Way before DC had any claim to the “Title Town” mantle (way to go Caps, Mystics, and Nats!) and before those Redskins Super Bowls that I’m too young to remember, basketball was king in Nation’s Capital. Much to our dismay here at WizardsXTRA, the local professional basketball franchise has just one championship and not much else. So how did basketball manage to capture the hearts of so many DMV locals?
To find out the answer to that question, you need to read The Capital of Basketball: A History of DC Area High School Hoops by John McNamara. The book chronicles the 100-plus year history of high school basketball in the greater Washington metropolitan area. From the introduction of basketball in the city by lesser-known figures like E.B Henderson to Morgan Wootten’s DeMatha dynasty to Montrose Christian’s Kevin Durant, this book has everything you need to know to consider yourself well-informed on D.C.-area high school basketball.
“Countless figures who have had a significant impact on the sport over the years have roots in the region, including E.B. Henderson, the first African-American certified to teach public school physical education, and Earl Lloyd, the first African-American to take the court in an actual NBA game. The city’s Spingarn High School produced two players – Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing – recognized among the NBA’s 50 greatest at the League’s 50th anniversary celebration. No other high school in the country can make that claim,” per the publisher’s website.
Author John McNamara covered local basketball for 30+ years
If you’re a real local hoops junkie and read the Annapolis Capital Gazette (as I did growing up), you’re probably familiar with McNamara’s work and coverage. Sadly, some of you may recognize the name for another reason. McNamara was one of five people who were shot and killed in a targeted attack on the Capital Gazette newsroom on June 28, 2018. After his death, McNamara’s wife, Andrea Chamblee, stepped in to finish the book on his behalf.
This book acts as a culmination and celebration of McNamara’s life’s work. While, it is clearly a love letter from McNamara to the sport he spent decades covering, it is also a love letter from Chamblee to McNamara. “John spent our whole marriage doing nice things for me — scraping the ice off my windshield, and making my coffee, and putting away the laundry that I could wash but I hated putting away — and I always told him I was behind in the gestures department,” said Chamblee in a recent interview with WTOP. “So this is my chance to catch up.”
Despite not getting to finish the book himself, McNamara had been working on this book in his off-hours for the previous 13 years. Because this book was such a labor of love for him, it was even more important for Chamblee to see it through. “I felt like I couldn’t afford to fail to make sure John was remembered as a sports writer,” said Chamblee. “So whether this was going to be a self-published, ugly book on Amazon for 99 cents a chapter, I was going to do it … It’s something I just can’t get over, that it’s a real book.”
The definitive source on DMV high school hoops
This book isn’t just an account of local basketball history from a person who witnessed a lot of it firsthand. It is the result of more than 150 interviews that were conducted with the people who made and lived that history directly. “The Capital of Basketball provides important details on players and coaches that made Washington D.C. famous…those of us at Duke and around the country know a trip to D.C. during basketball season is a chance to see some of the country’s best talent on the court,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in his review of the book.
If you’re like me, much of your knowledge of the city’s basketball past was formed from the secondhand anecdotes of friends and family. The Capital of Basketball is the definitive source for all of that information now. If you’re also like me, a basketball junkie with a curiosity and passion for all things DMV sports, then this is a must-read for you.