Review by Budd Bailey
The title of “The History of the NBA in Twelve Games” sets the concept before the book is opened, and it’s an audacious one. Author Sean Deveney wants to explain the key moments for the basketball league, one game at a time.
Remember, it’s not 12 moments or 12 dates or 12 players – all of which might have worked for a variety of reasons. It’s 12 games. So it’s immediately a subject of curiosity about how Deveney is going to go about his task. Remember, he can’t easily work business dealings into the equation – or trades, or league mergers, and so on. But a game is still a game, no matter where it’s played.
The format means that some readers will go through the book with a question in mind: Was Deveney correct in picking a particular game? Does it measure up? That makes this book a little more pro-active that most history lessons, and draws people in. So give him credit for that. It’s a fun idea.
It probably not a spoiler to list the games here. You can go through the list merely by glancing it at the bookstore. Here they are in order in a way designed to save space here: 1954 – The 24-second clock; 1969 – Bill Russell’s last stand; 1975 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wants out; 1984 – Tanking on the way to the draft; 1984 – Larry and Magic meet again; 1988 – Michael’s step forward; 1997 – Knicks vs. Heat in boxing match; 1998 – Kobe at the All-Star Game; 1998 – Nowitzki’s coming-out party; 2002 – Kings have a win stolen; 2012 – A big win for LeBron; 2013 – Curry takes next step.
Hmmm. Lots to think about there. Dirk Nowitzki’s appearance at a high school all-star game, as a representative of the coming rise of world basketball, seems a little forced here. The 1969 Final between the Lakers and Celtics seems less important in hindsight than the matchup a year later between the Knicks and Lakers, which probably showed the possibilities of the sport on a national basis for the first time. Abdul-Jabbar’s trade demand really had nothing to do with the game itself. And a regular-season win over the Pistons by the Bulls seems a little less important with the knowledge that Jordan and Chicago didn’t win a title until three more years had elapsed.
Could the first game after the original merger that formed the NBA in 1949 been included? How about Julius Erving’s first game in the NBA in 1976 after serving something of a human urban legend while playing the ABA? Chamberlain’s first game against Russell? Well, perhaps.
I know. Picky, picky, picky.
But it’s important to say that Deveney does a great job of bringing to light the stories that he chooses to tell. I’m not sure I’ve read a better account of the birth of the 24-second clock. Danny Biasone of the Syracuse Nationals has received most of the credit for this development, perhaps because he was telling the story so often. It’s clear that he had help. The account of the referee scandal from 2002 or so is reviewed nicely. Even the chapter on Nowitzki had plenty of information about his development that I never knew. He leans toward the individuals in his treatment of the subject, and the league certainly bends in that direction now. In other words, it sells stars.
“The History of the NBA in Twelve Games,” then, is almost a launching point. If you want to learn about some big moments in basketball’s history, this will work. If you want to argue some other points with your fellow readers, there’s no harm in that. In fact, that helps to make the subject more interesting. It’s also a nice, quick read. Therefore, you’d have to rate it a success – no matter how picky you are.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)