An unrelentingly dry look at the NBA’s early growing pains.
Rigorous analysis of reams of data has become de rigueur in sports circles; there is a limit, however, to the stories numbers alone can tell. Surdam (Economics/Univ. of Northern Iowa; Wins, Losses, and Empty Seats: How Baseball Outlasted the Great Depression, 2011) ultimately draws some interesting conclusions: Early NBA owners’ willingness to experiment with rule changes was a major factor in the fledgling league’s ultimate success; the advent of the 24-second shot clock increased scoring, but was not, as is often assumed, solely responsible for higher point totals; travel logistics were primary determinants in assessing whether or not a city was a viable location for a new (or relocated) franchise. To get to those conclusions, however, the author wades through an endless morass of regression analysis, ticket-price statistics and attendance figures. The book’s target audience is unclear. The limited time period covered (1946-1961), heavy focus on numbers unrelated to performance on the court and academic tone make it too esoteric for a general audience, and the nature of Surdam’s thesis—that the league struggled to survive in its infancy and succeeded primarily because of team owners’ willingness to take risks, integrate the league relatively quickly and persevere in the face of economic adversity—does not allow for more analytical readers to extrapolate many lessons that would apply to a sports league that did not face the NBA’s particular set of circumstances.
Makes watching a replay of the lowest scoring game in NBA history—a 19-18 contest between the Minneapolis Lakers and Fort Wayne Pistons in 1950—seem exciting in comparison.