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Breaks of the Game: Red Auerbach Warned the NBA about Switching Networks

Jay September 2, 2011 Uncategorized 2 Comments

It's been a few weeks since the last post reviewing David Halberstam's "The Breaks of the Game," but there are stil la handful of Celtics related excerpts to share.  I've been traveling a bit and haven't had time to post much other than the Rondo/Kentucky exhibition game video, so here are some more interesting things from this fantastic book.

There is a segment in the middle of the book that describes the period of time when the NBA switched television carriers from ABC to CBS.  The year was 1973 and the league was growing.  Nobody was certain how fast it was growing or how popular it could become.  There was much debate back then and many times it was deemed that college basketball was more popular and generated far better ratings.  So when ABC's deal was up and negotiations began for a new deal, some back channel madness happened, with Red Auerbach warning the league not to double-cross Roone Arledge, the leader at the ABC network.  Check out pages 212-215 to see how things got screwed up, and how they should have listened to Red:

Page211 

 Page212
Page213 
Page214 
Page215 
It's crazy to think now how far the NBA has come in terms of popularity.  The arrivals of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were huge in this, but the NBA Finals still were broadcasted on CBS tape delay through 1983 and didn't go live until the 1984 NBA Finals.  That was the same year that David Stern took over as commissioner and it also marked the first time that Bird and Magic faced each other in the NBA Finals.  Stern then negotiated a better deal with NBC following the 1990 season, and coupled with the exploding popularity of Michael Jordan, the NBA reached its golden years from the mid-80's through the 90's.

Unfortunately the lockout now might be killing all of that momentum if it does indeed wipe out an entire season.  It's ironic that Stern was a key figure in bringing the NBA to its exploding popularity, and now is viewed as one of the key figures of its ugliness now.  Time will tell if he can help save the season.  Too bad Red isn't around to give him some advice!

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  • http://profile.typepad.com/sothewind Lee in Oregon

    Great piece…Been years since I read that book, but Halberstam wrote some of the very best NBA books, particularly the one about the Trail Blazers back when the Redhead was the best player in the league (for 2 years). Speaking of greatness, Roone Arledge was the greatest visionary in the history of broadcasting sports.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/mrtripledouble10 MrTripleDouble10

    Lee-
    Agreed, this book was every bit as good as advertised. I have a few more Celtics related tidbits that I’ll be posting, but I thought this was interesting to see how Arledge had a huge hand in nearly killing the NBA in the 70′s… should have listened to Red!