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One Museum's Love Letter to Basketball

SARAH GELBARD, HOST: If New York City were to pen a love letter this Valentine’s day to it’s favorite past times, where would it send it to? Maybe to the theaters of Broadway, or the at Museums of the Upper East Side? Will Walkey reports from one museum, where a new exhibit showcases one of the most important parts of the city’s culture. As you’ll soon find out, the ties between the two run as deep as the Hudson River.

WILL WALKEY, BYLINE: Curators at the City Museum of New York had a challenge this year. Present a Valentine to a prominent past time with roots across all five boroughs. And what was the new love letter they were displaying? A new exhibit to basketball. Maria Curran Curtis is a fan of the sport.

CURRAN CURTIS: New York is basketball. I mean I think everyone kind of knows it’s the Mecca.

WALKEY: The exhibit is called City Game. Though basketball was invented in Massachusetts in 1891, it came to New York City soon after and it was love at first sight. The NBA was founded here and a number of the game’s legends call the city home. And like any great love story, the relationship has had its ups and downs. Take the New York Knicks, which some New Yorkers complain have been irrelevant since the 1990s. Curran Curtis says she appreciates how the museum took care to highlight all communities who love the game. Videos behind her depict WNBA superstars and players in a wheelchair league.

CURTIS: If you wanna play basketball, jump right in, you know jump right on the court. And everybody has the same opportunity, and it has a very good spirit about it.

WALKEY: Viewers here walk into a big open room where memorabilia and photographs are displayed on metal shelves designed to look like bleachers. There’s black and white video footage of high school games. Snippets of high-intensity streetball games with large crowds. And Footage from the Knicks glory days, sadly over 20 years ago. When hip hop culture grew in the 80s and 90s, trash-talking streetball culture developed with it in public parks all over Harlem and Brooklyn. What’s the best way to frame all this history? Jonathan Jackson is one of the designers of City Game.

JONATHAN JACKSON: The viewer of the exhibit is actually in the middle where the performer would be, and the content is sort of where the spectator would be. So it’s sort of a flipped perspective in that manner.

WALKEY: Like some long relationships, there’s tragedy involved. One video shows footage of the recently deceased Kobe Bryant playing streetball in Harlem. Curran Curtis says she came to pay respects to her uncle, Jack Curran. He passed away in 2013 and features prominently in a few videos. He coached high school ball in Queens for 55 years, and a number of the game’s legends, like Kenny the Jet Smith and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, say they owe some of their success to him. It gets Curran Curtis choked up to see forgotten patrons of the game like her uncle highlighted.

CURTIS: He was like my father, so, so sorry I’ll get it together in a minute. Just, he was a great guy, and I’m really great to see that he’s a part of this exhibit.

WALKEY: Valentine’s Day may end tonight at midnight, but New York’s love letter to basketball is open for the rest of the year. Will Walkey. Columbia Radio News.


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