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Strange to think, but in 1957, when the Boston Celtics won the first of their 17 NBA title, the league was on the periphery of the American sports scene--that championship series was the first to be televised nationally. The Celtics, one of the league's founding members had never won a title, despite the presence for 7 years of Bob Cousy, recognized as the best player in the NBA, maybe the best player ever. Red Auerbach had never won a title, and yearned for one just because it would legitimize him. Bill Russell and Tommy Heinsohn were both rookies. Even Johnny Most had only replaced Curt Gowdy on Celtic broadcasts a couple years earlier. And while Russell wasn't the Celtics first black player, he was their first black superstar, in a league still dominated by white players. Indeed, Boston may have been able to acquire him because the St. Louis Hawks--whose owner Auerbach had coached for and hated and who they faced in that final--were reluctant to try and pass off a black player in a segregated city.

This then is a future haunted tale, because we know how all that would change and that the Celtics would at one point win eight straight NBA titles with many of the same characters featuring in the action, becoming legendary in the process and making basketball a national sport and a Boston passion. But Bill Reynolds manages to bring some of that earlier time to life, especially by using fascinating anecdotes about the early NBA, the almost chaotic stadiums and crowds, the racial milieu and the colorful and/or complicated personae that populated the team and the league. He intercuts the story of how the team was built with details from what many consider the greatest Game 7 in NBA history, with thirty-two lead changes, 28 ties, and eventually a double-overtime that ended with a Celtic victory only after a bizarre trick play by the Hawks very nearly worked.

Mr. Reynolds has a rich vein of material to work with here and the book is well worthwhile. But oddly enough, it suffers by comparison to Nine Innings, which it resembles in structure, even though that book charted the building of a not great Milwaukee Brewers team over the course of a random game in season. Likewise, it fails to deliver on its somewhat grandiose subtitle--the New (post-Civil Rights) America was still some years away. And there is a truly annoying repetitiveness, with several of the anecdotes repeated more than once, almost as if no one edited the book. Ultimately it's a workmanlike effort rather than a sports classic, but one basketball fans, especially Celtics Nation, will enjoy.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

Sports (General)
Bill Reynolds Links:

    -ARCHIVES: Bill Reynolds (Providence Journal)
    -BOOK SITE: Rise of a Dynasty (Penguin Books)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Rise of a Dynasty: The ’57 Celtics, the First Banner, and the Dawning of a New America
    -ESSAY: Fists, racial epithets flew in the NBA of the 1950s (BILL REYNOLDS, 12/21/10, Providence Journal)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: with Bill Reynolds (Scott McKay, WRNI)
    -INTERVIEW: The Celtics and the birth of the real NBA (DAVID SCHARFENBERG, December 22, 2010, Boston Phoenix)
    -ARCHIVES: celtics russell cousy (Sports Illustrated)
    -REVIEW: of Rise of a Dynasty: The ’57 Celtics, the First Banner, and the Dawning of a New America (John Powers, Boston Globe)
    -REVIEW: of Rise of a Dynasty (Ross Atkin, CS Monitor)
    -REVIEW: of Rise of a Dynasty (Martin Johnson, Wall Street Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Rise of a Dynasty (Hugh Ryan, Providence Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Rise of a Dynasty (Jack Goodstein, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Rise of a Dynasty (Mark Haubner, ESPN)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: Hot On The Boards: The hardest way possible, against an inspired, underdog St. Louis team, the Celtics won basketball's World Series (Jeremiah Tax, April 22, 1957, Sports Illustrated)
    -ESSAY: Patterns On Hardwood: Professional basketball features very few set plays. It is an endless series of instant improvisations on a basic theme: get the ball through the hoop (Jeremiah Tax, March 11, 1957, Sports Illustrated)
    -ESSAY: Bob Cousy: Basketball's Creative Genius: All Imagination and agility, the great Celtic star is leading the youngest of the major games out of its periodic wildernesses (Herbert Warren Wind, January 09, 1956, Sports Illustrated)
    -ESSAY: Bob Cousy: The Man And The Game: Boy and man, the Celtic star has used his skills to remedy basketball's flaws and enhance its delights (Herbert Warren Wind, January 16, 1956, Sports Illustrated)
    -ESSAY: 'cooz' And The Celtics: Once again Bob Cousy rose to the occasion and led Boston to the NBA championship (William Leggett, April 18, 1960, Sports Illustrated)
    -ESSAY: This Vintage Year: The Boston Celtics, with their superb combination of youth and veteran skills, are but one herald of a spectacular NBA season (Jeremiah Tax, November 04, 1957, Sports Illustrated)
    -ESSAY: The Man Who Must Be Different: Bill Russell is fighting his sensitivity about his race and his height while he nears the threshold of basketball greatness (Jeremiah Tax, February 03, 1958, Sports Illustrated)