Rutgers professor creates basketball exhibit for New York City Museum
Marc Aronson, an assistant professor in the Master of Information program, proposed the idea for the “City/Game: Basketball in New York” exhibit, which opens Feb. 14 at the Museum of the City of New York.
Aronson said he drafted a description for the exhibit, only to later successfully introduce it as the blueprint for the show.
Aronson, who said he creates nonfiction books illustrated with archival images, took on the project because it felt like a kind of three-dimensional version of the weave of art and text, which is just the sort of work he is familiar with when writing and editing his own books.
“Having played ball in the city since I was a child and having followed college and professional ball throughout my life, was one inspiration for the exhibit,” Aronson said. “But I have been working on a thematic history of the city for several years, and so I know something about how basketball wove through and illustrated the city’s history.”
Aronson went on to explain that New York’s stake as a media capital heightened the scope of the game when ideas about how the game was played, specifically in places like Holcombe Rucker Park and West Fourth Street, began to filter beyond city borders through the different media channels: newspaper and radio, then on TV and finally mixtapes and social media.
“New York is both the home of distinct and separated ethnic neighborhoods and the exemplar of mixture. It is the world’s most immigrant city, and – despite at times violent resistance – took a lead in social, legal and cultural racial integration. Basketball both tracked ethnic rivalry and created the opportunity for mixture: New York high school, college and pro teams integrated before others," Aronson said, when asked how he would describe the relationship between basketball and the city.
When Aronson was not working with Dr. Lilly Tuttle, the in-house curator of the Museum of the City of New York, he said he was researching and developing text for each section of the exhibit with the help of his son, Sasha Aronson.
Sasha Aronson has also carried a passion for basketball with him, all the way into his young adult life as he manages for Tulane University's Division 1 basketball program under the stewardship of head coach Ron Hunter.
“I have and continue to study basketball highlights for entire nights,” Sasha Aronson said.
Sasha Aronson explained that he originally went in with the eagerness to uncover hidden details about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s dominance in the basketball world, but he stepped out fascinated with Bob Douglass more, who does not receive the credit he deserves for being the first Black basketball owner to a fully professional basketball team, in Sasha Aronson's opinion.
“You know, what is fascinating about this exhibit is that although basketball was not invented in New York, you can trace the history and development of modern-day basketball through the evolution of New York basketball,” Sasha Aronson said. “From the Harlem Renaissance to streetball legends like Joe Hammond, New York boasts an impressive breadth of legendary players, courts and games.”
Sasha Aronson and Marc Aronson also teamed up when it came to the book of the show. As they researched for the exhibit, they would gather all the information and project it toward the timeline at the end of the book.
“My dad is someone who loves chronological organization, so I don’t think that was particularly difficult for him. Just seeing all the information in one place is very refreshing, it gives the reader a sense of how New York Basketball history fits together,” Sasha Aronson said.
The creative process behind the exhibit extended to an entire panel of expert advisors, one of them being Jeffrey Lane, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Rutgers.
By having a spot on the advisory committee, Lane got to brainstorm and provide feedback on different parts of the exhibit shoulder-to-shoulder with some of his favorite basketball-enthused cohorts who he later went on to dub as "basketball royalty," he said.
“I was especially excited about working with Bobbito Garcia, a basketball, hip-hop and sneaker culture icon, William Rhoden, an incredible basketball writer at The New York Times for many years and book author and Tom Konchalski, who writes a recruiting newsletter for college coaches and has an encyclopedic knowledge of NYC high basketball. This was an extraordinary group,” Lane said.
After speaking with Lane, Marc Aronson and Sasha Aronson, it became clear that their collaborative spirits did not merely end with meetings at the museum, they also followed them onto the court.
“Marc Aronson invited me and I was thrilled to say yes. Prior to the invitation, Marc and I exchanged books we’ve each written on basketball and have enjoyed an ongoing conversation about the game and culture. I also recently played ball with Marc’s son, Sasha, who completed archival research for the exhibit,” Lane said.
Nevertheless, the basketball community, turned global, never ceases to give its supporters something worthy of a little celebration every day.
Proud members of this vast community continue to rally sympathetic cries on any loss and roar powerful applause at every win.
Take this moment in basketball for Rutgers University and the advancement of its teams, for instance.
At the same time, consider the recent passing away of one of the most immeasurable sports icons to date, let alone former Los Angeles Lakers superstar and NBA MVP, Kobe Bryant, who individuals like Sasha Aronson will forever look up to.
“Kobe was the Michael Jordan. He was the standard of excellence in the way he approached basketball but also life as he grew into his own man. Kobe saw how Michael Jordan crafted a story of perfection and sought out to make a story of his own that others would be forced to admire. He embraced the villain killer to such an extent that he was uncomfortable receiving the ovations he did in his final 20th year playing basketball. I will remember Kobe as the standard for how to approach any craft I wish to master,” Sasha Aronson said.
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