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Dixieball: Race and Professional Basketball in the Deep South, 1947-1979

Professional basketball was functionally different from baseball and football. Fans were closer to the players, who showed more of their bodies and had nothing covering their face and head. Blackness, then, had more of an impact in basketball than it had in other sports, and professional basketball was blackening. When Rosa Parks was removed from her Montgomery bus, the NBA was 7.5 percent black. By the time Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, it was 47.5 percent black. Professional basketball was becoming known as a “black” sport. That being the case, the Sunbelt South’s relationship with professional basketball was more fraught, more representative of its slow crawl from the social and economic prison of the Closed Society, as the business imperatives and cultural currency that came with professional sports clashed with the undeniable blackness of basketball. It made the survival of those teams more tenuous, the fan support more fickle, and the racial incidents between players and fans more hostile. Professional basketball’s first move to the Deep South was problematic and largely temporary, as racism clashed with civic development in a new and changing South. To demonstrate the evolution of that clashing, Dixieball begins by describing the intersections of professional basketball and the Deep South in the two decades prior to the region’s first major franchise, before analyzing the development of the ABA’s New Orleans Buccaneers, the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks, then the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz.