Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review of "The Chosen Game"

Every now and then, a book that I thought would be tedious to read turns out to be a pleasant surprise. This book on the history of Jewish basketball players, coaches and owners was one of those books. It was full of very interesting information, especially on small professional basketball leagues that existed long before the NBA.  Here is my review of "The Chosen Game."

The Chosen Game: A Jewish Basketball History” by Charley Rosen
Basketball, professional, college, history
Publish date:
November 1, 2017
224 pages
4 of 5 stars (very good)
When one thinks of great Jewish people in professional basketball, the first two names that come to mind are Dolph Schayes and Red Auerbach.  However, there is a rich history of Jewish influence in professional and college basketball going back to the very early days of the game.  This history is captured in this well-researched book by veteran basketball author Charley Rosen.

Rosen writes about much more than just the influence of Jews in the NBA. Their participation began in earnest when the game became popular in the New York City playgrounds and streets in the 1920’s where there was already a large Jewish population. However, a player in upstate New York, Paul Steinberg, became the first known Jewish professional player in one of the many leagues that were popping up in the northeastern United States. From there, there was another Jew from New York City, Nat Holman, whom some consider to be the greatest basketball player to come from the Big Apple – high praise when one considers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also a New York City native.

Stories about these leagues, teams and players such as Holman, the “Busy Izzies” and the Philadelphia SPHAS (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) make for fascinating reading, especially for readers who want to learn more about basketball history. There is also good information on the great teams at City College of New York (CCNY) when they won both the NCAA and NIT championships in the early 1950’s and also about the point shaving scandals that plagued college basketball at that time.

There is also content about Jewish history in the NBA – however, most of the information on the modern game comes in “afterthoughts” at the end of each chapter from Jews who played important roles in the modern game such as David Platt (former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers), Neal Walk and Jordan Farmer.  Of course, Schayes, Auerbach and Red Holtzman are also prominently mentioned in the book, but they are no more important than Abe Saperstein, Paul Birch or Sid Goldberg,  If you are not familiar with those names, you will be after reading the book.

Packed with a lot of information in less than 200 pages of text, this book makes a good addition to the library of readers who are basketball historians or those who wish to learn more about the role of Jews in the “American” game.

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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