- Hoop Crazy: The Lives of Clair Bee and Chip Hilton by Dennis Gildea
Clair Bee’s legacy presents one of the greatest paradoxes in twentieth-century American sport. As a coach, Bee received harsh moral criticism. Although he ended his collegiate coaching career with the best winning percentage of any college coach, he did so while opening the doors to professionalized activities that have plagued college basketball ever since. The coach’s practice of subsidizing and “stockpiling” (p. 251) athletes, even though he may have had beneficial utilitarian intentions while doing so, created much moral condemnation from his coaching peers. Further, the centrality of Bee’s Long Island University (LIU) players in the 1951 college basketball point-shaving scandal affirmed to the coach’s detractors that his program was dirty.
On the other hand, Bee authored twenty-four books for young readers that focused on the life of Chip Hilton, a fictional character who excels academically and athletically while also living his life as a pillar of morality. These books, written from 1948 to 1963, gave a generation of boys an example of how they might excel in sport while living a life beyond reproach. [End Page 126]
Dennis Gildea, author of Hoop Crazy: The Lives of Clair Bee and Chip Hilton, was one of that generation of boys whose lives were shaped by Chip Hilton. Gildea admittedly pored over these books that chronicle Chip’s football, basketball, and baseball seasons throughout his careers at Valley Falls High and State University. Hoop Crazy is Gildea’s scholarly appraisal of how those books parallel the life of Bee—Chip Hilton’s creator.
Gildea brings a fresh and upbeat prose to his manuscript that was fostered, no doubt, during his days as a sportswriter. He demonstrates a strong ability to pull the reader into the story by documenting the context and the emotions that Bee and those close to him would have been feeling at certain points in time—literary freedoms that many historians are unwilling to take. However, the strongest feature of the book is the way in which Gildea reassesses Bee’s legacy.
Hoop Crazy takes the reader through Clair Bee’s life with Gildea indicating how the events of Bee’s life inform and often parallel the situations Bee sets up for his fictional hero. Gildea astutely provides numerous examples of the clever ways in which Bee crafted Hilton’s tales from his own experiences, even though Chip’s resolution of each narrative antagonism is not always in line with Bee’s experiences.
The denouement of this manuscript is chapter 17, entitled, “Chip and the Scandal,” in which Gildea most acutely confronts what he believes is an unfair and inaccurate Bee legacy that scholars have created—and Gildea does so in typical Chip Hilton fashion that shows courage, morality, and humility. Murray Sperber’s Onward to Victory (1998), Stanley Cohen’s The Game They Played (1977), Charley Rosen’s The Scandals of ’51 (1978), and Albert Figone’s Cheating the Spread (2012) “all take Bee to task, leaping gleefully into what they perceive to be the damning gap between (the) reality (of Bee’s perceived moral indifference and shortcomings as LIU coach) and the Hilton fiction (that reinforces the value of morality in the world of sport)” (p. 268). Gildea poignantly argues for the injustice these authors have done to Bee’s legacy as they profess Bee’s hypocrisy. These authors present unfair and inaccurate portrayals of Bee, Gildea argues, because “more focus is placed on coach Bee than on author Bee” (p. 269). While Coach Bee had his faults, author Bee writes with a subtle, underlying apologetic tone—both before and after the 1951 scandal—that Gildea believes does not show hypocrisy so much as it does the way in which Bee hopes the college sports establishment can rectify its corrupt practices. In other words, Coach Bee, who perpetuated and even created some of the corruption in college athletics, should be separated from...