The Secret Game

A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph


By Scott Ellsworth

Formats and Prices




$15.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 10, 2015. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Winner of the 2016 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing: The true story of the game that never should have happened — and of a nation on the brink of monumental change.

In the fall of 1943, at the little-known North Carolina College for Negroes, Coach John McLendon was on the verge of changing basketball forever. A protégé of James Naismith, the game’s inventor, McLendon taught his team to play the full-court press and run a fast break that no one could catch. His Eagles would become the highest-scoring college team in America — a basketball juggernaut that shattered its opponents by as many as sixty points per game.

Yet his players faced danger whenever they traveled backcountry roads. Across town, at Duke University, the best basketball squad on campus wasn’t the Blue Devils, but an all-white military team from the Duke medical school. Composed of former college stars from across the country, the team dismantled everyone they faced, including the Duke varsity. They were prepared to take on anyone — until an audacious invitation arrived, one that was years ahead of anything the South had ever seen before. What happened next wasn’t on anyone’s schedule.

Based on years of research, The Secret Game is a story of courage and determination, and of an incredible, long-buried moment in the nation’s sporting past. The riveting, true account of a remarkable season, it is the story of how a group of forgotten college basketball players, aided by a pair of refugees from Nazi Germany and a group of daring student activists, not only blazed a trail for a new kind of America, but helped create one of the most meaningful moments in basketball history.


Begin Reading

Table of Contents


Copyright Page

In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher constitute unlawful piracy and theft of the author's intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at Thank you for your support of the author's rights.

A Note to the Reader

A few years back, I went looking for the history of basketball.

Instead, I found the history of my country.

I had gone to see an elderly basketball coach, a long-forgotten giant whose connection to the game stretched back nearly seventy-five years. The old man had much to tell me. But there was one story—about a basketball game played in secret in North Carolina on a Sunday morning in 1944—that at first I simply could not believe. There was nothing like this story in any history book that I had ever seen.

I soon discovered that what the old coach told me was true—the game had happened. But as I tried to piece together what occurred on that lost Sunday, I found something else. There was a larger story waiting in the wings: a story not just about basketball but about the South—and about freedom, war, and the coming of a new kind of America. And that is what this book is all about.

Seven decades ago, much of this story was deliberately kept quiet.

It's time that it was told.


Carrboro, North Carolina

During World War II and in the decades leading up to it, African Americans called themselves colored or Negro. And while these obsolete terms may seem insulting today, they were the accepted terms during the era in which the book's story takes place. Rather than force today's terminology into a book that is set largely during the 1940s, and to better capture and stay true to the voices of the period, I have utilized the language of the day.




Dressed in khakis and his best Sunday shirt, the young man sat on a wooden bench inside the low whitewashed building, a cheap suitcase resting at his feet. Before the day was done, he would travel more than two hundred miles, past pine forests and tobacco barns, through villages and towns he had heard of but never seen. By nightfall he would be farther from home than ever before, sleeping in a strange bed in a strange city. But for now, in the early morning stillness of the one-room station, with the September sunlight slanting in through the windows, sixteen-year-old Aubrey Stanley was sitting quietly and waiting for the next chapter of his life to begin.

A little past seven o'clock, the blue-and-white Seashore Transportation Company bus finally rolled to a halt in front of the Beaufort, North Carolina, bus terminal. Aubrey set his suitcase, marked N.C. COLLEGE FOR NEGROES, inside the baggage compartment and took a window seat in the back. On the bridge over the inlet, Aubrey looked out at the blue-green water of the channel—and, farther out, at the deeper blues of the open ocean—shimmering in the morning light. After a five-minute stop in Morehead City, the driver turned onto the state highway and headed north and west, into the bright green country that lay beyond the edge of the sea. And while Aubrey did not know it yet, just ten minutes outside of Beaufort on that bright Monday morning in the fall of 1943, he had already left his hometown forever.

It had all happened so fast.

