Crowdsourcing Basketball History: Change the Terrain

I’m working on a book about basketball and I’d like you to help me help all of humanity.  I want to see what the terrain of basketball history looks like from behind the eyes of others.


In his remarkable book Soccer In Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano offers a brief history of soccer through 168 very short “chapters.”  Galeano’s book begins with 17 chapters covering elements of the game (e.g. “the player,” “the fan,” “the ball,”).  Then he moves into a half-dozen or so chapters dealing with the origins of soccer, its rules, and its spread around the world.  From there the rest of the chapters move more or less chronologically forward in time offering brief, but usually powerfully written, evocative, and thought provoking snapshots of events (e.g. “the 1938 World Cup”), plays (e.g. “goal by Maradona”), individuals (“pelé”), relations between soccer and the world beyond the lines (e.g.”soccer and the generals”), or anecdotes (e.g. “my poor beloved mother”).

I’d like loosely to adapt Galeano’s method to my book on basketball.  And this is where you come in.  It’s not that I can’t come up with a list of individuals, teams, eras, rivalries, events, plays, games etc. that I think are interesting enough for inclusion in such a book. I can.  But if you imagine the items on that list distributed over a field (each item perhaps rising to a height corresponding to its importance in my basketball imagination), you get a sense of basketball history as a topographical terrain.  And my own version of that terrain is too familiar to me.


I’m interested in perspectives other than my own. I’m interested in your perspective. Whether you are rabid or casual fan, or not a fan at all; whether you are much younger than me or much older than me; whether you’ve played or not played, or at whatever level; whether you are a writer or not, a reader or not; whether you are a boy or a girl, a man or woman or refuse those categories; black or white or refuse those categories: no matter what particular intersection of forces and categories you are standing at, it will be different than mine and I’m interested in what you see from your intersection.

So you use the comment section below to tell me as many of the most important things in basketball history as you like.  You can tell me a player or participant in the game, an event, a team, a play, a date, a piece of equipment, a rule…anything you like, as many as you like.  You can also contact me directly with your suggestions if you prefer. And feel free, but not obligated, to tell me why.  

Also, pass this along through your networks, if you would.  The greater the response the better for all of humanity.

I really appreciate this as I believe the book will be so much more interesting if it incorporates real perspectives on the history other than my own.  Thanks!  ~Yago

P.S. So far I have been given two responses:

1. Magic Johnson announces he has AIDS.

2. Len Bias dies.

(UPDATE: I’ve received more responses in the comments section.  Feel free to add your own there.)


  • Okay, people might be shy, I get it. I’ll start things off: Wilt Chamberlain scores 100 points in a single game. 4,362 people see the game.


    • I really love this idea Yago and I’m excited to see how it shakes out.

      I’m a Pacers fan so Reggie Miller jumps to mind. Everyone knows the 8 points in 9 seconds story, and the theatrics with Spike Lee. Those are worthy of being documented, but even more important to me is the feeling he inspired. Watching Pacers’ games in that era, I never doubted, not even for a moment, that he would deliver. He didn’t always deliver, but that didn’t affect my confidence. Any big moment, in any big game, I was not just certain he would come through, I was filled with this incredible eagerness to see him deliver the impossible. I imagine Bulls’ fans had a similar feeling with Jordan, and most fan bases have had it at some point with someone. Since he retired I’ve never come close to that feeling and the end of a game with emotional importance to me now has a very different, very uncomfortable uncertainty to it.

      I’m not really doing justice to the idea, but it’s one of the most amazing parts of basketball to me and might be worth exploring.


  • I don’t know who took the first jump shot, but I remember when it replaced the set shot as the go to non-layup. That revolutionized the game. I remember our gym teacher, Coach Roberts teaching the set shot, and guys snickering.


    • that’s excellent Mark! thanks! I think it was Hank Luisetti or Joe Fulks (but I’ve got a book on it that I can double check). It’s definitely a key shift. In fact, I remember a young adult basketball fiction book I read as a kid (that was handed down to me) called “Pivot Man” (1950) in which the protagonist (a hot-headed jump-shooting transfer from Big U to Small College) debates with Wise Humble Coach of Small College this new way of shooting.Thanks again!


  • Not a Pistons fan but two (unrelated) events that involve the Pistons serve as 2 of the biggest images of 00s NBA. 1–Malice at the Palace–enough said. And 2–Lebron’s 48 pt game in Game 6 against Detroit. It was the first time that (at least for me) Lebron was truly Lebron. The “Lebron” that had you shaking your head and before you could stop, you were shaking your head again.


