Read with a Basketball in Your Hands

Basketball for BoysIn 1960, Coach Chuck Orsborn of Bradley University collaborated with Marshall K. McClelland to write the instructional volume Basketball for Boys as part of the Follett Publishing Company’s “All-Star Sports Series”.

The book is divided into “Four Quarters”:  “All About Shooting,” “Moving the Ball,” “They Shall Not Pass or Score” and “Wrapping it Up”.  And each of these is further subdivided into several sections called “points” – 23 in all.  So “Point 2” (under “All About Shooting”) is “The One Handed Set Shot”; “Point 20” (under “Wrapping it Up”) is “You and Your Mind.”  There are also “time-outs” in each quarter.

Both the writing and illustrative photos in this book merit more detailed commentary than I have time to provide right now.  For now, let me just say that it’s an easy book to make fun of (and I may yet do just that), but it also conveys some hoops truths that I would guess most NBA players today would go along with, even if they might put it differently.  And it’s more than just the hoops wisdom: there’s a literary elegance to the book, and a pedagogical soundness that I can’t help — despite the square and dated overall ideology — but find completely charming.

For example, at almost exactly the mid-way point of the book (“Point 12” in the “Second Quarter”) Coach Chuck introduces what he calls, in italics, “the most important individual offensive movement in basketball“:  faking.

When we say you should ‘fake’ your defensive opponent, we mean that you should deceive (fool) him into thinking you are going to do one certain thing so that he moves far enough out of his proper defensive position to permit you a clear pass, a clear shot, a clear drive to the basket with or without the ball, or puts you in the clear to receive a pass from a teammate.

Putting deception at the center of the book strikes me as the height of basketball wisdom, but I also like that it shows a certain modest indulgence of style in composing a book that is otherwise written quite straightforwardly. It’s a kind of high modernist marrying of form and function to put what he sees as the tactical center of basketball at the structural center of the book.

Then, there’s this – “Point 21: Your Body” from the “Fourth Quarter”:

For example, tall boys usually have difficulty with their foot movements.  They are awkward and often trip themselves.  Their feet seem to be independent of their bodies, feet going in one direction and bodies in another direction.  It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.

I have known dozens of such boys who appeared hopeless cases of clumsiness.  Yet they eventually became as graceful and accomplished as players half their size. Hours and hours of practice made the difference.  They concentrated on pivoting drills, change-of-pace and change-of-direction running, skipping rope, and, yes, even dancing!

Even dancing!  I like to think of Coach Chuck encouraging his “tall boys” to bust a move at the hop as a way of improving their coordination and agility.  I like to picture him modeling it for them.  A man and the boys under his tutelage dancing together.  I wonder if any coaches today are still doing that?

But finally, there’s this, the icing on the cake for someone like me who has gone from being a life-long baller and reader to a professor of literature and basketball culture.  From the introductory chapter called “A Personal Word from Chuck: The coach tells how to read this book”:

Read each line carefully and then read it over again.  The second reading usually puts it firmly in your mind.  Have a basketball in your hands while you are reading.

That is unbeatable.  I think I would fall down and die if in the course of reading, for example, an application for admission to a doctoral program in Comparative Literature, I’d come across these lines.  I can’t think of better advice… no matter what you are reading.

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