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

By Swanson, Ryan | The Journal of Southern History, February 2020 | Go to article overview

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


Swanson, Ryan, The Journal of Southern History


Dixieball: Race and Professional Basketball in the Deep South, 1947-1979. By Thomas Aiello. Sports and Popular Culture. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2019. Pp. x, 182. $34.95, ISBN 978-1-62190-463-2.)

Pete "the Pistol" Maravich holds an exalted place in basketball history and lore. As a player at Louisiana State University, Maravich averaged forty-four points per game. In the National Basketball Association (NBA), Maravich's flamboyant style (the man always thought that the behind-the-back pass was a good idea) brought fans to arenas during the 1970s--a time when the NBA was still struggling. In Thomas Aiello's Dixieball: Race and Professional Basketball in the Deep South, 1947-1979, however, it is not Maravich's on-court prowess that reigns as most important. Instead, Aiello adeptly uses Maravich--a white southerner--as a case study to understand the process by which professional basketball gained a foothold in the South.

This study is short; it spans just 120 pages, not including the notes. But in that space, Aiello performs several important tasks. Dixieball begins by situating professional basketball's rise within the broader landscape of southern sport history. Before 1960, none of the four major sports leagues in the United States (Major League Baseball, the NBA, the National Football League, and the National Hockey League) had a franchise in the states that had once made up the Confederacy. There were, however, minor and semiprofessional leagues (especially in baseball) in the South before 1960. Relying heavily on the New Orleans Times-Picayune and other southern dailies, Aiello paints a rather dismal picture of these fledgling professional circuits. When the Professional Basketball League of America (PBLA), for example, placed teams in Atlanta, Birmingham, Chattanooga, and New Orleans in 1947, it did not go well. "For New Orleans," Aiello writes of the PBLA, "the league's end meant that the city's first run at professional basketball had come to an end after little more than a week" (p. 11).

Aiello focuses most of his attention on Atlanta and New Orleans. Atlanta became the first city in the Deep South with an NBA team (the Hawks) in 1968. New Orleans built basketball momentum with the New Orleans Buccaneers franchise of the iconoclast American Basketball Association (ABA). …

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