  • Also— as a Knicks fan, their 1999 playoff run was great. The loss of Ewing during the regular season opened the box on this tough and gritty TEAM. Outside of Allan Houston’s game winner @ Miami Game 5, the LJ 4 pt play vs IND, my best memory of this group (outside of the book “Just Ballin”) was how they all, to show their unity, shaved their heads for the playoffs…..sans Sprewell of course.


  • Game 5, 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, LeBron goes Supernova. I was watching the game at our fraternity house. I’ll never forget when about 4-5 other fraternity brothers started watching with me at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Always ones to take delight in my Cleveland sports fan misery, and not having a horse in the race, they all began to strongly pull for the Pistons just to see my reaction. As LeBron continued to hit impossible shot after impossible shot and simply overpower Detroit on his way to the Cavs last 25 points of the game and 29 of the last 30, their reactions were incredible. It went from full on rooting against the Cavs to utter bewilderment, shock, and awe. It was one of those moments that you just know you’re witnessing history when it happens, and I’ll never forget where I was for it.


    • The last moment of my hard core Piston fandom Eric. I felt cheated by and disgusted at the God that put that kid on the other team and so prevented me from feeling joyful wonder unmitigated by petty partisan resentment.


      • I’m still wondering why they let him do that without double-teaming and/or clobbering him every time he touched the ball (not that I condone breaking the rules, but come on!)


      • It was the disgraceful nail in the coffin of what had once been a no free chili defense. It’s not breaking the rules to foul a guy – ask Chuck Daly.


  • Jordan’s first retirement and unretirement.
    Introduction of the 3-point line.
    Steve Nash returns to Phoenix, joins with Mike D’Antoni.
    The Decision.
    Vince Carter in the Dunk Contest.


    • Thanks Trey, These are all really useful and important I think. The first four especially I can definitely run with. Can you say any more about Vince Carter in the dunk contest? What seems or seemed significant about it to you? Is it on a par with the importance of the other four?


  • Kristen Ashenbach

    The differences in the game between the NBA and College Basketball always intrigued me. and also between men and women’s play. for example, I think both college and women’s ball can have a bit more of the fundamentals in place (boxing out, pick and rolls, following your shot, meeting your pass, etc.,) and is something I have always thought a lot about when watching games.
    Different coaching strategies, to me, would be really interesting to read about and their different effects.
    I also think it would be interesting to explore what type of person the game of basketball draws versus for example, a draw to the game of golf, or tennis, or swimming. I think there’s probably a lot to explore there.
    The overall changes of how the game is played over-all. I have heard lately more of how there are not actual “team” teams with solid overall defenses, full-court presses, etc., and more concentration of the rise of one or two individuals handling most of the work. This would be interesting, also, to parallel with modern-day society and the “Rise of the Individual.”
    Regardless, so excited to read what you come up with! I love this game!


  • That feeling when you walk into a brightly lit and completely empty gym. It is a blank canvas that may yield so much creativity, possibility and excitement. It is the loudest silence I hear.


  • “Personal” answer: John Stockton’s game-winning three in Game 6 of the WCF against Houston in 1997. As a 10-year old Rockets fan it scarred me for life and inaugurated a stretch of false hope, injury and malaise for Houston.

    “Academic” answer: The 1957 NBA Finals between St. Louis and Boston. My pick for greatest series ever and its players, coaches and team owners provide a tremendous lens to view and discuss NBA history.


  • Personal: One last throwback performance from Brandon Roy in game 4 of the 2011 playoffs against Dallas.

    Objective answer: The Hawks trading Bill Russell to the Celtics on draft day in 1956.


    • That Roy game was incredible. I got excited and I don’t care about him at all! And thanks for reminding me, the draft day trade is a nice opener to one (of probably more than one) short chapter on Russ.


  • Here’s a couple more:

    Sycamores v. Spartans, Bird v. Johnson, 1979 NCAA Championship – beginning of rivalry/friendship

    More general, but many of the events in the Lakers v. Celtics rivalry over the generations, from 1959-2010

    John Wooden’s championship streak in the NCAA with UCLA.

    1992 Dream Team, and the 2004 Bronze Medal “embarrassment”

    1966 Texas Western v Kentucky in the NCAA championship, first all African-American starting lineup in tournament championship. Pat Riley on Rupp’s Kentucky squad.

