A BRILLIANTLY WRITTEN ACCOUNT OF THE NBA'S GLORY DAYS, AND THE RIVALRY THAT DOMINATED THE ERAIn the mid-1950s, the NBA was a mere barnstorming circuit, with outposts in such cities as Rochester, New York, and Fort Wayne, Indiana. Most of the best players were white; the set shot and layup were the sport's chief offensive weapons. But by the 1970s, the league ruled America's biggest media markets; contests attracted capacity crowds and national prime-time television audiences. The game was played "above the rim"-and the most marketable of its high-flying stars were black. The credit for this remarkable transformation largely goes to two giants: Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.In The Rivalry, award-winning journalist John Taylor projects the stories of Russell, Chamberlain, and other stars from the NBA's golden age onto a backdrop of racial tensions and cultural change. Taylor's electrifying account of two complex men-as well as of a game and a country at a crossroads-is an epic narrative of sports in America during the 1960s
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October 10, 2005
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Excerpt from The Rivalry by John Taylor
ON THE NIGHT of November 7, 1959, people lined up on the sidewalks outside Boston?s North Station, a dingy yellow-brick building, and crowded along the bar at the Iron Horse, the old drinking-parlor inside. They stood in clusters on Causeway Street and Haverhill Street and Canal Street, their voices almost drowned out by the thundering traffic on the elevated highways and subway tracks that crossed above them on iron girders, and by the hiss and clang of the trains in the rail yards.
The citizens of Boston had much to debate that evening. In Washington, D.C., Charles Van Doren, the thirty-three-year-old Columbia University English professor, had just admitted to a congressional committee that the producers of Twenty-One, the television quiz show that had turned him into a national icon, had been secretly prepping him with the answers to questions. Senator John Kennedy, who had all but announced his intention to run for president the following year, had been touring California and Oregon the previous week, greeted by ecstatic crowds carrying signs saying ?Viva Kennedy!? In Boston itself, a newspaper strike was under way, and just four days earlier, John Collins, the Suffolk County register of probate and a victim of paralytic polio who was confined to a wheelchair, had defeated Senate president John Powers for the Boston mayoralty. It was a stunning upset, brought about by an FBI raid on the headquarters of a gambling syndicate just one hundred yards from the East Boston police station and resulting in charges of widespread corruption in the city?s government.
But the topic that consumed the crowds around North Station was neither the television scandal nor the impending administration of John Collins nor the presidential prospects of a young Irish American Catholic. It was instead basketball, specifically the game scheduled that night between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia Warriors. While Boston was a storied sports town, the sports that had always provoked the most passion were baseball and hockey, the sports of the Red Sox and the Bruins. These were sports with rich local histories, sports that had been played for generations in Boston and had, over the years, woven themselves so deeply into the fabric of the city that residence there seemed virtually synonymous with a rabid devotion to its baseball and hockey teams.