Wednesday, February 13, 2013

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

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

The original owners of teams in the Basketball Association of America were primarily operators of large arenas in big cities looking for events. Most were associated with hockey, whether in the National Hockey League or a hockey minor league. Few, if any, had experience with basketball, with the exception of New York Knickerbockers representative Ned Irish, who had built his fame and fortune by promoting college basketball doubleheaders at Madison Square Garden.

The BAA owners faced a major obstacle: the rival National Basketball League (NBL), which predated World War II. The BAA and NBL would compete directly only in Chicago and, briefly, Detroit. The league was initially comprised of teams located primarily in smaller Midwestern cities, although Chicago and Minneapolis eventually joined. Many of the teams were locally owned. In a sense, these teams’ owners were similar to owners of Minor League Baseball teams: civic-minded, small-town businessmen who wanted to provide a leisure-time activity and possibly make some money. Some of the owners were former players or managers of barnstorming professional basketball teams.

If they had so chosen, BAA owners could have studied the histories of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Football League (NFL). The BAA and NBL mimicked baseball’s National League and the NFL respectively. These established leagues had different antecedents. William Hulbert proposed baseball’s National League after a disastrous 1875 season for the National Association. Teams paid a nominal fee to be in the older league. Haphazard scheduling and large disparities in talent and population bases created chaos. Hulbert wanted a baseball league comprised of teams in large cities only (of over 75,000 in population). He also wanted owners to control players. His vision proved durable. The American League would eventually mimic the National League by placing teams in large cities only.

The National Football League’s immediate antecedent, the American Professional Football Association (APFA) was similar to the NBL, as it was concentrated in smaller cities, albeit in Ohio (Akron, Canton, Columbus, and Dayton), and large cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit, while basketball’s hotbeds were mostly in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota. While the teams in Chicago would anchor the NFL through its tumultuous formative years, it wasn’t until 1926, when New York, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and Boston acquired franchises, that the league began its transformation into “major league” status. The league eliminated most of the smaller towns, although Green Bay remains a relic of the league’s early days. The APFA also had haphazard scheduling. Since the schedules were haphazard for several seasons, owners voted at the end of the season to determine league champions.

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