• Mei 20, 2024

‘Black Ball’ Ulasan: The NBA’s Game Changers

Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Earl Monroe, Julius Erving, Connie Hawkins, K.C. Jones. Above all, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Spencer Haywood. The names are legendary, of course. For Theresa Runstedtler, an American University historian, they are more than that. She regards these great players, among others, as the founding fathers of modern pro basketball.

The subtitle of “Black Ball,” Ms. Runstedtler’s examination of the role of African-Americans in 1970s basketball, speaks of “the generation that saved the soul of the NBA,” and indeed no account of what is now one of the most powerful and lucrative sports mahjong ways 2 leagues in the world—outpacing Britain’s Premier League and Spain’s Primera División in revenues—can avoid the delicate but determinative role of race.

Ms. Runstedtler puts race not at the end line or even at the top of the key but right at the center circle. She offers engaging portraits of the NBA’s black athletes—the struggles they endured, the gains they achieved, the athletic culture they created. It all amounts to a signature American tale in which basketball—in that era as in ours—became a predominantly black game, both reflecting and creating the broader culture. It is a story of complexity and contradiction, too.

It occurred after the civil-rights era of Martin Luther King Jr. and before the presidency of Barack Obama and had an influence all its own, shaping fashion, language and the viewing experience of sports fans across America and eventually around the world.

For a time, Ms. Runstedtler observes, the NBA was plagued by an image of drug use and violence, throwing the newly majority-black league into crisis and transforming its image into that of a confederation of outsize outlaws; she mentions several incidents, including the night in 1977 when Kermit Washington slugged Rudy Tomjanovich on court in the middle of a game.

The league’s (white) fans were alienated, its economic future was uncertain. The overarching narrative at the time, Ms. Runstedtler tells us, was clear, and it was reinforced by the often-empty most-expensive seats. As the league’s rattled and sometimes reactionary fans saw it, “Black players had brought their immaturity, selfishness, drug abuse, violence, and criminality—a very microcosm of America’s ‘urban crisis’—to the NBA. They lacked character and morality, and it showed not only in how they conducted themselves off the court but also in how they played basketball.”