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  • I Grew Up with Basketball: Twenty Years of Barnstorming with Cage Greats of Yesterday by Frank J Basloe
  • Murry Nelson
Basloe, Frank J. I Grew Up with Basketball: Twenty Years of Barnstorming with Cage Greats of Yesterday. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2012. Pp. 256. $16.95 pb.

This is one of the most interesting early basketball books ever written, having been originally published in 1952 and focusing on the years from about 1900 to 1925. Basloe was one of the earliest promoters of basketball, and he played it from his teen years, just after its invention. Actually, Basloe writes that he saw evidence of the game even before its invention, namely in 1890 when Lambert Will brought a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) pamphlet into the general store in Herkimer, New York, with a description of the game. Obviously, Basloe must have his dates wrong since Naismith did not create the game until the next year, but this indicated that Basloe never let a good story be diminished by the facts.

Basloe’s life is interesting only in the fact that he traces some of the earliest players and rules of the game. He never went to high school and his collaborator, Gordon Rohman, [End Page 162] has his own “rules of grammar,” often misusing the reflexive pronoun, “myself.” Nevertheless, Basloe knew and played with or against the Wachter brothers (Lew and Ed), Swede Grimstead, Jack Fox, Barney Sedran, and Chris Leonard, among many others. He played against the Buffalo Germans and many other teams for the “world championship,” a scam that he perpetuated for years.

It cannot be emphasized enough how much Basloe loved basketball, as well as the touring that he perfected over a period of more than twenty years. Despite some problems with his precise chronology, Basloe began playing and managing the game when the rules were in flux. Games were played by a variety of rules that were based on region, level of play, and local quirks, such as hot stoves, pillars, and low ceilings. The question of open baskets or backboards was also a negotiable, as was the referee’s rules on fouls. In an early edition of The Reach Guide to Basketball, William Scheffer, the editor, discussed the difference in foul calls in college (four) and professional basketball (referee’s discretion), concluding that the latter system was better. That system, whereby players had a seemingly unlimited number of fouls possible but could be ejected at any time because of roughness, was well illustrated in many instances in Basloe’s many anecdotes. Understanding what a referee called, based on his statements before the game and actions during it, set the tone for the level of mayhem that was admissible in the game.

Basloe’s accounts also demonstrate the interconnectedness of the rail system in the early twentieth century, a key to basketball barnstorming, as well as the later development of professional leagues. Eventually, Basloe became a league administrator as well as promoter, leading the New York State League in the late 1930s and 1940s. He was also an early promoter of women in basketball, arranging games for Babe Didrickson, the Olsen Redheads with Hazel Walker, and the New York Cover Girls with Dot Whalen.

Basloe ends his volume by reflecting on the speed that now characterizes the game and opining that it was a better game when he played and managed. He offers his suggestions on how the game could be improved. Not surprisingly, they sound very retro, re-envisioning a game that will never be seen again. He calls for the return of the center jump after every point, open baskets, the return of the actual cage and smaller (six or seven) squads. This is quaint but not very desirable. Despite these limitations, Basloe’s account is a valuable piece of basketball history that has been justifiably re-issued and will be a treat for basketball historians and mere fans to peruse and enjoy. The new introduction by Michael Antonucci provides a critical perspective to early basketball and the immigrant experience. [End Page 163]

Murry Nelson
The Pennsylvania State University


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