Essential Reading

The grand, but not complete, repository of basketball history books well worth reading!

The Rivalry
: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball

by John Taylor

An excellent, and in-depth, look at how Russell and Chamberlain forged the memorable personal rivalry of the early NBA. Also, the Los Angeles Lakers of Jerry West and Elgin Baylor play an interesting B-plot in the book until they link up with Wilt in the climactic showdown of the 1960s when they take on Russell’s Celtics in the 1969 NBA Finals.

FreeDarko Presents:
The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History

Subliminally, this book is the genesis of this blog. This history of pro basketball, not just NBA but pro basketball, is presented in perhaps the freshest and most off-kilter way imaginable. The host of writers are humorous, knowledgeable and insightful. Best of all are the colorful and original pictures throughout like the spectacular one of Wilt Chamberlain as a nuclear weapon.

Loose Balls: the Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association

by Terry Pluto

Aside from, this is the go-to source for the history of the ABA. Former players, owners, broadcasters, and general managers recall how wacky, influential, and creative the league was for basketball.

 The Compendium of Professional Basketball, Second Edition
by Robert D. Bradley

A mammoth 437-page collection of every professional basketball league (male and female) in North American history. If ever blew up, the game results, final standings, and miscellanea of this book would be the basis for our brave new basketball world.

Breaks of the Game
The Breaks of the Game
by David Halberstam

An absolutely fantastic book that uses the late 1970s, early 1980s Portland Trail Blazers as a window into the myriad issues that plagued the NBA. There’s racism, medical mistreatment, the chaos of nascent free agency, on-court brutality, and even a smidgen of camaraderie.

Jerry West Lazenby
Jerry West: the Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon
by Roland Lazenby

Despite being the logo of the NBA, Jerry West remains an under-appreciated legend. West’s will to win and push his body to the limits of its endurance is sometimes inspiring, other times frightening. Author Roland Lazenby brilliantly weaves on-court and off-court happenings into the narrative so that an actual biography of West is presented, not just a recounting of how games ended.

Dynasty's End
Dynasty’s End: Bill Russell and the 1968-69 World Champion Boston Celtics
by Thomas J. Whalen

A fascinating look on the aging, crumbling, but not yet finished Boston Celtics and Bill Russell. En route to winning their 11th title in 13 years, the Celtics would have to win every playoff series on the road after a ragtag regular season. Titans like Russell, John Havlicek, and Sam Jones for the Celtics, and Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, and Elgin Baylor for the opposition are splendidly recalled. However, the real treat is getting to know lesser-known Hall of Famers like Bailey Howell, and rotation players like Larry Siegfried, Don Nelson, and Em Bryant who’d prove instrumental in Boston claiming its final title of the Russell years.

First Tip Off
The First Tip-Off: The Incredible Story of the Birth of the NBA
by Charley Rosen

A somewhat misleading title since this book chronicles the birth of the Basketball Association of America (BAA) in 1946-47, and not its successor the NBA. Of course no one except a dedicated few would ever search for a book on BAA history, and should they find this book they’d have come across a gold mine. All of the growing pains and ridiculous stories of a penny-pinching, fly-by-night league trying to make it big are conjured and retold. The Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, and Philadelphia Warriors are familiar to the basketball history junkie, but the stories on the Pittsburgh Ironmen and Providence Steamrollers are just as, if not more, compelling.

Mr Basketball
Mr. Basketball: George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers, and the Birth of the NBA
by Michael Schumacher

This book does a fairly good job at being a biography of George Mikan and a chronicle of the Minneapolis Lakers’ domination of the NBL, BAA, and NBA back in the 1940s and 1950s. Mikan remains the anchor of the story, though, with his personal life weaved into the story when appropriate to explain his basketball demeanor. Other Lakers stars like Jim Pollard, Slater Martin, Vern Mikkelsen, and coach John Kundla receive a fair amount of publicity here as does Minneapolis perennial nemesis the Rochester Royals.

Rise of A Dynasty
Rise of a Dynasty: the ’57 Celtics, the First Banner and the Dawning of a New America
by Bill Reynolds

Filled with important information, Rise of a Dynasty unfortunately suffers from poor organization. None of the chapters are titled, there is no table of contents, and no index. When you come across an interesting story, be ready to bookmark it and produce notes to remember. Those glaring structural omissions undermine a book that otherwise does a pretty good job at introducing larger social patterns into the Celtics’ relationship with the city of Boston. For the pure basketball fan, the game by game recollection that Reynolds provides of the 1957 Finals between the St. Louis Hawks and Boston is priceless.

One comment on “Essential Reading
  1. Rob says:

    First of all, I just found a link to (with high praise) in an article by Tom Ziller on The webiste is incredible, cant wait to fully dulge into the articles in the next weeks.

    Regarding the artcile: I would add those two books:

    Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel (

    A very tragic, very revealing and very touching book about Pistol, his father Press, their relationship and the reasons for the tragic course Pete’s career and more importantly life went.

    A rather controversely discussed, but in my humble opinion very well written, researched, informative, all-embracing and funny book:

    The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons, one of the (self-declared and deservingly so) biggest Basketball Fans in the world. An incredible 700 page monster that I indulged in 3 days. With its addictive, light and funny style it celebrates the game we love and cherish. A must read in my mind

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