Only two years earlier, college had been unthinkable.

The Monday before Thanksgiving, he had met his uncle at the south docks before dawn. The other men were already there, talking quietly, their faces lit by the orange tips of hand-rolled cigarettes, while the captain and first mate pored over their charts. Sticking close to his uncle, Aubrey said nothing. But inside, he was aglow with his good fortune. Like every other boy in Beaufort, Aubrey had dreamed of the day when he, too, could join the fishing fleet. And even though he was still three months shy of his fifteenth birthday, he was finally going to have his chance.

Each fall the shad would appear off the North Carolina coast by the millions, flashing and glinting in the brilliant blue waters. Traveling south, against the Gulf Stream, they came in waves. First would come the Boston and Long Island fish, then the Delawares, and finally the Chesapeakes, moving south toward Florida in schools the size of mile-long underwater armies. You couldn't eat this kind of shad—or menhaden, as the state fish and wildlife man called them—but if you caught enough of them you could make a small fortune. You could dry them and press them and grind them into fish oil and fish meal for fertilizer and chicken feed, lipstick and house paint, soap and linoleum. And when the shad were running, all of Beaufort, a usually sleepy fishing town along the coast, would suddenly spring to life. Fishermen's wives found themselves eyeing new dresses, schoolchildren suddenly had enough money to go to the movies, and the fish plants ran day and night, blanketing the town with an aroma all its own.

"Oh, that?" the locals would say to the occasional tourist who rented a room in one of the eighteenth-century captains' houses that by then doubled as guesthouses. "Why, that's the smell of money."

When the fish appeared, the fleet would be out for days at a time. Carrying a full crew with as many as thirty-five hands, Beaufort's shad boats fished all the way north to Ocracoke and south to Topsail. When a school of shad was spotted, the hands would row out in two long skiffs, engines silent so as not to spook the fish. A huge purse seine, or net, would be lowered between them, and the skiffs would draw a circle in the water around the trapped shad. Then, to the call and response of chants and work songs, the hands would haul up the net in unison and force the fish—as many as one hundred thousand at a time—into a boiling, seething mass, ready to be lifted by winches and dip nets into the hold of the trawler. It was a grueling, backbreaking business.

And it was risky as well. Sometimes the fish simply couldn't be found, while other times men caught their fingers in the nets or were washed overboard and drowned. The waters off Cape Lookout—where sudden swells could turn a glass-top ocean into a raging sea in a matter of minutes—were not called the graveyard of the Atlantic for no reason. But for young men in Beaufort, especially colored men, it was the only game in town—and the road to manhood. In 1941 it was Aubrey's turn.

And in three days it was over. Battered and bruised, aching more than he ever had in his life, Aubrey slowly limped along the gathering gloom of Marsh Street. Too short to reach far enough into the net to gain a proper handhold, and having nowhere near the muscle power that the grown men had, he could not keep up. Unused to the rising and falling of either the trawler or the skiff, he had fallen repeatedly, gashing open his right hand. Covered in blood and fish guts, he had been unable to eat for much of the trip. All he wanted was to hide.

Luckily, he still had school. Founded by a pair of Yankee schoolmarms at the close of the War Between the States, the Beaufort (Colored) School sat at the end of Queen Street on a low rise on the edge of town. And while the one-story brick building was less than ten years old, much of what it held inside was considerably older. The desks and furniture were all hand-me-downs from the white school, as was the one working microscope, an antique affair whose eyepiece would often cloud over—usually when students were viewing an amoeba or paramecium. The books were old, too, with worn and ragged bindings, and with the names of the six or eight or ten white children who had used them in years past penciled inside their front covers.

