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Andrea Chamblee, David Elfin Help Complete John McNamara's 'Capital Of Basketball'

October 4, 2019
John McNamara needed an assist. And his devoted wife, Andrea Chamblee, was there to provide it for him.

When legendary high school basketball coach Bob Dwyer of Archbishop Carroll High School in Washington, D.C., passed away in 2007, McNamara expressed regret that he had never interviewed him.

The longtime sports writer for The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Md., had been chronicling the lives and careers of basketball players in Maryland and D.C. for almost 30 years at the time of Dwyer's passing.

Chamblee loved sports, too, and covered them for a small community paper. She studied journalism at the University of Maryland, where she met McNamara as a fellow student before establishing her career in consumer health law. They married in 1985 and spent 33 years together before McNamara was killed June 27, 2018 in the newsroom of the Annapolis newspaper at the age of 56.

Chamblee would often accompany McNamara to his assignments for The Capital and help him compile stats or retrieve quotes.

"I don't know if anyone knew that I wasn't officially there for the newspaper," Chamblee said. "But I acted like I was."

After gently chiding McNamara for never reaching out to Dwyer, she encouraged him to tell the stories of other local basketball titans before they were gone, too.

"These people that achieved so much, they don't want to talk to me and spend all of this time just rehashing the glory days," Chamblee recalled McNamara telling her.

Chamblee shot back, "Of course, they do! Everyone loves to rehash the glory days. A lot of these great contributors are in their 80s. If you don't tell their stories, maybe no one ever will."

The conversation gave McNamara the push he needed to start "The Capital of Basketball," a forthcoming book under his byline that documents and celebrates the rich history of D.C. basketball.

McNamara never got the chance to finish the project. But his wife was determined to make it happen, partnering with one of McNamara's former co-authors and longtime D.C. sports writer David Elfin to complete the book. The foreword was written by former Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams, who McNamara had covered and with whom he had enjoyed a longstanding relationship.

Elfin said he only had to conduct two fresh interviews to complete the work. The bigger chore was identifying everyone in the stack of 178 captionless photos he left behind.

"I had to go back to the library and look at every yearbook to match up pictures," Chamblee said. "If I could only ask John who they were. I missed him at every stage in this process."

The process of finishing the book took about 10 months. It will be released by Georgetown University Press at the start of November.

"[John] deserved to have the book finished. The people that helped him and contributed deserved to have the book finished," Chamblee said. "I wasn't going to take no for an answer. I was going to finish it."

Among those featured are Hall of Famers Elgin Baylor, Dave Bing and E.B. Henderson, the first African American certified to teach physical education in a U.S. public school and an instrumental figure in bringing the game of basketball to the nation's capital.

Baylor and Bing, recognized by the NBA as two of the 50 greatest players ever, played at Spingarn High School in D.C. No other high school in the country ever produced two basketball players of that stature.

"John thought of the title for the book pretty early on," Chamblee said. "He always told me the D.C. area has more Hall of Famers and NBA players than any other city in the world."

There are pages devoted to Earl Lloyd, the first African American to play in the NBA, and legendary DeMatha Catholic High School coach Morgan Wootten, who connected McNamara with many of his subjects and was instrumental in the completion of the book.

Issue 257: John McNamara and Andrea Chamblee
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Andrea Chamblee

"There were three boxes of files under his desk that started in 1900," Chamblee said. "There was a file for each year and for each school. He would go to the library and look at [microfilm] for the games he hadn't seen. Of course, there were a number of games and players he had seen as well."

At the time of his death, McNamara had conducted more than 150 interviews and left behind a thorough outline of the book. So, it was not that difficult for Chamblee and Elfin to pick up where he had left it. 

"I could tell what he wanted to say and what he thought was important," Chamblee said. "It just needed full sentences."

Elfin, who covered D.C. sports for The Washington Times for 23 years, was a natural choice to finish writing the book. He had met McNamara when they were working part-time for The Washington Post right out of college.

In the summer of 2001, Elfin and McNamara co-authored "Cole Classics!" The book recounted great players, coaches and games in men's basketball history at the University of Maryland. The timing of the book coincided with the closing of Cole Field House as the Terrapins' home basketball arena in March 2002.

Elfin and McNamara had blended their voices and their styles so seamlessly in that project that it was difficult to tell who wrote what sections.

"I had known John a long time. He and Andrea came to my wedding. It seemed like a pretty natural choice for me to finish ['The Capital of Basketball']," Elfin said. "I thought it was a pretty nice way to honor my friend's memory."

"The Capital of Basketball" can be pre-ordered at press.georgetown.edu/book/georgetown/capital-basketball.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Andrea Chamblee

Issue 257: September 2019 

Originally published Sept. 16, 2019