- The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White ed. by Anthony Bateman and Jeffrey Hill.
In 1986 Doug Merlino, author of The Hustle: One Team and Ten Lives in Black and White, took part in a social experiment that combined young boys from opposite sides of the track together on one basketball team. Merlino, a member of the Lakeside Preparatory School constituent—the home court of the affluent, white portion of the team—teamed up with less advantaged black youth from the Central Area, home to the city’s poorest residents. A brainchild of Randy Finley and Willie McClain, Sr., the interracial composition of the team supposedly held benefits for both sides. For Finley, the team’s white counterpart, the team would expose his players to parts of life and the world they might not otherwise experience. McClain, admittedly less altruistic, confessed his intentions were driven by the practical reality that their participation could lead to private school educations and open doors to more opportunities later in life. Despite the intentions of the coaches and organizers, however, the results of their experiment varied wildly from player to player. Although the team disbanded after only one season together, The Hustle represents Merlino’s efforts to retrace the steps of his former teammates and gauge the impact this experience has had on their lives.
Though the impetus of Merlino’s book centers on his experiences with his interracial basketball team of 1986, the reader quickly becomes aware that the basketball team and its players only form the platform for developing the more important central theme of the history of integration in Seattle and its adjacent suburbs. Due to the complexity of this history, Merlino ambitiously undertakes an investigation of an extremely wide range of issues, including the formation of Seattle itself—which began as a small logging community on the banks of the Puget Sound, the sudden rise and fall of the crack/cocaine trade— tracing it from its roots in Colombia to the glass pipes of junkies in Seattle’s Central Area, the inequity of the American prison and educational systems, and even the dot.com boom and eventual bust that had many ties to the Seattle area. While these forays into historical matters paint an interesting, and vital, picture for the story of integration in Seattle to be fully understood, the transitions between these sections left the reader responsible for connecting these background anecdotes to the larger narrative. However, once the necessary connections between sections were made the reader could appreciate the extensive research and compelling narrative Merlino offered.
The product of many years of interviews and investigation, Merlino tracks down many of his former teammates finding that, although they went their separate ways at the conclusion of the 1986 season, the memories of their time together continues to influence the way they conduct their lives. After finishing college, Merlino admits that, upon returning to his parents’ house in Seattle, reading the front-page story of the Seattle Times sparked his ambition to write this book. The headline read: “What Went Wrong? Tyrell Johnson Was Young, Black, Male—and Murdered.” Johnson, one of Merlino’s teammates, [End Page 553] had been executed by drug dealers and dumped in a ditch in the Seattle area at only nineteen years old.
Outraged and confused, Merlino embarked on his journey to reunite his team. The team’s coach, Willie McClain, Sr., believed that sports, and particularly basketball not only represented a vehicle for upward social mobility but also had the power to unite disparate groups of people and teach the valuable life lessons of teamwork, trust, and responsibility. Although this question is addressed with conflicted sentiments by the different characters throughout the book, Merlino’s own acceptance of this claim seems to go unresolved. On one hand Merlino sees the effects sports have on young children such as Tyrell Johnson whose identity became so wrapped up with being an athlete that when reality struck he...