Despite all this, the school on Queen Street was nothing less than the pride of Beaufort's small colored community. Students brought their own cleaning supplies from home to help keep the halls and classrooms tidy, while honeysuckle and wax myrtle brightened the school grounds. The direct descendant of a one-room cabin—built from shipwreck timber—where newly emancipated slaves learned to read and write, the Queen Street school was a place where a handful of teachers gave dreams to the sons and daughters of fishermen, most of whom lived in houses without either electricity or indoor plumbing, and tried to prepare them for the world to come. One of the teachers, Mr. Hayes, even had all the high school students conduct a mock presidential election, complete with political parties, nominating conventions, and secret ballots, even though Negroes had not voted in Carteret County for more than fifty years.

The meager athletic budget bestowed on the school by the all-white school board did not allow for a football or a baseball team, but a full-length basketball court had been laid out on the bare ground of the school yard, the out-of-bounds and free-throw lines carefully marked off in chalk. On weekday mornings, high school boys would play before class—five on a side; first team to twenty wins; winners stay and losers sit. On weekends groups of kids would gather for pickup games whenever they could.

Although basketball wasn't the only game in town, for Aubrey it might as well have been. Not only did he get up early each morning to take part in the dusty roundball battles that erupted before class started, he also found himself hanging around the Queen Street school yard more and more in the evenings and on weekends. Part of this was to escape from the demands of his mother, but part of it, too, was that Aubrey had gained confidence—his first, in anything—in his abilities as a basketball player. And while he did not know it, he was also a part of a quiet athletic revolution, one that would transform basketball not only in Beaufort but also across North Carolina.

Basketball had come early to the Tar Heel State. Indeed, in the very first basketball game ever played, in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1891, not only had a future North Carolinian been among the players, he also named the new game. "Why not call it basketball?" Frank Mahan suggested. Mahan, in fact, liked the game so much that he promptly stole the world's first typewritten copy of its rules. Within months, enthusiastic YMCA volunteers, preaching the gospel of a new, muscular Christianity—a Bible in one hand, an Indian club in the other—had brought the game to North Carolina. And after that, year by year and county by county, from Elizabeth City to Blowing Rock, roundball had slowly taken root. It was played in high schools and junior highs, Bible schools and state universities. It was played by church groups and athletic clubs. Baptists and Methodists alike played the game, and there were white teams and Negro teams and teams made up of Cherokee and Lumbee Indians. And while baseball and football were still the state's most beloved sports, North Carolina was slowly becoming basketball country as well.

Aubrey was, in his own small way, part of it all.

Each winter he'd scan the sports pages of the Beaufort News and the Journal and Guide, the colored newspaper published in Norfolk, Virginia, for whatever basketball news he could find. He'd read about the nation's great teams, the Kansas Jayhawks and the Kentucky Wildcats, the Long Island University Blackbirds and the Indiana Hoosiers, and he knew about the great college stars of the era, like Hank Luisetti of Stanford, who somehow managed to accurately shoot the ball with only one hand, and Kenny Sailors, the Wyoming Cowboys scoring champ. He knew about the new postseason championship tournaments, the National Invitation Tournament and the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament, and he had read about the fabulous "doubleheaders" at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where as many as sixteen thousand fans would line the stands.

Aubrey's own venue, of course, was at the other end of the spectrum. Unlike the white high school in town, which had its own gymnasium, the students at the Queen Street school played all their basketball outside. There on the sandy school yard, with the sky above them and pebbles in their shoes, they'd shoot crip shots and two-handed set shots—correcting, if necessary, for the wind—and battle each other beneath the creaky backboards until the sun went down or until enough of the players had been summoned home for supper. Aubrey was short, but he was also fast and good. He loved nothing better than playing ball, and on the second Sunday of December, two weeks after the fishing debacle, that's exactly what Aubrey and a handful of his friends, all of them still dressed in their church clothes, were doing.

After the boys had been playing for about half an hour, they were interrupted by a colored stranger who had been sitting in a beat-up Chevy with the radio turned up and the windows rolled down. The man suddenly jumped out of his car, waving his arms.

Over here now, he shouted. Quick.

No more music was coming in over the New Bern radio station, only the excited voice of the announcer. As Aubrey and the others sat down on the ragged grass next to the man's car and listened to the news reports, a picture started to emerge. There had been some sort of an attack, it seemed, in the Hawaiian Islands.

It did not take long for the war to come to Beaufort. By Christmas, the Army had taken over the old Confederate fort by the inlet, turning the casemates into barracks. Infantry platoons started patrolling the windswept beaches along the Shackleford and Core Banks, deserted except for the wild ponies who stared curiously at the strange new visitors dressed in olive drab. Searchlights were set up along the dunes of Bogue Banks, spotter planes from the new Marine Corps air station at Cherry Point crisscrossed the coastline, and private yachts and party boats were converted into makeshift patrol craft.

Aubrey had been aware, of course, that much of the world was already in crisis. He had watched the newsreels that were shown before the movies at the Beaufort Theater, with their flickering images of planes and tanks, bombing and blitzkrieg. And he had studied the maps—with their strange place names, such as Abyssinia, Manchuria, Dunkirk, and Danzig—that Mr. Hayes had drawn on the chalkboard. But like almost anything that was farther away than the inlet bridge or anywhere else he could ride his bicycle to, the war might as well have been happening on another planet.

Then the U-boats came.

Their first victim was an aging Great Lakes freighter renamed the Caribsea en route from Cuba to Norfolk. On March 11, 1942, she was steaming north inside Diamond Shoals when two torpedoes struck her amidships, buckling the deck plates and tearing two gaping holes along the starboard side. She sank in three minutes. Within a week, two more ships, both empty oil tankers, had been torpedoed off Cape Lookout, the orange glow from the explosions easily visible from Aubrey's front yard. Then, just past midnight on March 18, a torpedo ripped into the bow of the W. E. Hutton, a Texas-based tanker carrying a full load of fuel oil, in the sea-lanes off Atlantic Beach, shearing away both anchors. Ten minutes later, a second torpedo hit, instantly killing a third of the crew and igniting the fuel oil, which burned offshore for weeks.

By the end of the month, four more tankers had been sunk off Cape Lookout. And despite the efforts of military censors to keep the news hush-hush, people in Beaufort didn't need a newspaper or radio to know what was happening. Oil and pieces of wreckage had been washing up on the beaches for weeks, as had the half-naked, often horribly burned bodies of dead seamen. There was even a widely believed rumor that a German newspaper had been left on one of the seats in the movie theater in Morehead City, obviously by a spy or saboteur. Shad fishermen, meanwhile, started keeping a sharp eye out for periscopes.

Aubrey didn't have to go looking for the war. It had come to him.

Spring melted into summer. The chalkboards at the Queen Street school were wiped down for the last time, the textbooks were stacked neatly alongside the walls, and the ancient microscope was wrapped in cotton batting and stowed inside the principal's closet. And while summer wasn't without its obvious appeals—you could lie among the goldenrod and marsh elders down at Black Cat Beach or fish for spot or croakers off the bridge—for Aubrey, vacation had its drawbacks as well. The first was his mother. The second was work. Usually the two went together.

Strong, stern, and lean, Lottie Stanley didn't brook any foolishness or tolerate idle hands. During the day she worked on a farm just outside town, chopping cotton, slopping the hogs, and tending the tobacco, while at night, by the light of a kerosene lamp, she did laundry for white families, heating the tub of water on the cookstove and making razor-sharp creases with a hand iron. In between, she looked after her own children, her sister's children, and her aged mother as well as a garden full of collards, tomatoes, muskmelons, and Irish potatoes. Motherly love was not her specialty. She was also firmly set in her ways.

The neighbors would say, "Everybody else go right, she go left."

One morning when he was about eight years old, Aubrey was working with his mother in the garden when a white man in a car pulled to a halt in front of the sagging wood house on Marsh Street where Aubrey had been born. The man motioned for his mother to come over.

"Is he old enough to work?" the man asked.

"Yessuh," she said.

