Staying Ahead of the Posse: The Ben Jobe Story

Oct 6, 2008

This book is not what it appears to be?that is, an as-told-to sports biography. It would be better if it were, because Ben Jobe is a man who has led an unusual and interesting life.

This book is not what it appears to be?that is, an as-told-to sports biography. It would be better if it were, because Ben Jobe is a man who has led an unusual and interesting life.

Born in 1933, the last of fifteen children, Jobe had actually dropped out of high school, and was persuaded to return, to Pearl High in Nashville, where he starred at basketball, made the all-state team and then, as a senior in 1951, the all-national high school team. Jobe then chose to enroll and play ball at Fisk University, a predominately black school. After graduation, Jobe began a coaching career that took him from a Nashville high school to Sierra Leone, where he actually met and spoke to the Queen of England, to jobs coaching at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi, the University of South Carolina, the University of Denver, the Denver Nuggets, Georgia Tech, Huntsville A&M, Southern University in Baton Rouge, to Tuskegee University, piling up over 500 wins along the way, and becoming the highest paid black basketball coach in America.

Jobe has retired, but I am told he will join the New York Knicks organization for the coming season.

In my opinion, there is not enough learned here about Jobe's personal life?his wife and family, his experiences on various campuses, the many personalities he has encountered along the way.

Instead, the book is about Jobe's opinions and there are many digressions along the way. The reader does learn a little about Jobe's style of coaching. He asserts, for example, that he needs no stars to win, just three well-conditioned, eager players who will take the ball up court fast, in three seconds, and shoot in eight seconds. Jobe says the man who invented the shot clock belongs in the G.E. Hall of Fame, not the basketball Hall of Fame, and he would not accept induction unless Dick Vitale were removed and put into the Ringling /circus/ Hall of Fame. Vitale, he says, "couldn't coach his way out of a bathroom."

Obviously a man of strong opinions, Jobe is most vehement about the NCAA, which he calls "a fascist, Gestapo organization," the "Imperial Forty." Jobe blames the NCAA for a host of evils, especially the slow destruction of basketball programs at black colleges. To Jobe, it is now all about the money, the millions big schools make selling tickets and even more millions from the tournaments, which he sees as biased against small and black schools. The money is so corrupting, in his opinion, that it injures the black community in general, not just the players who are exploited, fail to graduate, and then are taken into what he calls the NBA Plantation System.

Jobe asserts that the players are urged to forget their roots, forget their blackness, forget their responsibilities to their people and thus these very talented young men are lost forever. They will not become the doctors, lawyers, teachers, social workers they might have become and they leave the black community behind. He singles out Michael Jordan, called here "His Airness," who, he says, remained "famously neutral on everything from the Nike sweatshops to the race-baiting politics of Jesse Helms," presumably to protect his image as pitch man for underwear.

This book will be of interest mainly to basketball people, I think. The writing is not particularly graceful and the digressions on Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, George Washington Carver, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the Civil Rights Movement, the writings of James Baldwin and many other complicated subjects are insufficiently nuanced and depend too heavily on the theories of Cornel West, one of our most radical interpreters of race in America.