A new book caught my eye the other day. It's called "The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and the Golden Age of Basketball."
I glanced at it. Read the jacket. Thumbed through to see if there were any pictures (there weren't — except on the cover). The author, John Taylor is the guy's name, has solid credentials. He's an "award-winning journalist" (although every journalist in the world can say the same thing. This is a profession that gives out waaaaaaay too many accolades).
The book includes notes, an index and bibliography and obviously is very well researched. I'd even bet it's well-written, too.
Coaching "genius" Phil Jackson thinks so. The Lakers coach endorsed the 421-page tome thusly, "This is a very entertaining and informative book about the men who changed the game."
It looks interesting enough as a slice of sports history that I even plan on reading the whole thing someday.
Still, there was something I found off-putting about it.
Where does this Taylor guy get off on calling the 1960s "the Golden Age" of basketball?
Now, I know many people share his belief. The glory years of the Boston Celtics inarguably helped popularize and shape professional basketball into what the NBA has become. And no player was ever as dominant — at least statistically — on the court (and, according to his biography, with the ladies) as Chamberlain.
But I think it's a bit presumptuous to proclaim the Russell/Chamberlain era as "the golden age."
I probably feel that way because I didn't grow up watching Russell and Chamberlain play. I just missed out. To my generation and, and those younger than me, talking about that era of basketball is like talking about Babe Ruth and the 1920s Yankees. It must have been good, because everybody says so. But we'll have to take someone else's word for it.
The stars of my youth were guys like Dr. J., Moses Malone, Kareem, Rick Barry, Bill Walton and Adrian Dantley.
One of my good friends growing up loved George "the Iceman" Gervin. He tried to shoot like the Iceman, walk like the Iceman and talk like the Iceman. My friend was a good player, too, but alas, he played defense like the Iceman without quite so much offense. So he didn't make it past the high school level.
Anyway, for my friends and me, the mid to late '70s might be considered "the golden age" of basketball. League historians, however, would tell us that we're wrong. The era I remember so fondly as a youth, they say, was a dark period. Players were taking drugs. Interest was waning. Many teams were near bankruptcy.
Historians will tell you that it was the next group — led by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and followed thereafter by Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and so on — that saved the game.
One could make an argument that the "golden age" came during the 1980s Showtime Lakers years — when Magic's Lakers seemed like they met Bird's Cetics in the Finals every year.
Bulls and Jazz fans, of course, would point to the 1990s as the golden age. Certainly the back-to-back Finals years are as good as it has ever gotten in these parts when it comes to the NBA.
And while some folks around the nation may not like the direction the NBA is headed, try telling a fan in San Antonio that basketball has ever been better. Young players like LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony are worth the price of admission.
(Well, actually, nobody is worth the price of admission considering the average cost of NBA tickets these days. But that's a column for another day).
My point — and I do have one here, I promise — is that basketball is a great game and that for someone, somewhere — every era is "the golden age."