And from that day on, Aubrey worked at as many odd jobs and took on as much seasonal employment as Lottie could scare up, which, considering the fact that the Depression was still going on, was considerable. Aubrey weeded gardens, shined shoes, mowed lawns, raked leaves, hauled trash, and swept out stores. He headed shrimp at the fish market on Pine Street and dug for clams and oysters in Taylor's Creek. By the time he entered the seventh grade, he worked after school at Beaufort's sole dry cleaning establishment, mixing the solvents and running the machines. But none of these jobs held the promise of a steady future.

Sometimes, on his way home from the dry cleaner, Aubrey would ride his bike slowly past a tidy whitewashed house ringed by bayberry bushes that sat behind the Episcopal church and wonder what the family who lived there was having for supper or what kinds of toys their children had. Because although neither his mother nor his grandmother would ever talk about who Aubrey's father was, by the time he was twelve he had figured it out on his own. For Aubrey, with his high forehead, doe eyes, and nearly blue-black complexion, was the spitting image of the man who lived in that house, a fisherman named Floyd Hill. In fact, Aubrey looked more like Mr. Hill than Hill's own legitimate son, one of Aubrey's classmates, did. And even though practically every grown-up in colored town had unraveled the mystery of Aubrey's paternity, no one ever said a word to him about it.

But the pain and loss were still there. The worst came at Easter homecoming, at church, when all the other Negro boys and their dads would line up in front of the altar to be blessed, while Aubrey slumped down in the pew, hurt and embarrassed. There were times, too, when Aubrey needed guidance but didn't know where to turn. And by the time Aubrey began his final year of high school and the first summer of the war finally ended, he felt not only more alone than ever but also as if his life were fast becoming a closed book. "You don't want this kind of life," he had told himself after the disastrous trip on the shad boat. Yet the truth of the matter was that for a poor boy in Beaufort, there weren't many other options.

Aunt Lillie, however, had other ideas.

His mother's oldest sister, Lillie, was a schoolteacher way up in Scotland Neck, an ancient town near the Virginia line—where, local lore had it, Oliver Cromwell's brothers fled after the Stuart Restoration. On her visits to Beaufort at least twice a year, she was funny, talkative, and worldly—and nothing like Aubrey's mother. Childless and unmarried, she had long had a soft spot for her nephew, who, for his part, adored her. And as Aubrey began his final year at the Queen Street school, Aunt Lillie found herself edging closer and closer to the conclusion that her nephew deserved something better, even though she didn't quite know what that was or how she could make it happen.

The answer came unexpectedly that December.

It had been a good fall for fish. The first shad runs had come late but thick, darkening the waters in schools as large as half a million. And the U-boats were gone as well. Not a single ship had been torpedoed since midsummer, and back in July, a Navy bomber on routine patrol had dropped out of the clouds and surprised a surfaced German submarine off Cape Hatteras, which it quickly sank. The submarine war, it seemed, was over. But a different kind of tragedy lay just ahead.

Early on the morning of December 14, the Parkins, a shad boat with a largely colored crew, steamed out of Beaufort on what everyone assumed was the last run of the season. With Christmas a week and a half away and temperatures rapidly dropping, many of the men had never fished that late in the season. But with the shad running as never before, the decision was made to go out one more time—and the captain was soon glad he did. Fishing off the Shackleford Banks, the Parkins hit school after school of late-season Delawares. No one, not even the old-timers on board, had ever seen so many shad.

That was before the storm hit.

By the night of the seventeenth, the Parkins was fighting for her life. Battered by high seas and quickly taking on water, the captain ordered most of his oversize crew into the two lifeboats, still tied to the trawler, while the first mate frantically tapped out S-O-S, S-O-S, S-O-S on the wireless. Finally, a little before two o'clock in the morning, the desperate crew could make out the dim lights of a Coast Guard rescue ship rising and falling in the heavy swell off the landward side and heading their way. But before the rescuers could cut the lifeboats free of the foundering Parkins and tow them to shore, both lifeboats suddenly capsized, sending their occupants into the frigid, pounding sea. Thirteen bodies eventually washed up on the beaches off Cape Lookout bight. Others were never found.

