- The First Tip-Off: The Incredible Story of the Birth of the NBA
Charley Rosen has written a number of basketball books, at least eight non-fiction and six fiction. He is an entertaining writer who relies on good anecdotes to carry his stories through to conclusion. He received an English degree from Hunter College, and he reflects that with his development of character and story. Unfortunately, factual events often take a back seat to a good story in his books, and The First Tip-Off is no exception. This volume examines in detail the 1946–1947 first year of Basketball Association of America (BAA). For three years the league struggled, never making a profit and often on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1948–1949, the BAA convinced four teams from the more established National Basketball League (NBL) to jump leagues. Despite that, the league remained financially tenuous, and in 1949 the BAA merged with the NBL to form the National Basketball Association (NBA). Rosen accepts the revisionist history of the NBA powers that the BAA absorbed the NBL, thus making the BAA the actual progenitor of the NBA and leading to the title of the Rosen book. But the facts tell a different story and, had Rosen done some research into this, he would have found out the actual situation as it occurred.
Unlike a number of his previous volumes, Rosen does cite some sources for his writing in this book, though he provides no citations or footnotes in the text. He lists seven books as sources, including three with lots of data, two memoirs as well as Robert Peterson’s [End Page 320] Cages to Jump Shots (1990) and Leonard Koppett’s 24 Seconds to Shoot (1968) (both without citations). There are no cited newspaper articles; instead he relies most heavily on a series of interviews conducted in 1981–1982 by writer Phil Berger, who had intended to write a book covering the same content as this volume by Rosen. In all Berger had interviewed thirty-one players, three coaches, and six other individuals involved with the formation and operation of the BAA in its first year. Rosen also used some archival sources from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, including BAA board minutes, scrapbooks, box scores, and team programs.
In a series of short introductory chapters, Rosen presents the first game, the formation of the league and the structure and leaders of the BAA. Rosen tries to sketch a brief history of earlier pro basketball leagues but does a short and sloppy job of it. He makes an adequate attempt at re-creating the formation of the league, since he relies, it seems, on board of governors’ data and Berger’s interview with Maurice Podoloff, the first president of the BAA and the NBA. Rosen is not just an apologist for the league, though he does buy in to a lot of the mythology. From the beginning he notes the shaky financial status of the league and his last chapter re-emphasizes that. He also is critical of the first playoff structure, which he terms “ludicrous,” which it was. Throughout the book, Rosen injects humor and sarcasm, two of his trademarks, which often entertain but also lead to obfuscation of facts. As noted above, Rosen never lets facts stand in the way of a good story.
After these general chapters, Rosen launches into what is the bulk of the book, eleven chapters, each on one of the new league’s franchises. There were teams in Boston, Providence, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Toronto, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Rosen’s order of presenting the teams runs from poorer squads (the Celtics) to the better teams (New York, Philadelphia, Washington). At the end of each chapter, which is filled with more anecdotes than data, he presents a team roster with player data, a postscript and the average attendance, net receipts, estimated loss for the year (only the Knicks turned...