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Taking a Trip Back to Basketball of Yester Year

I Grew Up with Basketball: Twenty Years of Barnstorming with Cage Greats of Yesterday
Frank Basloe
University of Nebraska Press (March 2012)

Right in the thick of March Madness, it is a good time to be reminded where the beloved sport found its roots.

But I Grew Up with Basketball: Twenty Years of Barnstorming with Cage Greats of Yesterday is not a book about the great James Naismith. Rather it’s the story of a Hungarian immigrant who grew up in Herkimer, N.Y., where a YMCA director received the rules for this game called basketball and made it the game we play today.

Frank Basloe was just a kid when YMCA director Lambert Will developed the game of basketball from the initial rules sent to him by James Naismith. Basloe — due to both a love of the sport and a desire to impress his uneducated, but successful business owner of a father — became a basketball promoter at the age of 16, putting together teams of talented players and “globe trotting” them around the country.

In Basloe’s memoir, I Grew Up with Basketball, his account of the start of basketball, his own immigration and upbringing, all the way through his years of traveling with his Oswego Indians and Basloe’s Globe Trotters teams, give the reader a different look at basketball’s beginnings and a unique angle on its development.

Basloe shares his own thoughts in the book’s last chapter about the modern game and how it compares to its humble beginnings, when low-scoring games were common, defense was the focus and a center jump was performed after every score.

While Basloe’s biased opinion wishes basketball returned to some of those roots, it is interesting to read about these developments from such an unconventional angle as well as read about what would become the earliest version of the Harlem Globetrotters, even though the two teams have no affiliation other than the name.

Basloe’s teams of the 1900s-1920s bear similar resemblance to the fun-loving, stunt-performing, red-white-and-blue Harlem teams of this era. Basloe led teams to a disproportionately-high, though well-deserved, 96 winning percentage against his foes, amassing a 1,324-127 record over 19 seasons.

But in addition to learning about the upstart of basketball, readers get a keen insight into life of the road for early basketball stars, the pranks and trials and ways Basloe devised to save and make money, including peddling a championship banner to any team manager willing to part with $50-$75 — whatever Basloe could get for the handmade piece of felt.

I Grew Up with Basketball is a well-written anthology of those early years of basketball. It gives a great introduction into how basketball began from New York’s perspective and a run-through of the early playing days. It doesn’t delve deeply into individual players because the book doesn’t warrant it.

It is very much a depiction of basketball’s early development and its culture. Basloe sticks to this theme and delves into it well. Though he trails off toward the end in the later years of travel before his retirement from “globe trotting,” the bulk of the storytelling is done by then. Readers have gotten a swift and interesting basketball story.

And though readers may feel they grew up with basketball, no one will know until they have read I Grew Up with Basketball what it truly means to grow up with this game.

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