The sinking of the Parkins was front-page news across North Carolina. And when Aunt Lillie read about it, she quickly made up her mind. Her nephew was not going to become a fisherman. He was going to college.

Aubrey could not believe the news. While his mother said little about the whole enterprise, Aunt Lillie assured him that she had enough money in savings to cover his room and board, tuition, and books. There was nothing more important, she told him, than getting an education. Nothing.

Within days Aubrey was scanning the pages of the Journal and Guide at the school library, carefully reading the advertisements for various colored colleges, trying to figure out where he should go. It was all rather dizzying. Overnight, it seemed, his entire future had burst wide open. In four years' time, he realized, he, too, could be teaching at the Queen Street school, in his own classroom, wearing a coat and tie.

There was—or should have been—one rather substantial problem. In truth, Aubrey had never been much of a student, certainly not the type that Negro educators had traditionally sought. But the war had changed all that: by the spring of 1943, Aubrey Stanley was exactly what every cash-strapped, draft-decimated, colored college in the South was looking for—a male student who could pay his own way.

He offered something else as well.

By his sophomore year, Aubrey had become one of the starters on the Beaufort (Colored) School basketball team. Clad in their brand-new sateen uniforms, the money for which had been raised by collecting donations from the white shop owners down on the waterfront, Aubrey and his teammates soon became the talk of the small colored community. Coached by the math teacher, they ran crisscrosses and pivot plays, man-ups and over-and-arounds, dazzling opponents with their tightly orchestrated team play. And they were good. By Aubrey's senior year, they had won both the Eastern Class B (Colored) Outdoor Basketball championship and the state Negro outdoor title, clobbering a strong team from distant Madison, North Carolina, by twelve points in the final game. Aubrey had become a state champion.

It couldn't have come at a better time. For in March, the week after his sixteenth birthday, a letter arrived at the little house on Marsh Street. Not only had his application for admission to the North Carolina College for Negroes been accepted, Aubrey was also offered a small scholarship. His new life was about to begin.

(Greyhound Lines, Inc.)

It was nearly 10:00 a.m. before the bus rolled into Kinston, where Aubrey transferred to a red-and-cream Carolina Trailways coach. The countryside had changed, and the air was different, too—a hot, dry blast smelling of dust blew steadily in from the open windows. The first hills came just outside Smithfield, bringing mile after mile of pine forest, fountains of kudzu, and, once they hit Raleigh, more cars and people than Aubrey had ever seen before. The bus had even driven right past the state capitol, its huge columns bathed in colored lights. There were stores and banks and movie theaters and the Sir Walter Raleigh Hotel, with its air-conditioned coffee shop.

It was near dark when the bus finally rolled into the Durham bus station, the sunset a rose-colored smudge on the horizon. Aubrey collected his suitcase and, as he had been instructed to do in a letter from the dean, located the colored taxi stand outside the terminal and hired a cab to drive him to the college. But nothing had prepared him for what came next. For just inside the school's gates, surrounded by lofty elms and a carefully manicured lawn, stood some of the most beautiful redbrick buildings, trimmed in white, that Aubrey had ever seen.

"I never knew," he later said, "that Negroes could have anything so nice."

He paid the driver and located Mrs. Washington, the elderly dormitory matron, who showed him to his room. Happy but exhausted, Aubrey was soon asleep in one of those same buildings that, standing like a Greek chorus, would harbor his hopes and give flight to his dreams.


