From Court to Stage

Dons basketball informs play The Great Leap, debuting at A.C.T Theater in March

By Annie Breen Posted Thu, 03/14/2019 - 16:27

The players: A cocky Dons basketball coach and his former protégé. The setting: Exhibition game in Beijing. The year: 1989. 

So begins Lauren Yee’s play The Great Leap, which debuted March 6 at A.C.T. Theater in San Francisco. Its plot involves a USF basketball team’s trip to China to play an exhibition game during an era when the U.S.-China relationship was particularly frosty. That tension is mirrored in the connection between the Dons coach and the coach of the Chinese team — a former mentor/mentee duo, with the latter now determined to crush the Westerners from San Francisco.

Steeped in Chinatown

There was never any question that the team featured at the play’s center would be the USF Dons. Yee’s father came of age in San Francisco in the ’50s, when Bill Russell and the Dons were dominating college basketball, and was a huge fan of the sport. 

“My dad grew up in Chinatown and played basketball all over its courts, particularly at the Chinese rec center,” Yee said. “I thought it might be fun to compare the experience of a young basketball player who battled it out in street ball against that of a USF coach whose world would have been very different from my father’s.”

Her decision to focus on USF basketball was about more than her father’s personal history, however. In 1955, the Dons became the first collegiate team to win a national championship with three African Americans in its starting lineup. 

“The play is all about underdogs and unlikely heroes in sports, politics, and life,” Yee said. “USF’s history as one of the first basketball teams to feature a deeply integrated starting lineup is noteworthy. Sports at their best unite us.”

The Great Leap runs March 6 – 31 at A.C.T. Theater, where lobby areas and concession stands will be decked in green and gold to masquerade as Dons’ sports bars.

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