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Book Review: Hoop Lore A History of the NBA
By: Bill Ingram
A new NBA season is nearly upon us, so what better time to take a quick trip back to the origins of the game? Connie Kirchberg’s new book, Hoop Lore: A History of the National Basketball Association, takes us on just such a journey. So sit back, relax, and let’s go back to a time when you needed a ladder to play “Basket Ball” . . .so you could get the ball out of the basket.
A Canadian theology student by the name of James Naismith invented our favorite sport on or about December 21, 1891 as an exercise of the body and mind at the YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. Now, well over a century later, that same city houses the basketball Hall of Fame, where fans from all over the country go to see their heroes enshrined. Kirchberg’s book takes us from one extreme to the other, and covers everything in between.
Basket Ball was a very different game from what we enjoy today. Very few baskets were actually scored during the course of the game, and all rules were off once someone had scored. The payoff for doing so was often a hard elbow and an express trip to the floor. Nonetheless, Basket Ball quickly replaced volleyball as the YMCA’s most popular sport, and soon caught fire in gyms across the country.
Read about the early growing pains of the sport, which saw league after league go under before the National Basketball Association ultimately became the official league of Naismith’s invention. Haven’t heard of the Buffalo Germans? They were the very first basketball dynasty . . .read all about them in Kirchberg’s book.
It wasn’t until the professional leagues adopted the standardized rules that college campuses had established that pro basketball began to catch on . . .and even then it took a while. Americans loved baseball and were beginning to enjoy football, but basketball was still a distant third in the 1920’s. The birth of the ABL would change that. The league’s first season – a 30-game schedule – saw eight of nine teams complete the entire schedule intact, making it the first pro hoops league to accomplish such a feat.
Kirchberg takes us through the births and deaths of the Basketball Association of America, the National Basketball League, including the emergence of the first true basketball star: George Mikan. And then, after 53 years of interleague battles and racial tension, the National Basketball Association was born. It helped that collegiate basketball was embroiled in a scandal over gambling and point shaving, but whatever it took, professional basketball was here to stay.
Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West – all household names today, but in the 1950’s they were the men who laid the groundwork for today’s NBA. In the 60’s Oscar Robertson, Lenny Wilkens, and Bill Russell kept the ball rolling . . .so to speak . . .as the NBA faced its first real competition when the ABA started up. Find out how Dr. J became the force that joined the nation’s two largest basketball leagues in Hoop Lore.
Kermit Washington’s blow to Rudy Tomjanovich’s face threatened to ruin the hard-fought market gains basketball had made since the NBA became the one and only hoops league. Fortunately for the sport, Larry Bird was about to burst onto the scene and show fans that basketball was much more than a thuggish brawl. Magic Johnson’s arrival emphasized this even more, and their rivalry ultimately became the bedrock of the NBA’s foundation. Michael Jordan’s domination of the 1990’s made the NBA everyone’s favorite sport.
Hoop Lore takes you through it all – the rough days of Basket Ball’s inception to the modern era of glory and worldwide expansion. Connie Kirchberg has done a masterful job of telling the inside story of the history of the greatest game on hardwood.
Hoop Lore Foreword by Jim Barnett:
Have you ever wondered how professional sports came to be so powerful and influential in our daily lives? Are you amazed at the immense salaries professional athletes command today? What is the genesis for this popularity with athletes and the fierce competition they provide?
If you are specifically interested in basketball, and particularly the NBA, Connie Kirchberg’s “Hoop Lore” (A History of the NBA) is a must read. This story is the most comprehensive I have seen in all of my travels throughout the basketball world; it is an informative, moving history lesson for all basketball fans. The pages take you from the YMCA with Dr. James Naismith in 1891 and weave you through more than a century of basketball growth. You read about the Buffalo Germans in the early 1900’s, the barnstorming Harlem “Rens” and the Original Celtics with Joe Lapchick in the Roaring 20’s. I learned how basketball became an Olympic sport in 1936 in Berlin, as James Naismith watched at the age of 74. This spawned his idea to start a national collegiate tournament which formed the basis of the NCAA tournament today.
This is a book about people with dreams and a passion for the sport of basketball. It includes the players of the early NBA as well as those through the recent 2004-2005 season. It chronicles the struggles and failings of the early organizations: the NBL, BAA, ABL, and the ABA to name just a few. How interesting to learn that George Steinbrenner owned the Cleveland Pipers in the ABL in 1960 and hired the first black professional coach in any sport. How enjoyable to read of the Celtics’ dynasty and the battles between Russell and Chamberlain, the heroics of Baylor and West, and the dominance of Oscar Robertson. Ms. Kirchberg writes in livid detail of the Magic Johnson – Larry Bird era and the transition to superstar Michael Jordan. She brings to light the importance of Commissioner David Stern, who oversees the NBA and has been the most influential marketer of this league. In short, everything is covered in its entirety in an easy, fun filled read. And if you are looking for a reference book on the NBA, this is your bookend.
Hoop Lore is a history lesson, a compelling story, and a walk down memory lane told with accuracy and social conscience. It is a must read for all basketball fans, particularly those of us who “think” we know the game.
Jim Barnett began his NBA career in Boston as the 8th overall pick in the 1966 draft and went on to play with some of the game’s top talents, stars the likes of Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Elvin Hayes, Rick Barry, Walt Frazier, and Julius Erving. During his 11 years in league, Jim posted averages of 11.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 3 assists. He is currently a television analyst for the Golden State Warriors.
What a few experts had to say about Hoop Lore:
“So many times in sports, and particularly in basketball, the glory days of a bygone era are overlooked or all-together forgotten, relegated to second-class citizenship behind the popularity and magnitude of today’s big-time professional leagues. Kirchberg’s Hoop Lore reverses this tendency, broadening the historical dialogue and tying the NBA to its illustrious past. Along the way, the game’s greatest figures – Naismith, Auerbach, Chamberlain, Bird, Magic, and Michael to name a few – come to life, steering America’s new national pastime to unheard of heights and clearing the path for today’s superstars to carry on the very legacy Hoop Lore explores.”
—Matt Zeysing (Historian & Archivist, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.)
“A solid addition to the collection of works detailing the early history of the NBA.”
—Paul Hirschheimer (Historian, National Basketball Association.)
“Connie Kirchberg’s Hoop Lore is an impressive work. Well researched, yet readable, it covers the history of basketball from a time when it included wire cages and a ball with laces to the current day game and it’s high-flying appeal. A must-read for any fan interested in pro basketball’s storied history.”
—Robert Bradley (President of the Association for Professional Basketball Research & author of The Compendium of Professional Basketball.)