Inside the Cage: A Season at West 4th Street's Legendary Tournament

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Simon and Schuster, 2005 - Sports & Recreation - 275 pages
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It is no wonder basketball purists love the kind of game that the Cage produces. Because of the court's small size, the action of the game is compact and intense. The short trip up and down the court produces a game with more shooting and more offense with less legwork. Big people moving quickly in a small area are bound to bump into one another, so the West 4th Street games remain the city's roughest. Over the years, basketball at West 4th Street has created a legion of enthusiasts who understand basketball and want to see it played well.

The most compelling aspect of a sport is that it never dies; it is always being reborn. The seasonal nature of West 4th Street brings fans and players back every year. One summer may end in disappointment or in victory, but the victors must prove themselves the following summer, and those who were defeated can try again.

The tip-off game on Saturday, June 1, officially begins the twenty-fifth season.The most popular outdoor basketball court in New York City is half the regulation size, offers no seating, and has sidelines bounded by a chain-link fence. The summer league on West 4th Street, in the heart of Greenwich Village, has developed its share of stars. But it has become known throughout the world for another reason: In the age of commercialized sports, West 4th Street stands out as a last bastion of true sportsmanship, a rare place where the only thing that matters is the game.

"Inside the Cage" follows a single season from start to climactic finish, chronicling its unlikely twenty-five-year history along the way. Founded and led by a limousine driver from Brooklyn, Ken Graham's West 4th Street Pro-Classic tournament receives virtuallyno support from the government. Still, the Cage is home to the city's longest continually running tourney, attracts thirty thousand spectators annually, is featured in one of PlayStation 2's hottest games, and was recently named the number-one playground court in America.

Martindale captures the extremes of the playground game with the scrupulous intensity of our best sports writers. But perhaps more remarkably, he introduces readers to the men on and around the court with the insight of a prize-winning novelist. From 1970s playground legend Fly Williams to NBA veteran Anthony Mason and rookie Smush Parker, three generations of players mastered their game at West 4th Street.

"Inside the Cage" asks how it is that a seemingly unorganized league, populated by men from Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, has flourished in a neighborhood where less than 10 percent of the residents are African American or Hispanic. The answer: Play, for its own sake, matters. In an age when even the NBA is plagued by violence, how else could a tournament loaded with ambition, intensity, and aggression thrive for more than a quarter century?

The Cage is a rare place where men stand on equal ground. It is a place where movie stars rub elbows with high school dropouts, evangelical Christians mix it up with convicted drug dealers, and hungry players receive support and encouragement from NBA greats.

It is no surprise that Nike's new Battle-Grounds clothing line adopted the Cage as a logo. West 4th Street is a battleground, a hallowed place where men can be perfect for all the right reasons.


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Selected pages


The Cage
The Tipoff Games
The Early Years
Game One
Fathers Day at West 4th Street
Brownsville in Greenwich Village
The Comeback
Brownsville Gets into Trouble
Kennys Back
The Early Rounds
The Semifinals
The Finalists
The Finals
Where Next?
The Importance of Play

Playground Prodigy
Bobby Willis Uptown
The AllStar Break
In Harlem Greenwich Village and Brownsville
Not Give Up
The Next Season Begins
The Guy in the Suit or How I Got Involved

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