By Jared Prenda
Courtesy of Amazon.com
John McNamara worked for years on his passion project — a book about the storied history of high school basketball in the DMV.
The result was The Capital of Basketball, though McNamara didn’t live to see it completed after he was killed in the 2018 mass shooting at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis. At the request of his widow, colleague David Elfin finished the book based on his research.Pouring over the data and historical records of high school basketball in D.C. from its introduction in the early 1900s to the 2000s, McNamara began to put together the history of the game he loves in the city he loves.
The book talk was held in the D.C. History Center on K Street near Chinatown on January 16. The talk had three speakers: McNamara’s widow Andrea Chamblee, co-author Elfin, and Ed Henderson, the grandson of a D.C. basketball legend.
Chamblee discovered the research and transcript of the book shortly after McNamara’s death and requested his longtime co-worker Elfin to finish the work. The finished work is both a testament to more than 25 years of McNamara’s experience as a local sportswriter and to the storied history of D.C. basketball.
The book covers a range of topics from Dr. E.B. Hendersons, “The Father of Black Basketball,” to the first African American to be licensed to teach public school physical education in the country. The book also discusses the dominant run of Elgin Baylor and Dave Bing who would BOTH go on to be named to the list of 50 Greatest Players In NBA History by the league for its 50th anniversary in 1996. Both men played at Spingarn High School in Southeast D.C. McNamara also showcases the first African American to play in an NBA game, Earl Lloyd, who was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia.
The talk itself was focused on this detailed history and its highlights as it was dominated by Elfin and Henderson, the grandson of E.B. Henderson. Chamblee read a passage of the book to open the event describing the highlights of a District Championship game in which Baylor and Bing dominated.
Elfin then went into more detail about how Chamblee approached him at the funeral to finish her late husband’s final work and how much work went into writing it before he even knew about its existence. He discovered crates and crates of documents in McNamara’s office dedicated solely to the history of high school basketball in the District. From box scores to letters written by Henderson to various news outlets, McNamara was able to compile the complete history of high school hoops in the DMV. McNamara was able to conduct some interviews with city legends, but most of the book comes from these historical documents. Elfin estimated that all the research had been completed by the time he finished it and he needed to write the last quarter of the book.
Elfin was followed up by Henderson, who took his time to discuss in length the passion his grandfather had for the game, promoting black athletes in a time of oppression, and his quest to earn his grandfather’s place in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Henderson accompanied his talk with plenty of artifacts from his grandfather, including pictures of his teams, promotional posters for his books, and the original guide to interscholastic history that his grandfather wrote. The book, Capital of Basketball, is the written history of basketball as the modern fan knows it. D.C. was the first place to introduce the game to the African American community; it has produced NBA Legends like Baylor, Bing, and more recently NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant, now of the Brooklyn Nets. This book is a testament to how much of an impact D.C. has had on the game and was written by an author with a true passion for the sport. The book is available for purchase online on Amazon and at local institutions Politics and Prose and Kramerbooks.