Gene Luen Yang Discovers the Art of Basketball

Was it difficult to decide which Dragons to include?

Incredibly difficult. They are all so fascinating. I knew Paris Austin and Ivan Rabb were going to be in the book because they are the stars of the team. Any time I saw something that resonated between what I was reading about in basketball history and a player that was on the court, it just lit up for me and I ended up including them.

Was there reluctance on anyone’s part to participate?

I feel like Coach Lou Richie and his staff put a lot of emphasis on character development, and it shows. So I never felt any pushback when I was talking to them about the games and the practices. But sometimes if I asked too much about their past, some of them would deflect a little bit. When they are on the court, that’s their public persona. That’s what they want everybody to see. But they want to keep a piece of themselves.

Were you worried about being able to convey the kinetic energy of the court?

Yes. I was totally freaked out about that. I didn’t know the game that well, and comics are a static medium. I think that’s a constant struggle for cartoonists. How do we get things that are actually still to feel like they’re moving? So I read “Slam Dunk,” by Takehiko Inoue, which is one of the most popular manga out there. I feel he portrays action really well. I looked at other sports comics. “Check, Please!” from First Second is a stellar example. “Fantasy Sports” is another one. Beyond that, I watched a lot of game tape. I was looking for key moments, and I would take those and exaggerate them.

You struggled with whether to include Mike Phelps, a former coach, in your story.

Coach Lou was the coach when I was following the team. His coach when he was in high school was a guy named Mike Phelps, who passed away last year. Mike was the winningest coach in California state history. He was forced into retirement because somebody accused him of acting inappropriately at the beginning of his career. It was a very confusing time for the community. The uncertainty and confusion continue to this day. His name kept coming up, and he had such a big influence on the program. In the end, I couldn’t leave him out.

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