This week in North Philly Notes, in anticipation of the 2015 NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship, we bracket Temple University Press’ selection of books about basketball.
Palestra Pandemonium, by the late, great sportswriter Robert Lyons, features Temple University’s team so we’re especially partial to his fantastic History of the Big Five.
The most famous basketball tournament in the history of college basketball is the Big Five. And the Big Five was played in the most hallowed halls of college play: the Palestra. Now, for the first time, a complete story of this Philadelphia rivalry is revealed.
Robert Lyons offers the story of the Big Five from its very beginnings in 1955. At that time, many of the Big Five schools—La Salle University, University of Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s University, Temple University and Villanova University—weren’t even talking to each other, and everyone predicted the tournament would end before it began. Conducting interviews with coaches and players—including famed Temple coach Harry Litwack’s last interview before his death—Lyons offers the play-by-play on how the Big Five became an institution, and how it was ultimately undone by college basketball’s own success.
Lavishly illustrated with photographs of players, teams, coaches, and the Palestra itself, Palestra Pandemonium is an immediate classic, offering a chronicle of the most monumental college basketball tournament. Anywhere.
We wouldn’t even know about basketball if it had not been for James Naismith, who invented the game in 1891.
It seems unlikely that James Naismith, who grew up playing “Duck on the Rock” in the rural community of Almonte, Canada, would invent one of America’s most popular sports. But Rob Rains and Hellen Carpenter’s fascinating, in-depth biography James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball shows how this young man—who wanted to be a medical doctor, or if not that, a minister (in fact, he was both)—came to create a game that has endured for over a century.
James Naismith reveals how Naismith invented basketball in part to find an indoor activity to occupy students in the winter months. When he realized that the key to his game was that men could not run with the ball, and that throwing and jumping would eliminate the roughness of force, he was on to something. And while Naismith thought that other sports provided better exercise, he was pleased to create a game that “anyone could play.”
With unprecedented access to the Naismith archives and documents, Rains and Carpenter chronicle how Naismith developed the original rules of basketball, coached the game at the University of Kansas—establishing college basketball in the process—and was honored for his work at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin.
Temple University Press has published several books on basketball that explore different teams.
Wheelchair Warrior, by Melvin Juette and Ron Berger, shows how the game of wheelchair basketball became Juette’s passion—he ultimately became a star athlete, playing on the U.S. National Wheelchair Basketball Team.
Outside the Paint by Kathleen Yep, takes readers back to the Chinese Playground of San Francisco in the 1930s and 1940s, the only public outdoor space in Chinatown. It was a place where young Chinese American men and women developed a new approach to the game of basketball—with fast breaks, intricate passing and aggressive defense—that was ahead of its time.
Drawing on interviews with players and coaches, Kathleen Yep recounts some surprising stories. From the success of the Hong Wah Kues, a professional barnstorming men’s basketball team and the Mei Wahs, a championship women’s amateur team, to Woo Wong, the first Chinese athlete to play in Madison Square Garden, and his extraordinarily talented sister Helen Wong, who is compared to Babe Didrikson.
Outside the Paint chronicles the efforts of these highly accomplished athletes who developed a unique playing style that capitalized on their physical attributes, challenged the prevailing racial hierarchy, and enabled them, for a time, to leave the confines of their segregated world. As they learned to dribble, shoot, and steal, they made basketball a source of individual achievement and Chinese American community pride.
A trio of books detail the lives of the players and coaches of the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association’s Basketball Team, knows as The SPHAs.
The SPHAS by Douglas Stark, is the first book to chronicle the history of this team and its numerous achievements. Stark includes not only rare and noteworthy images of players and memorabilia but also interviews and anecdotes to recall how players like Inky Lautman, Cy Kaselman, and Shikey Gotthoffer challenged racial stereotypes of weakness and physical inferiority as they boosted the game’s popularity. Team owner Eddie Gottlieb and Temple University coach Harry Litwack, among others profiled here, began their remarkable careers with the SPHAS.
Larry Needle’s Homecourt, is a children’s book about Red Klotz, who played for the SPHAS, where he won an American Basketball League championship. Ultimately, he played and coached for the Washington Generals against the legendary Harlem Globetrotters for decades. This illustrated book recalls the SPHAS games at the Broadwood Hotel (which now has a historical marker commemorating the team), the team’s coach, Eddie Gottlieb, and Klotz’s post-SPHAS career. It will inspire any kid who loves—or dreams of playing—basketball.
And last, but not least, is The Mogul, by Rich Westcott, a biography of Eddie Gottlieb, the coach of the SPHAs. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Gottlieb founded, played and coached for the legendary South Philadelphia Hebrew Association (SPHAS) basketball team in the 1920s and 1930s. Only 5’ 8”, Gottlieb was nevertheless a very good basketball player. But it was behind the scenes where he excelled. He coached, helped form the National Basketball Association, and owned the Philadelphia Warriors franchise for many years. He signed Wilt Chamberlain to his first NBA contract. He also created the NBA’s annual schedule of games for more than a quarter of a century.
Drawing upon dozens of interviews and archival sources, and featuring more than fifty photographs, The Mogul vividly portrays Eddie Gottlieb’s pivotal role in both Philadelphia’s and America’s sports history.
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