Negroes with LaSalles



  • "As a member of the Duke community, I have long been aware and proud of the secret game. Now Scott Ellsworth has brought it to light. The true story behind this extraordinary, long-buried game goes beyond any one school or any one state. The Secret Game is a triumphant look at how basketball has broken down barriers, and helped create a new kind of America. Every citizen needs to know this story--and to know it now."—Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of Duke Men's Basketball
  • "There is a basketball on the cover, but this is much more than a story about basketball. Yes, there was a ground-breaking basketball game played in Durham, N.C., seven decades ago, and it is recounted in great detail by Scott Ellsworth. But what we really have here is indispensable social history. White people need to read this book. People of color need to read this book. Whoever you are, you need to read this book."—Bob Ryan, Boston Globe, ESPN, author of Scribe: My Life in Sports
  • "A powerful book that is a page-turner from start to finish.... Ellsworth has written an important book that should appeal to people of all colors."—Bob D'Angelo, Tampa Tribune
  • "A fascinating new work of cultural and sports history.... Through a mixture of oral history and archival research, Ellsworth captures the rich human details of a whole generation of largely forgotten basketball players."—Nick Romeo, Boston Globe
  • "It would be difficult, if not impossible, for me to overstate my admiration for Scott Ellsworth's magnificent The Secret Game. It's a book about race, a book about the South, a book about America, a book about the '40s, a book about change as well as how things remain the same. This is one of the smartest and most eloquent books I've come across in a long time. A masterpiece."—Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances
  • "A historian with the soul of a poet, Ellsworth offers a remarkably nuanced, vibrant, and eloquent account of life in the South during WWII, and his portraits of the principal players in this secret drama are multitextured and complex."—Wes Lukowsky, Booklist (starred review)
  • "Ellsworth has unearthed a brave moment in basketball, forgotten to history, which resonates far beyond the court."—Billy Heller, New York Post
  • "Scott Ellsworth has unearthed the facts of this little-known but hugely important moment. His research is as overwhelming as his story-telling style is accessible and engaging. If you love basketball, truly love the game and all that it means in terms of this country and its civil rights history, you'll want to read and reread The Secret Game."—Roland Lazenby, author of Michael Jordan: The Life
  • "Ellsworth skillfully puts this story in the context of World War II, which forced this country to face -- albeit slowly -- its unjust treatment of those who also spilled blood to protect American democracy. He lets us know what happened to each of the players after the secret game -- their lives and their triumph no longer lost or forgotten."—Cliff Bellamy, The Herald Sun
  • "Riveting."—Kevin Nance, Chicago Tribune
  • "Amazing."—Robert Gray, Shelf Awareness
  • "Beautifully paced, its eloquence cloaked within a common touch."—Jeff Calder, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
  • "A compelling story about basketball, race and transformation...."—D.G. Martin, Winston-Salem Journal
  • "[The Secret Game] should be read by anyone with an interest in basketball history, or American sports history. Or maybe even American history for that matter."—Bill Reynolds, Providence Journal
  • "Ellsworth tells their story in the vein of Seabiscuit and The Boys in the Boat.... He reminds us who heroes are and what they can be."—Daniel Solzman, The Kentucky Democrat
  • "Ellsworth chronicles a groundbreaking matchup....He weaves 50 years of story lines...[and] the takeaway is the unimaginable bravery of both teams."—Lisa Sorg, Indy Week
  • "Mesmerizing.... An elegant, deeply talented writer."—Jennifer Conlin, frequent contributor to the New York Times
  • "Engrossing..."—Chris Skaugset, The Daily News
  • "A riveting, little-known story reminding readers of a rising generation of risk-takers who fought against Jim Crow laws and ushered in the Civil Rights Movement."—Genesis Jackson, Duke Today

On Sale
Mar 10, 2015
Page Count
400 pages

Scott Ellsworth

About the Author

Scott Ellsworth is the New York Times bestselling author of The Secret Game, which was the winner of the 2016 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. He has written about American history for the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times. Formerly a historian at the Smithsonian Institution, he is the author of Death in a Promised Land, his groundbreaking account of the 1921 Tulsa race riot. He lives with his wife and twin sons in Ann Arbor, where he teaches at the University of Michigan.

Learn more about this author