Monday, February 11, 2013

the last book I ever read (David George Surdam's The Rise of the National Basketball Association, excerpt one)

from The Rise of the National Basketball Association by David George Surdam:

The BAA/NBA exhibited such “bush league” characteristics during its early seasons as relying on exhibition games featuring the Harlem Globetrotters; playing doubleheaders; using territorial draft picks of stars from local colleges; playing regular-season games out of town; and having teams fold mid-season. Some teams continued to play league games in high school gymnasiums well into the 1950s. Even the fable Madison Square Garden had its primitive aspects. Sportswriter James Murray depicted a situation not much improved since the Roman Coliseum’s heyday: “Dressing Room 34 at Madison Square Garden was a dingy, bare place with peeling plaster walls, a row of coat hooks above a line of splintery benches and a bath and shower room that afforded no privacy. A bare-bulb overhead light shone down.”

Johnny “Big Red” Kerr remembered winning the NBA championship his rookie season. His Syracuse team beat the Fort Wayne Pistons. Because of a bowling tournament in Fort Wayne, the Pistons’ home games were played in Indianapolis. After Kerr’s team won, they received some money and a plaque from the Optimists Club that read, “Congratulations, World Champions.” Players in today’s NBA may well view the money from winning the playoffs as so much pocket change, but they do at least get a gaudy ring.

The league’s greatest star, George Mikan, dominated the league in a way few players, aside from Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, have. His Minneapolis Lakers won five titles in the team’s first six years in the BAA/NBA, as well as National Basketball League titles earlier. Mikan led the league in scoring three years in a row and finished second the next two years. Some observers believe the rule changing the width of the free-throw lane from six to twelve feet was in reaction to his dominance. While the lane-widening rule contributed to his drop-off in scoring, Mikan continued to dominate. In today’s media-driven market, he might have fared poorly with his glasses and bow ties. However, despite his mild appearance, Mikan was frequently hailed as the league’s best drawing card.

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