3/5 — With a disappointing bronze-medal showing at the Athens Olympics, astronomical salaries and the Kobe Bryant rape accusations, the NBA and its players aren't getting much good publicity lately. The general perception of pro players is that of overpaid, spoiled whiners. Maybe they are just that. Who wouldn't be when you've been praised and pampered since your early teens?
For those reasons the NBA should make Terry Pluto's "Tall Tales" required reading for all of its players. The NBA stars of today could gain a greater appreciation of the sport they now profit richly from.
In "Tales," Pluto tells the story of the NBA from its bush league start in the '50s to its first substantial expansion in the early '70s. What makes the book a good read is that Pluto has compiled conversations with over 60 players, coaches, referees and owners that he molds into one chronological NBA history lesson. There is something special about word-for-word storytelling from the mouths of mammoth center Wilt Chamberlain or Celtics coach Red Auerbach.
The first person accounts are a return to the format Pluto used in the best-selling "Loose Balls," an uncensored and hilarious look at the American Basketball Association. The stories in "Loose Balls" often exceed those in "Tales," which may be due to the outlaw nature of the ABA. While the NBA players had fun, it doesn't seem like they had nearly as many raucous times as their ABA counterparts. Still, early NBA were known to drink beer all night, sometimes with their coach in tow, and routinely put up big numbers the next night.
One thing the book easily conveys is that for the men who started the NBA it was a labor of love. Owners, coaches, players and referees just got by for the most part.
Sure, there was an occasional wealthy owner or star player that had little to worry about. But most early NBA players worked regular jobs in the off-season to make ends meet. Salaries were so meager that Bob Cousy almost never played in the NBA.
The now Hall of Fame point guard spent the summer after graduating from Holy Cross teaching women to drive. Cousy was making enough money running a string of driving schools and managing a gas station that the NBA didn't seem feasible unless he got $10,000 a season. Thankfully for Celtics fans, Boston owner Walter Brown convinced Cousy to get on board for the now-meager sum of $9,000 a year, adding a key cog that helped start an NBA dynasty.
To put the salary situation in perspective, the minimum salary of $385,277for a rookie in 2004 is nearly four times the payroll of the top NBA teams of the '50s.
'Tales' also shows the reader the lives owners have changed dramatically since the NBA's inception. Early owners often weren't business moguls or investment groups like they are today. Instead they were local businessmen like Syracuse 's Danny Biasone, who owned a bar and a bowling alley. Biasone struggled to make ends meet, a far cry from the owners of today who spend freely like dot-com billionaire Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks.
As mentioned before, 'Tales' is ideal reading for the cocky, coddled NBA players of today. But it is also a solid read full of interesting anecdotes for the everyday basketball fan looking to beef up their knowledge of the game.