Given the subject matter of Walter Dean Myers’ novel Hoops, about a 17-year-old male from the inner city who aspires to basketball greatness, the list of antagonists could include the disadvantaged environment in which young Lonnie Jackson grew up, the gangs that prowl the streets and hallways of tenement slums looking for recruits and victims, and the opposing teams that are, like Lonnie, driven to win. In a sense, Lonnie is his own worst enemy by virtue of the negative attitude he initially brings to Cal’s efforts at teaching the young man not just about basketball, but about life. Lonnie’s refusal to practice properly or to bring his basketball shoes on a day when Cal has promised the appearance of a well-known professional basketball player. Lonnie’s attitude, especially towards Cal, is so bad that he even pulls on gun on the coach in anger only to accidentally shoot himself in the hand.
The best answer for purposes of the question “who is the antagonist,” however, would be the professional gamblers who, like the gangs, prowled the basketball courts in search of corruptible teenagers and young adults. The role of the gamblers – in real life, often associated with organized crime – in destroying Cal’s once-promising career represents the entrance into the novel of its most easily categorized antagonists. The characters Ugly and Tyrone who exist within the world of the criminals who seek to corrupt any- and everything they can for the purpose of making money are but a small part of a bigger picture alluded to in Hoops. “Point-shaving,” the practice of deliberately missing shots so that the final outcome of the game, or the margin by which one team loses to another, has been a part of collegiate basketball for many years, although instances of it occurring have been rare for the past several decades. The gamblers who attempt to bribe players to participate in point-shaving schemes are the antagonists of this novel of growing up in the ghetto when the only hope many young males perceive for themselves is the chance to one day play professional sports.