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Courtside reading

The topsy, turvy sport of basketball

Web posted on: Thursday, June 04, 1998 4:44:43 PM EDT

By CNN Interactive Books Editor
Jonathan Austin

(CNN) -- For fans of professional basketball -- and everyone in Chicago -- the stress hits full throttle this week as the Bulls and the Utah Jazz square off for the NBA Finals. The team left standing is world champion.

If you follow the game, you don't need to be told that the Bulls had to reach deep to defeat a strong Indiana Pacers team in seven games, or that the Jazz got their ticket to the finals punched with a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.

But if you're one of the millions who don't live and breathe basketball, maybe the process leading to a champion can be confusing.

And what if you have difficulty following any game, whether it be in a packed Delta Center or at the YWCA down the street as your kid drives for the basket?

"Isn't there somewhere I can find out the details of the game?" you ask the people around you. They don't answer; they're dancing in their seats in reaction to a missed free throw, or jeering as the ref calls the final foul for their team's top scorer.

You may not even know what it means to foul out of a game.

So where do you turn?

Turn to books and turn a page. Find out all you need or want to know about the feverish game that drives the NBA.

"NBA at 50" is a photographic and oral history that captures the glory, spirit, and fire of the NBA, the most popular professional sports league in America. More than 100 never-before-published photographs capture players in unseen moments.

But for sheer design, you might choose "Basketball Stars", a tall coffee table book that tells the tale of the stars of the professional game. Here is the story of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game (yes, 100 points scored by one player!) in March 1962; the tale of Julius Erving, the man who unleashed the creativity of a generation that produced Michael Jordan. This giant book (it measures just 7 inches wide but 20 inches tall) gives stats, achievements and background about the best of the game, including the coaches and such "below the rim" wonders as Muggsy Bogues and Spud Webb. It even includes a section on basketball sneakers! Covers

In the beginning ...

Beyond that, maybe the next best place to start is at the beginning, with a book by the man who invented the sport.

James Naismith was teaching physical education at the YMCA Training College in Springfield, Massachusetts, and felt discouraged because calisthenics and gymnastics didn't engage his students. What was needed, he felt, was an indoor wintertime game that combined recreation and competition. So one evening in late 1891 he worked out the fundamentals of a game involving two peach half-bushel baskets and a ball.

"Basketball: Its Origin and Development" was written by the inventor himself, who was inspired purely by the joy of play. The book covers the creative reasoning behind his basket game, later refinement of rules and development of equipment, the spread of amateur and professional teams throughout the world, and the growth of women's basketball (at first banned to male spectators because the players wore bloomers).

Naismith lived long enough to see basketball included in the Olympics in 1936. Three years later he died, after nearly forty years as head of the physical education department at the University of Kansas.

His game is now one of the most widely played sport in the world.

"The Composite Guide to Basketball" delves into the tale of Naismith and the early pioneers who helped it grow from a game in which a score of 20 points was usually enough to win, into the fast-paced, high scoring game of today.

Or is all that just too cerebral, to much like stuff from ninth grade history class? Maybe "Basketball for Dummies" is for you.

Written by Digger Phelps and John Walters, "Basketball for Dummies" provides players, fans, coaches, parents -- heck, even newcomers -- the information they need to get into the game.

Phelps, the winningest coach in Notre Dame history, and Walters, a staff writer with Sports Illustrated, cover bare bones basketball, 'the wear and where', the rules and statistics, and offer insight into shooting, offense and defense, rebounding and strategies.

And yes, it has that geeky yellow cover that has become a hallmark for all the "Dummies" books.

A tale of coaching

Do you love (or hate) Indiana University coach Bob Knight? Writer John Feinstein was allowed unprecedented access to Knight's team for a season, which he recounted in the book "A Season on the Brink."

More recently, Feinstein spent the 1996-97 season with nine teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference. The result was "A March to Madness: The View from the Floor in the Atlantic Coast Conference."

Getting into the game

If you understand the game and want to get instruction in play, there's a wide range of books to study. You could consider:

-- "The Basketball Coach's Bible: A Comprehensive and Systematic Guide to Coaching"

-- "100 Defensive Basketball Drills" and "100 Offensive Basketball Drills"

-- "Basketball - Multiple Offense & Defense" written by Dean Smith, the all-time winningest men's Division 1 basketball coach.

And if the statistics are a bore, if the strategies aren't attractive, perhaps what you need is a role model. If that's the case, try reading "100 Greatest Basketball Players of All Time," which offers well-rounded biographies of the 100 top players. If that doesn't excite you, you can consider spending the next few days on vacation, far from television and the sound of the frantic crowd.

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