Wednesday, December 18, 2019

101. Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto

As big of a basketball fan I am, I actually am not very well-versed in its history.  This book made me realize that and helped fulfill a big gap.  I knew a bit about the ABA from Basketball: A Love Story, enough to want to read this one (lent to me by the same friend who gave me Basketball: A Love Story).  Loose Balls is also an oral history, but goes into much greater depth with anecdotes and details from all the major players (both on the court and in the offices) who created and made this league run for its nine seasons spanning 1967 to 1976.  Actually now looking at those years, I realize that it basically ran for the peak years of what we consider today "The 60s".  It's funny, because when you read about the counter-culture of that time, the politics, the societal upheaval in America, basketball isn't mentioned at all, not even as a backdrop.  Likewise, in this book, while there are references to racial issues, the narrative is almost entirely apolitical.  Was that because sports was considered the establishment during that time?  I did wonder while reading Loose Balls why there was so little discussion of race.

The theme here is that the ABA is the plucky, creative, talented little guy playing in the shadow of the more boring and powerful NBA.  The ABA played a faster, looser game, had cool red, white and blue balls, invented the all-star game and the slam dunk contest, had Dr. J and all kinds of other great players.  All these things were brought to the NBA in the merger/"expansion" when the ABA finally died and many of them are the reasons it is such a successful beast today.  This is very well described in Loose Balls and quite fun to read.  There are many crazy stories of excess and really tough basketball (like literally fistfights were a fairly common affair), but also incredibly gratifying stories of players reaching and achieving their potential and teams bonding together.  It's a super-satisfying read for a basketball junkie like me.  So many names that I know of as broadcasters, NBA execs or old ex-coaches were huge stars in the ABA and now I have a much deeper appreciation of their history.

I still can't help feeling that some of the history is missing here.  This book was written in 1990 where racial issues in America were kind of subtly being suppressed in the Clinton-era or maybe improving, but in any case were not talked about the way we are today in the post-Obama backlash.  Was race really not an issue in the ABA? 

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