SNIDER: Slain journalist’s book on local hoops is great legacy

Rick Snider
November 01, 2019 - 1:24 pm
Slain journalist’s book on D.C. hoops is great legacy

(Georgetown Press)


John McNamara talked about writing a book on local high school basketball for years. After a conversation in June 2018 about Len Bias’ legacy, I asked John when he was finishing the book.

“One more chapter,” he said. “Just did a big interview I needed to finish.”

I didn’t believe him because John loved the topic so much I thought he’d just keep going and going.

“Hurry up,” I said.

A few days later, John was among five Annapolis Capital journalists murdered. Amid the shock, many of his friends wondered if that book could be finished without him. Luckily, it has. 

“The Capital of Basketball” (from Georgetown Press) was completed by John’s wife Andrea Chamblee and friend David Elfin, who corroborated on “Cole Classics” with John in 2001. The book is now available in local bookstores and online.

It’s one heckuva read. I met John in the early ‘80s when we were both sitting in the bleachers watching high school basketball. Soon, we were covering Maryland men’s basketball and more. We talked Terps all the time, but John’s passion for high school basketball never waned.

The book is everything you’d ever want to know about Washington-area basketball and much more. Like the All-Met teams dating back to 1922. Was basketball even a thing then?

The opening chapter on “The Pioneers” from 1900-50 brings fascinating tidbits on the game’s early days like George Washington’s victory over Georgetown in 1907 where “bedlam erupted in the stands.” The note where a fence was erected around the court to keep out onlookers while players pushed opponents into it to cause turnovers created the term “cagers.” Hyattsville High halted basketball during World War I when so many young men left to fight while 49 never returned.

The Seventies and Eighties chapters were nostalgic as both John and I covered some of the games in the book. Earl Jones and Spingarn beating mighty DeMatha in the 1980 City Title Game was only a precursor for Jones, who won a national title at UDC and was a first-round pick by the Los Angeles Lakers. Coach John Thompson, Jr.’s rise from St. Anthony’s to a national title at Georgetown is a local tale. McNamara even journaled at length over Gwynn Park, a small school at Prince George’s County’s southern border that won 10 state titles.

But the best details came from the Fifties when schools were segregated and the lore of Elgin Baylor as the best basketball player ever to bounce a ball in Washington are chronicled. Newspapers didn’t often cover sports at the four segregated black high schools, but Baylor was too good to ignore. He became the first African American player to earn All-Met first team in two newspapers.

There are so many people and quotes in the book that made me want to call John and laugh over people we both knew. The book must suffice, and it’s a great legacy to the game and John.
Rick Snider has covered Washington sports since 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @Snide_Remarks

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