Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Don't Ever Give Up: The Basketball Blog Book Review: The Rivalry
I just finished reading John Taylor's The Rivalry. I thought it was a notable book that was worthy of a little review, and anyone who writes likes to pat themselves on the back and show they know enough to review another, right?
Taylor is more a historian than a writer (at least, that's what it seems like). He more than makes up for his terse and sometimes clumsy writing style with a wealth of primary information about basketball's earliest age. (He catalogues interesting details like John Havlicek's experience with Philadelphia fans. To paraphrase: "Havlicek heard a loud thud against the backboard and realized that a fan had thrown a raw potato at him.")
The best part of the book is that it doesn't just dwell on Russell and Chamberlain. There's only so much interesting stuff one can write about two guys who didn't do many notable things other than throwing the round ball, and Taylor intersperses the stories of some of the ancillary players and coaches that would affect the rivalry [Jerry West, Nate Thurmond, Elgin Baylor, Havlicek, Cousy, Aurbach, and so forth].
My favorite aside was a detailed look at Elgin Baylor's return from a ghastly knee injury (his kneecap cracked, he played through it, and three games later, it literally broke in half). Baylor is remembered as a hall-of-famer and a player of the highest caliber, but Taylor's angle made me think that Baylor is also eligible for Tupac style "what he coulda done" territory. (Before his knee injury, Baylor was the only man in the league who challenged Chamberlain's scoring records. He was still a great player afterwards, but never the same.)
I also appreciated Taylor's restraint in his description of famous events like the Havlicek steal and Wilt's 100 point game. He accomplishes this restraint by avoiding the demonization or worship historical events attract. (For example, that Wilt's 100 point game came in a blowout, or that Havlicek started running before the pass was thrown, etc.) Taylor instead concentrates on the little events surrounding the big event, which is good, because while everyone knows what's coming with historical moments in basketball history, the events leading up to these moments are seldom described in detail.
All in all, I thought the book was a pretty smooth and quick read about a truly interesting period in basketball history, when players worked in the offseason, smoked cigarettes before games, and wet the floor with their blood. The Rivalry earns a Don't Ever Give Up: The Basketball blog thumbs up.
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Posted by Jimmy at 5:36 PM