and the role it played in moving some ethnic members into more "mainstream" acceptance. The volume, part of an Asian American History and Culture Series, is based on Yep's dissertation (from University of California-Berkeley) and the research, bibliographic references and extended discussion in the notes reflects the care and depth one would expect from such scholarly work.

The book is focused on the only outdoor playground space in San Francisco's Chinatown in the 1930s and 1940s, the Chinese Playground, and, most specifically, the basketball court there. Using the court as the connection as well as a metaphor for cultural interaction possibilities, Yep provides a series of chapter case studies on basketball players at that court, described in an initial chapter. The second chapter describes a Chinese barnstorming team, the Hong Wah Kues, that played throughout the western United States, though they reached as far east as Chicago, in two seasons from 1939—1941. At this time many teams were barnstorming, including African American, Native American and [End Page 190] Jewish American teams. They sometimes traveled and played games together, but, more often, they traveled independently to small towns and cities where they met local teams. Despite their role as "the other," the Hong Wah Kues often won the audiences over with their crisp, hustling style and good shooting. In this way, the team provided what was often the first real contact that these European American citizens had with Chinese Americans, breaking down stereotypes and mythologies. Though that was often the result, the hype for the games exploited the fear of the unknown with large poster ads noting, "WAR! (city name) to be Attacked. These are the Chinese invaders." Yep includes these and other advertising in the text.

The next chapter presents another team, the Mei Wahs, a squad of young women who played in local Chinese leagues as well as the City of San Francisco's Recreation League, which they won. In comparison with the Hong Wah Kues, the Mah Weis had much less freedom to travel in the Bay area, not to mention leaving the region. They also played a "safer" game under rules for girls and Yep incorporates the subjugation of women through sports as part of this chapter. Most of the Mei Wah players were multi sport athletes, but cultural and gender strictures limited the impact that they were allowed to have within their sports.

William Woo Wong is the subject of the fourth chapter. Wong played at the University of San Francisco in the late 1940s under legendary coach, Pete Newell. Though not a starter, Wong was known for his accurate shooting. Even being on the USF team was unusual, both because of his ethnicity and his short stature (5'5"). Nevertheless, Newell said, in a 2005 interview, "I never saw a man with a keener eye.…" Wong was the first Chinese to play in a basketball game in Madison Square Garden and this was trumpeted throughout the Chinese press in the United States. He was a legendary hero to the residents of San Francisco's Chinatown and, at his death, the Chinese Playground was named the Willie Woo Woo (his nickname in the popular press) Playground in 2006 and he was inducted into the USF Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.

Wong and his brothers coached their sister, Helen Wong, in basketball and she is the subject of Chapter 5 of the volume. Helen Wong was also a tennis star, playing in junior Davis Cup competitions in the 1940s and 1950s. Yep discusses Helen Wong in contrast to Babe Didrikson's image as a "muscle moll" and the overall assessment of the female body in relation to sports and image. Wong's basketball play with the San Francisco Saints grew from the Chinese playground...


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