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

October 31, 2020
The City Game: Triumph, Scandal, and a Legendary Basketball Team

The powerful story of a college basketball team who carried anera’s brightest hopes—racial harmony, social mobility, and thetriumph of the underdog—but whose success was soon followed by ashocking downfall“A masterpiece of American storytelling.”—Gilbert King, PulitzerPrize–winning author of Devil in the GroveNAMED ONE OF THE BEST SPORTS BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE NEW YORKTIMES BOOK REVIEWThe unlikeliest of champions, the 1949–50 City College Beaverswere extraordinary by every measure. New York’s City College was atuition-free, merit-based college in Harlem known far more for itsintellectual achievements and political radicalism than itsathletic prowess. Only two years after Jackie Robinson broke theMajor League Baseball color barrier—and at a time when the NationalBasketball Association was still segregated—every single member ofthe Beavers was either Jewish or African American. But during thatremarkable season, under the guidance of the legendary formerplayer Nat Holman, this unheralded group of city kids would stunthe basketball world by becoming the only team in history to winthe NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year.This team, though, proved to be extraordinary in another way:During the following season, all of the team’s starting five werearrested by New York City detectives, charged with conspiring withgamblers to shave points. Almost overnight these beloved heroesturned into fallen idols. The story centers on two teammates andclose friends, Eddie Roman and Floyd Layne, one white, one black,each caught up in the scandal, each searching for a path topersonal redemption. Though banned from the NBA, Layne continued todevote himself to basketball, teaching the game to young people inhis Bronx neighborhood and, ultimately, with Roman’s help, findinganother kind of triumph—one that no one could have anticipated.Drawing on interviews with the surviving members of thatchampionship team, Matthew Goodman has created an indelibleportrait of an era of smoke-filled arenas and Borscht Belt hotels,when college basketball was far more popular than the professionalgame. It was a time when gangsters controlled illegal sportsbetting, the police were on their payroll, and everyone, it seemed,was getting rich—except for the young men who actually played thegames.Tautly paced and rich with period detail, The City Game tells astory both dramatic and poignant: of political corruption,duplicity in big-time college sports, and the deeper meaning ofathletic success.