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In basketball, just as in American culture, the 1970s were imperfect. But it was a vitally important time in the development of the nation and of the National Basketball Association. During this decade Americans suffered through the war in Vietnam and Nixon’s Watergate cover-up (not to mention disco music and leisure suits) while the NBA weathered the arrival of free agency and charges that its players were “too black.” Despite this turmoil, or perhaps because of it, the NBA evolved into a cultural phenomenon.
Tall Tales and Short Shorts: Dr. J, Pistol Pete, and the Birth of the Modern NBA traces the evolution of the NBA from the retirement of Bill Russell in 1969 to the arrival of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson ten years later. Sandwiched between the youthful league of the sixties and its mature successor in the eighties, this book reveals the awkward teenage years of the NBA in the seventies. It examines the many controversies that plagued the league during this time, including illicit drug use, on-court violence, and escalating player salaries. Yet even as attendance dwindled and networks relegated playoff games to tape-delayed, late-night broadcasts, fans still pulled on floppy gray socks like “Pistol Pete” Maravich, emulated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sweeping skyhook, and grew out mushrooming afros à la “Dr. J” Julius Erving.
The first book-length treatment of pro basketball in the 1970s, Tall Tales and Short Shorts brings to life the players, teams, and the league as a whole as they dealt with expansion, a merger with the ABA, and transitioning into a new era. Sport historians and basketball fans will enjoy this entertaining and enlightening survey of an often-overlooked time in the development of the NBA.