When he walked off the court after Dunbar's triple overtime loss to Calvert Hall during the 1980-81 season, legendary head coach Bob Wade locked eyes with Tyrone "Muggsy" Bogues, who was in the bleachers, and shrugged his shoulders. Wade and Bogues both knew a true point guard would have secured Dunbar's 9-point lead with less than two minutes remaining. Bogues submitted his transfer papers from Southern High for his junior year and joined Coach Wade.
Alejandro Danois' riveting new book, "The Boys of Dunbar: A Story of Love, Hope and Basketball" reveals the backstory of the greatest team in Baltimore high school basketball history through a series of unforgettable moments like this one.
Beginning with the first practice of the 1981-82 season, Danois takes readers inside the gymnasiums, the games, the chalk talks, the bus rides, the hotels, the summer camps and the players' homes, where they overcame the day-to-day struggle of life in Baltimore to bring national prominence to their school and their city.
"Back then, high school basketball meant something," Danois said. "Now kids are more concerned with playing in summer showcases. The book is a reminder of what the game was and what it must become again."
A sports journalist, Ali Danois grew up on the basketball courts of Brooklyn where word traveled north about a team from Baltimore with bench players going to Division I schools and a point guard mistakenly called "Buggsy."
In the book, Danois captures a Baltimore in transition during the early 1980s, when recreation centers and their directors, like Leon Howard, held the frayed edges of the community together by setting up basketball hoops. A new breed of younger and more aggressive drug dealers had emerged, and manufacturing jobs disappeared as plants closed down.
"Crime was on the rise," Danois said. "Outdoor drug markets went into operation and turf wars began."
The story revolves around Wade and the four stars who made it into the NBA: Bogues, Reggie "Russ" Williams, David "Gate" Wingate and sixth man Reggie "Truck" Lewis, who died of a heart attack at 27. They were Baltimore boys with distinctive personalities who fought for each other, and Danois' depiction evokes the characters in Barry Levinson's movie, "Diner."
Wade's practices come to life in the book, with players lugging bricks while they ran suicides. He coached with military precision, emphasizing preparation and defense. He also ensured his players carried themselves with dignity off the court by keeping tabs on them through a vast community network he established when he attended Dunbar decades before. When the boys strayed, he was often waiting when they returned from their capers.
"He'd known them all since they were playing on milk crates as toddlers," Danois said. "It was his mother's voice pushing him that he used to coach the team. He didn't have a father."
"The Boys of Dunbar" tackles the issue regarding the real No. 1 team in the nation that year, Calvert Hall or Dunbar. Both teams played the No. 1 ranked Camden Panthers, and the possibility of a matchup between the Cards and the Poets percolates throughout the narrative. The showdown between Dunbar and Camden High in New Jersey is one the strongest chapters in the book. The Panthers hadn't lost a home game since 1977. When fans first glimpsed the 5-foot-3 point guard called Muggsy, they started pointing and laughing.
"I'm going to have the last laugh," he told his coach.
Muggsy steals the show for most of the book as well -- racing around the pages making steals, recording assists and defying a lifetime of detractors, including the late five-star guru, Howard Garfinkel, who believed he was too small. An underdog with a chip on his shoulder, Bogues becomes a metaphor for the city of Baltimore.
"Muggsy has an incredible memory," Danois said. "We'd get on conference calls, and he'd remember players who liked to dribble high and the exact moments in games when he made steals."
As a kid in Brooklyn, Danois rebounded for his neighbor Lorenzo Charles, who won a national championship with North Carolina State.
"We'd watch the court from our apartment windows," he said. "When he appeared, my friend and I would start yelling, 'Lo is on the court!'"
He followed the Dunbar players through their college and pro careers and pitched the story a decade ago to a magazine editor who told him to write a book. He now lives in Baltimore and is working on an ESPN "30 for 30" film account of the team.
"I started out writing a book about basketball," Danois said. "I spent time in the archives at Enoch Pratt and realized it goes way deeper than that."
Issue 226: October 2016