Wartime Basketball: The Emergence of a National Sport during World War II

Wartime Basketball: The Emergence of a National Sport during World War II

Wartime Basketball: The Emergence of a National Sport during World War II

Wartime Basketball: The Emergence of a National Sport during World War II

Synopsis

How World War II fundamentally changed basketball

Wartime Basketball tells the story of basketball's survival and development during World War II and how those years profoundly affected thegame's growth after the war. Prior to World War II, basketball--professionaland collegiate--was largely a regional game, with differentstyles played throughout the country. Among its many impacts onhome-front life, the war forced pro and amateur leagues to contractand combine rosters to stay competitive. At the same time, the U.S.military created base teams made up of top players who found themselvesin uniform. The war created the opportunity for players fromdifferent parts of the country to play with and against each other. Asa result, a more consistent form of basketball began to take shape.
The rising popularity of the professional game led to the formationof the World Professional Basketball Tournament (WPBT) in 1939. Theoriginal March Madness, the WPBT was played in Chicago for ten yearsand allowed professional, amateur, barnstorming, and independentteams to compete in a round robin tournament. The WPBT includedall-black and integrated teams in the first instance where all-blackteams could compete for a "world series of basketball" against whiteteams. Wartime Basketball describes how the WPBT paved the way forthe National Basketball League to integrate in December 1942, fiveyears before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.
Weaving stories from the court into wartime and home-front culturelike a finely threaded bounce pass, Wartime Basketball sheds light onimportant developments in the sport's history that has been largelyoverlooked.

Excerpt

While I was writing my first book, The SPHAS: the Life and Times of Basketball’s Greatest Jewish Team, I devoted a chapter to basketball and war. the chapter focused on how World War ii impacted basketball: leagues were forced to contract, players had to split their time between military service and basketball, and service basketball emerged on bases across the country. It was a short chapter, brief in its content, and only hinting at a larger story waiting to be told. It did not even mention the integration of professional basketball, which occurred during the war years. As I came to learn, nothing substantial had been written about this period of basketball history during World War ii. It was largely undocumented.

In contrast, much has been written about baseball and football during World War ii. Recent books have captured this period in baseball and football history, showing the sacrifices these sports made to support the war effort and how the war impacted those sports. Movie reels contain footage of baseball stars Hank Greenberg and Joe DiMaggio enlisting in the military. But basketball was a much different sport. Although a distinctly American game founded in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, basketball was still regional on the eve of World War ii, its popularity confined to certain parts of the country. Its coverage in newspapers was not nearly as comprehensive or extensive as those other sports. Sometimes away games for professional teams were not covered in the newspapers at all. Sometimes only a box score survived. in some instances, only a score made its way into the sports pages.

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