Given New England’s passion for the Red Sox and the recent Super Bowl success of the Patriots, some found it curious that basketball was named the official state sport of Massachusetts in August. “Basketball Man,” a new documentary DVD celebrating the creator of the sport, should provide some historical perspective for that decision.
The DVD, set for release Feb. 20, is the story of James Naismith, who invented basketball in 1891 at a YMCA in Springfield. Some of the biggest names in the history of the sport, from Bob Cousy to John Wooden to Michael Jordan, contribute their thoughts.
Naismith’s is an epic story, well-told here by weaving in historic elements with footage of Naismith’s grandson, Ian, touring the country with the original, handwritten 13 rules of basketball in a golden briefcase. What began in Massachusetts in 1891 spread to Mexico by 1892 and China by 1893, eventually winding up at the Berlin Olympics in 1936, where Naismith introduced his sport to the world in front of Adolf Hitler. “Everybody knows James Naismith invented basketball,” executive producer Keith Zimmerman said. “Everybody’s seen pictures of this nice old man with a ball in his hand and a three-piece suit and as peach basket, but people don’t know the story of James Naismith.”
The DVD extras feature more than 20 minutes of footage from what was one of the last interviews with Celtics legend Red Auerbach before his death at age 89 in October. The segment was taped at his Washington-area home last summer. It’s clear that his health was fading but not his enthusiasm for the sport. “We feel like we have the two coaching icons of all time," Zimmerman said. “Red Auerbach, undoubtedly the greatest NBA coach of all time; John Wooden, arguably the greatest college coach off all time."
There are few personalities in basketball history as far apart as Naismith and Auerbach.
Naismith, who invented the game essentially to keep kids out of trouble, emphasized sportsmanship over victory. He organized boxing matches as a chaplain in World War I to keep the troops from leaving camp for nearby brothels. Auerbach. By contrast, was nearly as famous for his cigar-chomping, win-at-all-costs mentality and skill with a sound bite as he was for leading the Celtics to eight straight NBA championships.
“If you keep score, you play to win,” Auerbach says on the DVD. “I don’t care what it is. That’s always been my theory. I can’t stand these guys who can’t wait to shake hands at the end. In the old days, we lost, we got outta there. We didn’t congratulate them."
Still, Zimmerman thinks Auerbach would have gotten along with Naismith. “It was all about team with (Auerbach),” Zimmerman said, "and that's what Naismith tried (to create).”
--Nick A. Zaino III