April 8, 2020 • Cee • Comics
Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang • March 17, 2019 • First Second

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Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins. But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships. Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.

myreview

I received this graphic novel for free from First Second for review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

First sentence: “I’ve hated sports ever since I was a little kid. Especially basketball.”

For all you people who are usually uninterested in basketball (like I am), prepare to become a fan because of Dragon Hoops!

This graphic memoir captivated my attention with the very real people that Gene Luen Yang focus on, the history of basketball through different cultures, and the process Yang goes through to create an accurate portrayal of the events. It’ll convince you that you need to be in the front row for all the action at Bishop O’Dowd High School.

  • Dragon Hoops explores an Oakland high school basketball teams journey to win the basketball state championship.

Set in Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Yang focuses on this basketball team who have reached the finals of the California state championship, but have never won. 2015 would be different though—it will be the year they win because of the all-star team of players that readers will get to know throughout the graphic memoir.

Yang focuses on a few key players—Coach Lou, Ivan Rabb, Paris Austin, Oderah and Arinze Chidom, Jeevin Sandhu, Alex Zhao, and Austin Walker—and the games that led to their journey to the state championship. He writes these beautiful scenes of these players and their struggles to be where they are at in the book. Readers will get that fire that these characters felt on their journey. It’s in the power of Yang’s storytelling and drawings. He draws these characters and the basketball games in a way that makes you feel like you’re sitting in the front row, and you’ll jump out of your seat cheering along.

  • You get basketball history and its impact on different cultures.

Not only does Yang portray the events leading up to the state championship, he discusses the history of basketball and the impact it has on different types of people and different cultures. Readers learn about how basketball was created, the key basketball players that changed the game like Marques Haynes and George Mikan, the tensions between black and white players when they started playing together, how the Harlem Globetrotters started, how basketball impacted women, how it impacted cultures outside the West, and so on.

I love that these personal stories are framed with history about basketball. It’s a way to make you understand why it’s an important part of history and why it’s important to a lot of people throughout the world.

  • Dragon Hoops is not only a basketball story; it’s a story about Gene Luen Yang’s struggle to juggle his life—family, teaching, and making comics—and figure out how he can portray these player’s experiences accurately.

There are struggles on and off the court, and for Yang, that’s exactly what it feels like minus the basketball. Those moments of struggle that Yang experiences throughout the book—where he has to juggle different aspects of his life and wondering whether to accept a life-changing offer that will affect his future as a comics person—is so well done. It’s never distracting; it’s rather a reminder that Yang is also on a journey of his own. Basketball is not his life; comics and his family is. Yang has a lot of obligations that pull him in different directions, and it shows with the way he portrays the events and the discussions via the way he talks aloud and with his wife. It’s very enlightening and real.

  • There are moments where Yang steps back from the story to discuss the comic aspect of creating this story. 

Yang shows he’s very self aware of accurately portraying these characters and their stories in a respectful manner. I love that he discusses his creative process throughout the book. He wonders whether to include certain things or exclude them due to the toughness of the subject matter. He explains the reason why he drew the way he did like the hair of Jeevin Sandhu, the Punjabi basketball player, to set him apart from the Black players. He shows he takes concerns and criticisms to heart, and revises it in real time. There are some embellishments and moments that didn’t exist to move the story along, but that’s the beauty of a graphic memoir. It is rooted in truth.

Who should read Dragon Hoops? Everybody. Sports fan. Non-basketball fans. People who want to learn a bit about basketball on a comic format. 

Should you read Dragon Hoops? Yes! You’ll be rooting for the Dragons too!


 


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