A Book Review: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History

As promised, we’re doing a review of the FreeDarko book, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. If you missed the review on their other project, “Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, you can read that post here.

In 2010, this collective, self described as a movement that “crawled out of the muck of a fantasy league message board”, returned with an illustrated encyclopedia that will satisfy any and all basketball nerds.

A few fun facts that I learned from reading TUGTPBH:

  • We all know that a Canadian named Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball while living in Springfield, Massachusetts.What I did not know is that basketball developed from a Canadian schoolyard game called “duck on the rock.” The premise of the game was to use a ball to knock a small rock (the duck) off of a larger rock. A person would guard the “duck” and apparently the best way to get the ball past the guard was to arc it. inaismi001p1
  • Up until 1937, teams would perform a jump ball after every basket was scored. Can you imagine how slow the tempos of those early games were? People complain about the constant starts and stops inherent in American football games, and that baseball is too slow, but my guess is if they hadn’t adjusted the jump ball rule, there’d be no NBA today. You’d probably be watching a bunch of black athletes dominating on the soccer pitch.
  • Josh Smith’s mother was an R & B singer named Paulette Reaves (I’m telling you these guys are thorough), who was famous for songs like “Do It Again” and “Flesh”, and Ralph Sampson had a daughter who grew up to be neo-soul singer India Arie.

What is also cool, is learning about the fringe novelty teams that barnstormed America which helped popularize the game. In addition to the Harlem Globetrotters (akin to seeing the circus in many people’s opinion), there were the Rens, the first All Black team to win a world title in any sport.

The All-American Red Heads was a group of red headed women (some natural, some dyed) who played up 200 exhibition (six on six but with men’s rules)games during a seven month season. They started by driving around in a station wagon, but eventually moved up to limousine status. Their popularity waned by 1973, which was when the colleges were finally forced to implement sports teams for women.

In addition to learning how the NBA was created (a merger of the NBL and BAA), the book breaks down milieu of each NBA decade, starting with the early Celtics dominance, and finishing with the dynasties of the Lakers and Spurs.

This book was published six years ago–right before Lebron James made the infamous “decision” that would help him achieve full “Lebron” status. I wonder if in four years, Bethlehem Shoals and company will add an extra chapter to account for this current decade.

We haven’t seen an  NBA Finals without LBJ since the 2010 Lakers-Celtics 7 game extravaganza. Even then, FreeDarko wrote about James, that “amazing is a continuous state.” This observation hinted at what the future held in store for Lebron and the game of basketball.

The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is the kind of thing that it is to be absorbed rather than consumed. The density of the material forced me into a chapter per sitting regiment (in which I finished over the course of a month). This book isn’t for everyone. If you’re the kind of person who would rather read a book written by a Swedish guy obsessed with spies, then this isn’t the book for you–in fact what are you even doing on this site?

I’m not saying that this book is a must read, but it is a must own. Just put it on your coffee table, and within a few days your life will become infinitely better. Trust me on this one.



Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 





A Review of FreeDarko’s Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac

I did not realize how late  I was to the work of the FreeDarko crew until recently, when I saw a tweet lamenting the fifth anniversary of the site’s final post. My NBA hoops fandom shut down in the early 2000’s when I was convinced the game was rigged. The Kobe-Shaq era Lakers were laying waste to the rest of the NBA, and it felt like the refs were helping.

2003 was a great year for basketball. The NCAA gave us one of the best tournaments in its history, and the Spurs finally knocked off Los Angeles and gave me one of the most satisfying visuals of all time–Kobe’s tears.

2003 also gave us what is arguably the second best draft of all time. It is a draft full of really solid role players, and four of the biggest impact players of this era in Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony. Darko Milicic was a player not in either group. Homie was a bust at the number 2 pick (ahead of Anthony, Bosh, and Wade), and Joe Dumars insistence on picking Darko was the difference between them being a pretty dominant Eastern Conference team, and a mid-aughts’ dynasty.

But not all was lost, a collective of like-minded hoops heads got together and created a forum that continues to influence the way that basketball is discussed on the internet within blogs, articles, and even twitter. There are a Who’s Who of current sports journalists spawned from this generation of writers. You may know them from ESPN (Ethan Sherwood Strauss), Grantland (Rafe Bartholomew, Chris Ryan, Brian Phillips) D Magazine (Zac Crain),  Vice (Eric Nusbaum), and even Deadspin (Will Leitch).

In a way, Bethlehem Shoals and company may have provided a blueprint for DIY thinkers, writers, and junior analysts to get their voices heard, and at the same time be taken seriously. What started as a fringe project became a phenomenon, and this book was one of the results of their work.

I discovered The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac when I was living in Oregon. A good friend of mine had it on his bookshelf, and I pored through it for the next hour and a half of that evening. It was unlike anything I’d come across, and the illustrations by Jacob Weinstein were enough to give pause.




The foreword is written by Gilbert Arenas; a man who lives in NBA infamy for a number of things, including the penchant  for yelling “Hibachi!” after taking shots when he suspected he was heating up. arenas-hands-up1


The book begins with a “FreeDarko Manifesto”, and a “Periodic Table of Style” to help readers with the descriptive icons for player ratings. There are six chapters, divided into Master Builders, Uncanny Peacocks, Lost Souls, Phenomenal Tumors, People’s Champs, Destiny’s Kids. At the end of each chapter is a special sub section that highlights different topics using charts, illustrations, and diagrams.

Published in 2008, the books reads almost as a dated reference. The majority of the featured players are long past their peak. Players like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan have retired, while players like Lebron James, Chris Paul, and Amare Stoudemire are seasoned veterans.

It is extremely interesting to read and examine the ratings, and bios of these players, and analyze where their career went afterwards. I often wondered if the FD boys would want a Mulligan on any predictions that may have seemed reasonable back then (in particularly Josh Smith and Gerald Wallace).

The smart and witty design provides a primer for some of the heady and lofty ideas spouted in the text. This period of basketball rides the first wave of the analytics movement, ushering in new ways to consider talking about and watching the game. Funny, at times sober, and always thought-provoking, the Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac is a must own for lovers of NBA basketball.


“Shoot baskets, not people.”

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