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Colin Powell School Professor Explores Under the Radar Basketball Subculture

Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership

Colin Powell School Professor Explores Under the Radar Basketball Subculture

February 3, 2015

In Desi Hoop Dreams: Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity, Stanley L. Thangaraj examines South Asian basketball leagues in the United States.


Stanley L. Thangaraj, an assistant professor of anthropology at the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at The City College of New York, is the author of a forthcoming book on the little known world of South Asian basketball in the United States. His book, Desi Hoop Dreams, Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity, published by New York University Press (available June 2015) explores a growing subculture that offers young Pakistani-, Bangladeshi-, and Indian-American men avenues through which to define their identity and masculinity.


Thangaraj was drawn to the subject by his own experience playing in an exclusively South-Asian league during the mid-1990s while working on his B.A. at Emory University in Atlanta. Thangaraj’s participation ignited his scholarly interest in the subculture while conducting his Ph.D. research at the University of Illinois. 


The result is a fascinating examination, rich with first-person insights from players, of a little known world, that has, in fact, been around for decades. The first such leagues began in 1989 and spread with the sport’s rise during Michael Jordan’s heyday. Now well established in New York, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Detroit, San Francisco, and other metro areas, the leagues have enabled South Asian Americans of different religions, ethnic origins, and social classes to bridge divides and build community.


By aspiring to athletic achievement in the all-American sport of basketball, Thangaraj writes, South Asian American men shed less-than-ideal stereotypes of themselves as computer geeks and terrorists. By playing hoops, they push back against hostile post 9-11 cultural conceptions.


In his book, Thangaraj, a socio-cultural anthropologist who focuses on the areas of gender, race, citizenship, sexuality, class, and ethnicity in Asian Americans, examines the effect of those intersectional factors on leagues’ selectivity and exclusion of female players. “The very idea of who could and couldn’t play in the league is part of the process by which you define your masculinity,” Thangaraj says, “as opposed to, say, ‘black masculinity’ or ‘gay masculinity.’” 


Considering how these realms intersect through sports is an important area of study for Thangaraj. “Through sports, ethnic American communities ask and answer important questions about who is marginalized, what our boundaries are, and what the process for inclusion is,” he says. In Desi Hoop Dreams, Thangaraj brings this complex experience to life.


About the Colin Powell School 

Inaugurated in 2013, the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership comprises the five departments of Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology and dynamic interdisciplinary programs including International Relations, International Studies, Latin American and Latino Studies, Mental Health Counseling, Pre-Law, Public Service Management, Women’s Studies, and the Skadden, Arps Honors Program for Legal Studies. The School offers a wide variety of traditional and interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate degrees and houses the Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology offered by the CUNY Graduate Center. The Colin Powell School’s hallmark values of service and leadership permeate every aspect of its work and animate City College’s unflagging and historic commitment to access and excellence.

About The City College of New York

Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. More than 16,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in: the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture; the School of Education; the Grove School of Engineering; the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education, and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. U.S. News, Princeton Review and Forbes all rank City College among the best colleges and universities in the United States.