The City Game: Tri­umph, Scan­dal, and a Leg­endary Bas­ket­ball Team

January 1, 2013

The City Game tells the thrilling and heart­break­ing sto­ry of the City Col­lege Beavers, which in 1950 became the only team ever to win the NIT and NCAA bas­ket­ball tour­na­ments in the same year. 

The dou­ble-cham­pi­onship team was, by every mea­sure, extra­or­di­nary. The City Col­lege of New York was known for intel­lec­tu­al achieve­ment, not ath­let­ic prowess. More­over, every sin­gle play­er was either Jew­ish or African-Amer­i­can; the coach was Jew­ish as well. Their great­est vic­to­ry came against the heav­i­ly favored Ken­tucky Wild­cats, a seg­re­gat­ed squad who refused to shake hands with them before the game. 

The fol­low­ing year, though, the team’s start­ing five were arrest­ed for con­spir­ing with gam­blers to shave points.” They were expelled from col­lege and banned from the NBA for life; overnight they turned from heroes to pariahs.

Informed by inter­views with every sur­viv­ing mem­ber of the team, The City Game tells a dif­fer­ent and more com­pli­cat­ed sto­ry: of scape­goats, cor­rup­tion, and how at least one oth­er col­lege – pro­tect­ed by police and pow­er­ful reli­gious and polit­i­cal lead­ers — man­aged to escape the scan­dal unscathed.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Matthew Goodman

  1. If you had been one of the play­ers on the City Col­lege team, do you think you would have accept­ed mon­ey to shave points? Why or why not?

  2. Should the play­ers have gone to prison for their actions? Should they have been expelled from school or banned from bas­ket­ball? What might have been the most appro­pri­ate response?

  3. After the scan­dal one edi­to­r­i­al writer stat­ed, There are no ama­teurs in big-time col­lege bas­ket­ball, only under­paid pro­fes­sion­als.” Do you agree with this state­ment? Why or why not? 

  4. This sto­ry is set in the ear­ly 1950s. Does it speak to social issues that are still rel­e­vant today, and if so, which ones and in what way? 

  5. The City Game is an exam­ple of the genre called nar­ra­tive his­to­ry” — that is to say, a work of his­to­ry that adopts some of the tech­niques gen­er­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with fic­tion writ­ing. In what ways does the book read like a novel? 

  6. Why do you think the author might have titled the book The City Game