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Tall Tales and Short Shorts

Dr. J, Pistol Pete, and the Birth of the Modern NBA

Adam J. Criblez

In basketball, just as in American culture, the 1970s were imperfect. But it was a vitally important time in the development of the nation and of the National Basketball Association. During this decade Americans suffered through the war in Vietnam and Nixon’s Watergate cover-up (not to mention disco music and leisure suits) while the NBA weathered the arrival of free agency and charges that its players were “too black.” Despite this turmoil, or perhaps because of it, the NBA evolved into a cultural phenomenon.

Tall Tales and Short Shorts: Dr. J, Pistol Pete, and the Birth of the Modern NBA traces the evolution of the NBA from the retirement of Bill Russell in 1969 to the arrival of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson ten years later. Sandwiched between the youthful league of the sixties and its mature successor in the eighties, this book reveals the awkward teenage years of the NBA in the seventies. It examines the many controversies that plagued the league during this time, including illicit drug use, on-court violence, and escalating player salaries. Yet even as attendance dwindled and networks relegated playoff games to tape-delayed, late-night broadcasts, fans still pulled on floppy gray socks like “Pistol Pete” Maravich, emulated Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sweeping skyhook, and grew out mushrooming afros à la “Dr. J” Julius Erving.

The first book-length treatment of pro basketball in the 1970s, Tall Tales and Short Shorts brings to life the players, teams, and the league as a whole as they dealt with expansion, a merger with the ABA, and transitioning into a new era. Sport historians and basketball fans will enjoy this entertaining and enlightening survey of an often-overlooked time in the development of the NBA.
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Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Pages: 324Size: 6 x 9
978-1-4422-7767-0 • Hardback • May 2017 • $38.00 • (£24.95)
978-1-4422-7768-7 • eBook • May 2017 • $37.99 • (£24.95) (coming soon)
Adam J. Criblez is assistant professor of history at Southeast Missouri State University. His first book, Parading Patriotism: Independence Days in the Urban Midwest, 1826-1876 (2013) won several regional history awards.
Pregame: The 1969 Finals

Chapter 1: 1969 to 1970
Time-Out: The Pistol
Chapter 2: 1970 to 1971
Chapter 3: 1971 to 1972
Chapter 4: 1972 to 1973
Chapter 5: 1973 to 1974
Chapter 6: 1974 to 1975
Time-Out: The Doctor
Chapter 7: 1975 to 1976
Time-Out: The Merger
Chapter 8: 1976 to 1977
Chapter 9: 1977 to 1978
Chapter 10: 1978 to 1979

Postgame: The Eighties
Select Bibliography
About the Author
In this light-hearted, informative overview of pro basketball in the 1970s, Criblez, professor of history at Southeast Missouri State Univ., focuses on the showmanship of Pistol Pete Maravich and the ABA-NBA merger, which brought flashy talent such as Julius Erving and George Gervin to the pro scene. Criblez explains how sagging TV ratings and the increased use of cocaine endangered the league. There’s a reason why future NBA commissioner David Stern, who oversaw the NBA’s golden era of the 1980s and ’90s, called the late ’70s the league’s 'dark days.' But Criblez finds plenty of sunshine. He unearths surprising, humanizing facts that have been lost in the NBA’s now-slick facade. The struggling Indiana Pacers held a telethon in 1977 to stay solvent; the NBA held a televised dunk contest in 1976 and revived the idea in 1984.... [T]he abundance of bon mots will satiate basketball fans of all ages.
Publishers Weekly

In Tall Tales and Short Shorts, Adam Criblez expertly shows how the most maligned decade in NBA history—the 1970s—was actually one of the most important. Through exhaustive research and with a keen eye for detail, Criblez entertains and educates with the stories of Dr. J, Pistol Pete, Kareem, and the other legends of the decade who not only dominated in the 1970s, but set the stage for everything that followed in the NBA.
Shawn Fury, author of Rise and Fire: The Origins, Science, and Evolution of the Jump Shot—and How It Transformed Basketball Forever

Dr. J, Pistol Pete, Murdock, The Pearl, Skywalker, Bad News Barnes and The Big E are back in the starting lineup... this time, rightly so, as literary figures who inspired and laid the groundwork for today's National Basketball Association. That's the premise of Adam J. Criblez's amazing new work, Tall Tales and Short Shorts. It was a magical period for the sport, which saw the merging of social awakening, outrageous style, individuality and athleticism, lucrative sponsorships, television money, and two leagues conspiring to kill each other off. The 1970s and its strange cast of characters and outlaw executives revolutionized the game and presented a new vision of what basketball could be. Hats off to Criblez for capturing this colorful history.
Marshall Terrill, co-author of Maravich and Skywalker

A thorough, illuminating chronicle of the NBA’s evolution during the crucial decade of the seventies, Tall Tales and Short Shorts is essential for anyone wanting to understand how the sport got to where it is today.
Nathaniel "Bethlehem Shoals" Friedman, co-author of FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History