Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball's Early Years

Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball's Early Years

Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball's Early Years

Cages to Jump Shots: Pro Basketball's Early Years


Basketball is now over a century old. Cages to Jump Shots offers an unforgettable glimpse of its exciting and eccentric early years, beginning in 1891 when James Naismith drew up the first rules, through decades of growing popularity and professionalism, and culminating with its fundamental transformation in the 1950s, when the twenty-four-second shot clock and team foul limit were instituted. Along the way we learn about all those who were drawn to the game-players, officials, owners, and fans-and why so many came to love it. Drawing on extensive research and a host of interviews with veteran players, Robert W. Peterson vividly recreates the rough-and-tumble basketball games of long ago and shows why basketball has become such a celebrated part of American life today. This Bison Books edition features an updated appendix of early pro basketball teams.


Professional basketball has had a long and colorful past, but much of it has been obscured in the mists of time. I venture to guess that the average well-informed fan believes the pro game began with the first year of the National Basketball Association in 1949. In fact, the first professional teams had appeared fifty-three years before that, and thousands of men and a few women were paid to play during the intervening decades.

Anyone who has dipped into the copious literature on baseball's history can identify Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, Three-Finger Brown, and Christy Mathewson. Their contemporaries and counterparts in basketball were Al Cooper, Harry Hough, Ed Wachter, and Andy Suils—hardly names that resonate in sports history. The main reason is that during the first half of this century major league baseball was by far the most popular team sport. Football was a distant second, and basketball was not even in the running. When the NBA began, even hockey, Canada's national game, got more ink than professional basketball.

A secondary reason, no doubt, is that baseball, by the nature of the game, lends itself better than other sports to contemplation and myth-making. Nothing in sports quite matches the pitcher-batter confrontation and the orderly progression of balls, strikes, outs, and innings. Basketball—and football and hockey, too—lacks that linear appeal. A basketball game may offer forty-eight minutes of furious action, culminating in a pretty jump shot that wins it at the buzzer, but the jump shot defies analysis and there are only so many ways to describe it. By contrast, a baseball fan can spend a happy hour (or unhappy hour, if his team lost) speculating that the winning run scored because an outfielder was three feet out of position, and that the runner was waved home because the third base coach knew the fielder's arm was mediocre.

So it is understandable that professional basketball's early days have not been as thoroughly explored as baseball's. A curious fan could learn a good deal by consulting the encyclopedias on the game and the works of a few authors who . . .

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