"I came into the league making $5, 200 and left making $15,000 - that's after 10 years. I was afraid to hold out and ask for a real raise...If I ask for too much, they might just tell me to stay home" Al Bianchi, a former guard turned NBA Scout on money and having no agent. Things were different back then. Tall Tales: the Glory Years of the NBA, in the Words of the Men Who Played, Coached and Built Pro Basketball by Terry Pluto touches on the very real and important events which have shaped the pro game we know today. I will have to admit, I was a little skeptical going into this one because the market is so saturated with basketball history books claiming the last one missed something. Plus, I bought this book in the same bargain bin as A View From Above by Wilt Chamberlain as discussed last week. Since that book was a colossal disappointment, I was a little hesitant about Tall Tales but as always, kept an open mind. It is by far the best historical account of the pro game in its infancy to the creation of the National Basketball Association. It comes from the same author as Loose Balls about the ABA (American Basketball Association). Each section begins with the background of each stage in history (including why the pro game was created - believe it or not, it came from hockey roots) and ends with commentary from the players, coaches, scouts, owners and even referees of the that time period. Let's dive in and look at the book's main highlights: where the game came from (not the James Naismith connection), the rule change which revolutionized the game and the trade which changed the course of the NBA.
We're going to shove it down their throats
The book starts off by explaining the NBA was formed for three reasons: (1) Young men were making money from hockey and owning arenas. But hockey couldn't fill every gap in the schedule, so they needed something else; (2) College ball was super popular at the time and (3) World War Two was over, the men were home and had money to spend on sports. They weren't exactly demonstrating in the streets to bring in a pro basketball league "but they were going to give it to them whether they liked it or not". So really, it was all about making some more money from the owner's standpoint. And since some of these players were former soldiers or rough-housers, fighting was huge for the game in the late 40s, early fifties until they created the 'fouling out' rules, according to the book. In 1953-1954, players were allowed only two fouls in a quarter. Anymore and they were turfed from the game. I think it was funny because of all the fighting, the league actually considered creating a penalty box like in hockey and make them play 4 on 5 or whatever the situation called for. This never happened. After reading this book, I really wish I had a basketball time machine so I could go back and see players like Jerry West, George Mikan and especially Bill Russell because before he came into the game, nobody was really blocking shots. And it's interesting to watch some of the old tape because you wouldn't see a Steve Nash bringing the ball down court and conducting the play by going in 1-on-1, trying to drive it up the middle to one of your teammates. They spread out all over the place and ran.
Canadian Roots but an Italian Influence
This part I loved. Before the invention of the 24 second clock, if a team was up, they would just hang onto the ball until their opponent fouled them in an attempt to gain possession. They actually played for 9 whole seasons without a shot clock until Danny Biasone's idea changed the game. I think this is the most important rule considering where the game started and how it changed the game: "The amazing thing about the 24 second clock is that it started at 24 seconds and is still 24 seconds today. No one has seriously considered changing it" (Play-by-Play guy Chick Hearn). It was all so simple, too. Danny Biasone had owned a semi-pro football team before World War Two and since there were not enough players after the war, he decided to get into pro basketball. He owned a pro basketball team from 1946-1947 and according to the book, became frustrated with the game and the number of fouls. So get this. Danny Biasone figured out each team took 60 shots, totalling 120 over the course of the game. He divided the length of the game which was 48 minutes at the time (2, 880 seconds) by 120 shots to get 24 seconds per shot. Before this rule was created, there was actually a score of 19-18 between Fort Wayne and the Minneapolis Lakers. Unbelievable.
Trading for draft rights..what?
"Before the start of the [1965-1966] season, I said I was quitting. I told the Lakers, The Sixers and anyone else that this was their last shot at me. I didn't want to be accused of going out while I was still ahead. They had one more chance to knock me off" (Red Auerbach in his last year of coaching the Celtics). Red Auerbach wanted to win and so did everyone else. Trades were made all over the map but the one that changed how things were done in the NBA, according to the book, was when St. Louis agreed to trade the draft rights of Bill Russell to Boston for Cliff Hagan and Ed McCauley. No one had a clue the impact Bill Russell would have on the Celtics but they took a chance. Some people in NHL circles think the Toronto Maple Leafs don't have a clue for this reason because of making trades and taking a chance on the wrong people. (Let's hope that this year is different because Toronto sports fans need to get excited about something). But the Boston Celtics had a history of making good decisions. I still can't even imagine one single team winning 8 consecutive championships - the longest championship streak in North American sports. But that is was the Celtics did under Auerbach as their coach. My god, that guy was brilliant both on and off the court. Breaking down colour barriers and the opposition with defence and fast breaks - this book made me really appreciate Red Auerbach and Bill Russell a little more and what they did for the game.
Flick Pick of the Week
I know you are going to think I am outside my mind with this pick because I know some of you have told me this before with previous picks. I guess I should be used to it. I love Whoopi Goldberg so I want you to watch 'EDDIE' starring Miss Whoopi. This flick also includes other appearances by Rick Fox, Greg Ostertag, John Salley, Mark Jackson and Marv Albert as himself. Whoopi plays the newest coach of the New York Knicks. I think it's funny and entertaining. Apparently, home games were actually filmed at the Charlotte Coliseum, home to the Charlotte Hornets at the time the movie was made.
For next week, I picked up an interesting read from my local library: Can I Keep My Jersey? 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond by Paul Shirley. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to have a friend who played in the NBA? This book attempts to answer this question. Unbelievable really, how he did it. I will see you on Tuesday for another serving of Jiggly Bits. So until then, happy reading.