Desi Hoop Dreams

Pickup Basketball and the Making of Asian American Masculinity

288 pages

1 map

June, 2015

ISBN: 9780814760932



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Stanley I. Thangaraj is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at City College of New York.

All books by Stanley I. Thangaraj

South Asian American men are not usually depicted as ideal American men. They struggle against popular representations as either threatening terrorists or geeky, effeminate computer geniuses. To combat such stereotypes, some use sports as a means of performing a distinctly American masculinity. Desi Hoop Dreams focuses on South Asian-only basketball leagues common in most major U.S. and Canadian cities, to show that basketball, for these South Asian American players is not simply a whimsical hobby, but a means to navigate and express their identities in 21st century America.

The participation of young men in basketball is one platform among many for performing South Asian American identity. South Asian-only leagues and tournaments become spaces in which to negotiate the relationships between masculinity, race, and nation. When faced with stereotypes that portray them as effeminate, players perform sporting feats on the court to represent themselves as athletic. And though they draw on black cultural styles, they carefully set themselves off from African American players, who are deemed “too aggressive.” Accordingly, the same categories of their own marginalization—masculinity, race, class, and sexuality—are those through which South Asian American men exclude women, queer masculinities, and working-class masculinities, along with other racialized masculinities, in their effort to lay claim to cultural citizenship.

One of the first works on masculinity formation and sport participation in South Asian American communities, Desi Hoop Dreams focuses on an American popular sport to analyze the dilemma of belonging within South Asian America in particular and in the U.S. in general.


  • "This close reading of the meanings and embodied practices of competitive basketball playing by Desi young men in Atlanta illuminates how minoritized Americans negotiate racial, class and national belonging. Through vivid ethnography, Thangaraj supplements the critiques of emasculation that abound in Asian American studies, focusing instead on performances of athletic swagger, manning up, and homosociality. . . . A fresh narrative of racial crossing and masculinity making."

    —Louisa Schein, Rutgers University

  • "In this compelling, experiential ethnography of South Asian American men and sports, Thangaraj dribbles and shoots hoops with young men, exploring the performance of racialized masculinities on the basketball court that challenges the mainstream imagination of South Asian American bodies. This pioneering book is a refreshingly new window into questions of race, sexuality, and class that critically examines what it means to 'man up' and claim normative American masculinities while enacting multiple, yet sometimes exclusionary, identities. There is much to be learned from this thoughtful, nuanced, and frank analysis of the politics of sport and masculinity."

    —Sunaina Maira, author of Desis in the House: Indian American Youth Culture in New York City

  • “[I]t is interesting and worthwhile…to learn how desi men handle the general problem of masculinity and the specific problem of being brown in what is still principally a black-and-white society.”

    Anthropology Review Database

  • “In Desi Hoop Dreams, Thangaraj effectively captures the complexity and nuance of the sport, masculinity, and race in America from the frequently overlooked perspective of South Asian American men.”

    American Journal of Sociology

  • “[…] Desi Hoop Dreams offers an important ethnographic exploration of the making of masculinity among South Asian American men from brown bodies to brown-out spaces…The author’s use of multiple analytical lenses to examine the making of masculinity across social locations also sets an excellent example of ethnographic research.”

    Gender & Society

  • "The book is a revealing read that shatters many stereotypes of South Asian immigrants in the US and Canada and takes a scholarly look at how a subsection of the desi population found solace in basketball at both the grassroots level as well as the national stage in Indo-Pak Tournaments."

  • "Desi Hoop Dreams provides rich, detailed descriptions of basketball in South Asian American ('Desi') communities in the US and, in a few instances, Canada."

    Annals of Leisure Research

  • “Thangaraj’s Desi Hoop Dreams is an important contribution to the undertheorized area of South Asian masculinity studies, and is ideal reading for courses related to gender, South Asia, and diaspora studies. It also enriches our understanding of the intersection of race and gender within mainstream sporting institutions, and is useful to the growing subgenres of the sociology and anthropology of sports.” 

    Anthropological Quarterly

  • “Thangaraj complicates discourses on race by moving the conversation away from the overdetermined black-white binaries that are exclusionary while also demonstrating the intimate connection the binary has to Desi men’s engagement with multiple racialized bodies…Thangaraj’s work not only serves as an important resource for sport and South Asian American life but also contributes to conversations on race, gender, and sexuality…Desi Hoop Dreams is an important read for undergraduates, graduate students, and scholars of sport, postcolonial, gender, and race studies.”

    American Anthropologist

  • “Thangaraj’s well-rounded accounts of men, their ideas, social groups, activities, and encounters reflect American socialization, assimilation, and the perpetuation of othering…One is left more educated by having read Thangaraj’s Desi Hoop Dreams because of the impressive intersectional ethnographic work produced through inquisitiveness, candid reporting, and knowledge of useful and relevant literatures…Desi Hoop Dreams jumps fully into current debates regarding immigration and Americanness.”

    Contemporary Sociology

  •  “Overall this book offers rich ethnographic insight into the social lives of South Asian American men and contributes significant observations about the South Asian Experience in the USA”

    Social Anthropology