‘Tall Tales and Short Shorts’: Southeast Professor Explores NBA History in New Book

Dr. Adam Criblez, assistant professor of history and director of the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University, is set to release his book, “Tall Tales and Short Shorts: Dr. J, Pistol Pete, and the Birth of the Modern NBA,” May 16. Criblez says the book provides an overview of the 1970s as a vitally important time in the development of the nation and of the National Basketball Association (NBA). During this decade, he says, Americans suffered through the war in Vietnam and Nixon’s Watergate (not to mention disco music and leisure suits) while the NBA weathered the arrival of free agency. Despite this turmoil, or perhaps because of it, the NBA evolved into a cultural phenomenon,” Criblez said. “I definitely am a lifelong basketball fan and played from age six until my junior year in college at Ohio Wesleyan University when I decided to retire,” Criblez said, explaining his interest in delving into the topic. “I became interested in writing about basketball, though, after working with our SEMO student-athletes. I began teaching a group of them as a non-residential learning community a few years ago and integrating sport history into the classroom. So in this case, my scholarship grew out of teaching interests.” “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 10 years later. Sandwiched between the youthful league of the 1960s and its mature successor in the 1980s, this book reveals the awkward teenage years of the NBA in the 1970s. It examines the many controversies that plagued the league during this time, including illicit drug use, on-court violence, and escalating player salaries. Yet, Criblez said, 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 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. The book is published by Rowman & Littlefield and is currently available for pre-order through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.