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12 surprising things I learned from “The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History”

As a sports chronicle, “The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History” is not your father’s Oldsmobile.

By Ross Atkin / December 21, 2010

This "undisputed guide" looks and reads like a very funky textbook, with no photographs but all sorts of intriguing art, charts, and graphics.

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For those who like sports history packaged in a fresh, unconventional way, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is just the ticket.

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For starters, the hardcover has no dust jacket, is a very compact 223 pages, and claims to be “undisputed” – whatever that means. Furthermore, it looks and reads like a very funky textbook, with no photographs but all sorts of intriguing art, charts, and graphics (including one on fights between players and another about player weight gain during the 1998-99 lockout). The book also takes more of a thematic approach than a straight-line chronological one.

For example, there’s a subchapter on the National Basketball Association’s statistical explosion; another on the league's so-called “lost years” in the 1970s when fans turned away from the NBA product; and still others on Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and Allen Iverson.

The book is the work of a creative team conjoined by a fantasy-league message board. They first published “The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac” in 2008. The 12 team members call themselves a “collective of like-minded NBA writers and artists” who contribute to the offbeat Freedarko basketball blog.

Their latest work doesn’t claim to be exhaustive, but it hits all the major historical points and developments while sticking to their core commitment to cover whatever they found “particularly memorable.”

Here are a dozen things I learned from this novel basketball history:

1. Although Earl Lloyd, Chuck Cooper, and Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton became the first African-Americans in the NBA in 1950, the distinction of being the league’s first nonwhite player oddly enough belongs to a 5 ft. 7 in. Japanese-American, Wataru “Wat” Misaka. After leading the University of Utah to NCAA and NIT titles, he played three games with the New York Knicks in 1947, when the NBA was known as the Basketball Association of America.

2 .The Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry is often credited with reviving the NBA in the 1970s, as their teams met about 40 times. The frequency of these showdowns, however, pales in comparison with Wilt Chamberlain-Bill Russell duels, in which the two centers went mano a mano 142 times between 1959 and 1969.

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