cover image There’s Always This Year: On Basketball and Ascension

There’s Always This Year: On Basketball and Ascension

Hanif Abdurraqib. Random House, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-593-44879-3

Cultural critic Abdurraqib (A Little Devil in America) returns with a triumphant meditation on basketball and belonging. Serving as a love letter to Abdurraqib’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and the state more broadly, the book is structured like a basketball game, divided into four “quarters” with game clock time stamps demarcating section breaks. The first quarter describes the collective ecstasy Columbus felt during a 2002 game in which the city’s nationally ranked high school basketball team held its own against an Akron team featuring up-and-comer LeBron James. Abdurraqib suggests the Columbus team’s respectable showing (they lost in overtime) asserted the greater community’s pride in spite of politicians and police who called Black Columbus neighborhoods “war zones.” Elsewhere, the author considers the “era of Ohio Heartbreak” that followed James’s decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010, and offers a lyrical account of the protests that followed Columbus police’s 2016 killing of 23-year-old Black man Henry Green. (He writes of the makeshift shrine on the sidewalk where Green was shot: “Whatever is left behind dries and turns a dark crimson, the wayward light from candles flickering over what remains—a strange kind of memorial, a strange kind of haunting.”) The narrative works as if by alchemy, forging personal anecdotes, sports history, and cultural analysis into a bracing contemplation of the relationship between sport teams and their communities. This is another slam dunk from Abdurraqib. Agent: Alia Hanna Habib, Gernert Co. (Mar.)