Friday, April 5, 2013

the last book I ever read (Bill Bradley's Life on the Run, excerpt nineteen)

from Life on the Run by Bill Bradley:

I have coffee with DeBusschere and a sportswriter, during which the discussion deals with the difference between basketball today and in the 1950s.

“In the fifties,” Dave says, “basketball was a power game with big muscle men around the basket. Defense was mainly for the guards, maybe because the jump shot wasn’t widely used by big men. There wasn’t much finesse. Then along came Wilt and Russell who controlled the inside. Opponents had to do other things. You had to break down the floor before Wilt or Russell could get set, and you had to be good from the outside. Quick men and coaching also became a bigger part of basketball. The concept of team defense resulted from big men cutting off the traditional way of scoring. You had to learn how to defense the guys other than Wilt or Russell. You had to press and double team so that guys wouldn’t be as effective even though they kept getting better and better at shooting.”

I always thought that the use of a small forward was the biggest innovation of my career years. In the past other teams had used players such as Frank Ramsey, George Yardley, Cliff Hagan, and John Havlicek, but when I came into the league most of the forwards were 6’6” or over. I had to play guard. Because I wasn’t quick enough I got burned often; when I had a chance to return to forward I was relieved. When writers asked Holzman how he could play me, a small 6’5” forward against men 6’9” he told them that a disadvantage was often an advantage. What he meant was that when an opposing team saw the difference in height they often forced the action toward my man, thus disrupting the normal flow of their offense, and forcing my man to take a bigger scoring responsibility. Often their hopes of taking advantage backfired when my man missed shots, or passes went awry when they tried to get the ball to him. Meanwhile on offense I was quicker than the bigger name and could maneuver for shots more easily. After Holzman used the small forward successfully, every team accepted his redefinition of the game and put men 6’4” to 6’5” at one forward position.

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