- The Bullets, the Wizards, and Washington, D.C. Basketball by Brett L. Abrams and Raphael Mazzone
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Brett Abrams and Raphael Mazzone offer a detailed exploration of the long and tumultuous history surrounding Washington, D.C.'s various professional basketball franchises. The authors' self-described "biography for the rich tradition" of the sport in the nation's capital bubbles over with enthusiasm as it weaves together a nearly century-long narrative drawn from interviews, local and national press coverage, and the growing body of literature on the history of basketball's organization and development (p. vi). Abrams and Mazzone begin with the industrial origins of George Preston Marshall's Palace Laundry Five in the 1920s, quickly trace the fits and starts of various teams through the next four decades, revel in the heyday of the Washington Bullets' success during the 1970s, and lament the subsequent decline toward the present struggles of the Washington Wizards.
Throughout the text, the authors devote much of their focus to three overarching themes. First, each chapter puts considerable emphasis on the management of the various franchises detailing their ownership, personnel decisions, economic circumstances, and relationships with the respective leagues in which they played. An assortment of the great names in professional basketball's history—from Red Auerbach to Julius Erving to Michael Jordan—make their appearances as they cross paths with the city's teams. Exhaustive accounts of the teams' yearly in-season performances mark a second defining feature of the text. The authors present team records, accounts of key games, playoff standings, and [End Page 489] individual statistics that are at times overwhelming in their thoroughness. Finally, Abrams and Mazzone use their narrative to highlight the changing nature of professional basketball itself in the twentieth century. The chapters all seek to offer some perspective on the evolution of the game's participants and practices as well as the emergence of organized basketball as the powerful cultural and economic institution it is today.
While fans of professional sports in the nation's capital will have much to cheer about in this work, historians and other scholars will ultimately find only limited value in the substance of the narrative. Abrams and Mazzone succeed in rendering a detailed biography of the various teams they cover but do so at the expense of examining the relationship between the franchises and the city they represent. Indeed, the teams in the text seem to exist with little connection to the social, economic, political, and cultural climate of Washington. Instead this treatment largely removes the organizations from their local context to consider them within the national phenomenon of basketball's institutional development. An exception to this pattern is the series of brief vignettes addressing the establishment of the franchises' stadia. No doubt reflecting Abrams' extensive earlier work on the subject in Capital Sporting Grounds (2009), this is one of the more lucid and successful aspects of the text that connects the trajectory and impact to the growth and remapping of the area's communities by the teams.
Nowhere, however, is the authors' division between the teams and the city's history more evident than in the work's limited discussions of race. Readers encounter only passing mention of the tense relationships between early all-white franchises and the local black community, the long history of talented black semi-professional and professional teams, or Washington's claim as the first city to host an integrated game in the National Basketball Association in 1950. The text would certainly have benefitted from at least some consideration of all-black teams like Edwin B. Henderson's Washington 12 Streeters in the pre-World War I era or Hal Jackson's Washington Bears who won the World Professional Basketball Tournament in 1943. Additionally, a more detailed discussion of the five-year-long community campaign against the segregated...