    “The Baseline Move” – Dr. J

    Reggie Lewis’ death

    The original Celtics Big 3, and the new “Big 3” – after 2007, teams/players saw the need to get three stars together to win, eg. The Heat

    Marv Albert sexual assault charges and trial.

    Space Jam (ridiculous movie at a peak in 90’s NBA popularity)

    NBA Jam (very influential sports video-game)

    Sorry for the brain dump, but these all jumped to my mind while writing!


  • Kareem breaking Wilt’s all-time points record
    Bird/Magic entering the NBA together, and the Lakers/Celtics finals of the 80s (watching such a high level of basketball year after year I’m sure influenced a lot of people)
    Isaiah Thomas scoring 25 in one quarter on a sprained ankle during the 1988 playoffs
    Michael Jordan 63 point game against Celtics in 1986 playoffs
    Malice in the Palace
    2004 Pistons winning Finals without a true superstar
    The rise of players going to the NBA straight out of high school
    NC State over Houston 1983 NCAA tournament
    More to come…. I could do this all day!


  • I guess the idea of how one player, long gone from your team of choice, sticks with you and affects your fandom forever. For me, Mr. Jason Kidd.

    As a Nets fan, I didn’t think it could get any better (besides winning, of course) than seeing Kidd transform the Nets to contenders, or at least a team not to be ignored, after he was traded to the swamps. When he sat out “with the flu” in a game against the Knicks in the 07-08 season, I was devastated. When he was traded it was worse. When pieces of the trade got us D-Will, it was better. By the time he won in Dallas, I was unbelievably happy for him, which I didn’t think was possible anymore. This summer rumors swirled that he’d be a Net again, but instead, basically because the Nets decided to give a bunch of money to Mirza Teletovic, he became a dreaded Knick. Seeing him rejuvenate that team is devastating, but seeing him personally succeed is more fulfilling that I thought possible.


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  • – The interconnectedness of Nike, Weiden&Kennedy, Michael Jordan and the NBA in the early 90’s, all helping to sell each other as the best at what they do.

    – The Duncan era Spurs. Prolonged greatness. A front office farm system to the league. Maybe the greatest small market franchise in sports after the Greenbay Packers.

    – Updated handcheck rules and the rise of the D’Antoni offense which turned the league from a defense first, pound the ball, isolation game to a faster, open court style game with allowances for ‘smallball’.

    – David Stern has made it no secret that he would like the NBA to be a global league. The league has increasing worldwide popularity but in the literal sense, teams outside of the Unites States have been an abject failure.

    – LeBron.


  • I’ve long been thinking about things like this, though I’m not much of a writer. I often think what makes basketball great is the diversity. Any kind of player can take over a game. Sometimes it’s not even a player. It’s a coach (Like Carlisle in the finals 2 years ago). Sometimes it’s one single fan. Sometimes it’s a nobody like Ime Udoka or Steve Novak.

    Something amazing about basketball is that it’s a game for everyone of all shapes and sizes. Muggsy Bogues, Oliver Miller, and Shawn Bradley can be on the court at the same time, and all have a role.

    I’ve also thought frequently about Soccer and Basketball as it pertains to Jazz, because both games are very similar to the music. I feel like in these 2 games, as opposed to something like Football or Baseball, everything is organic, all the time. Teams full of players play strictly off of each other. No one does anything independently of anyone else. All these players on each team, and on the opposing teams, are, in a sense, playing off of each other.
    I don’t know how to make the connection totally, but it’s much the same as a jazz band. All the performers play off of each other. They lean back and surge forward when the time is right. They play off of each other in order to make the music flow organically.
    I was pointing out to my girlfriend the other day that it’s funny on a Miles Davis album, he may actually do the least actual performing out of anyone on it, because the band behind him plays off of each other, and he inserts himself when the time is right, and then steps right back out. He was brilliant. But he couldn’t do it alone. How is that any different than Michael or Kobe or Duncan or Lebron?


  • Jeremy Lin and Linsanity
    LeBron James’ 2012: League MVP, Finals MVP, Gold Medalist
    Some important and/or fun-to-watch players: Tim Duncan, Clyde Drexler, Rod Strickland, Bill Walton, Chris Webber.
    Dude from Grinnell scoring 138 points (not a good thing IMO)
    The Decision (and the trend of stars choosing to play together)


  • Dan, thanks! all but The Decision are new ones to the timeline. I’ll get to it straightaway!


  • The development of the euro step, and the increasing amount of overseas players. Also don’t forget to talk about some of the people that could have made it, but didn’t because of their lifestyles or certain uncontrollable factors such as Benji Wilson.


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