Tall Men, Short Shorts: The 1969 NBA Finals; Wilt, Russ, Lakers, Celtics, and a Very Young Sports Reporter

Doubleday. Jul. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9780385545198. $29. SPORTS
Veteran sportswriter Montville (Sting Like a Bee) takes us back in time to the 1969 National Basketball Association finals. Why 1969? The seven games of that series had it all, including the Celtics–Lakers rivalry, one of the NBA’s most storied (to date, each team has 17 titles); and the historic rivalry between Bill Russell, centerpiece of the Celtics dynasty, and Wilt Chamberlain, who set records for the Lakers throughout his career. It was also the first big-time reporting assignment for Montville, who arrived at the games with his typewriter (of the brand favored by star reporters) and his desire to bring New Journalism (with its emphasis on the revealing anecdote) to sports reporting. Montville’s book also brings into focus the dynamics of Celtics teammates John Havlicek and Sam Jones and Lakers legends Jerry West and Elgin Baylor—four players who set personal records. There are fast-paced chapters devoted to the cast of characters and to each of the hard-fought games. One could just take a glance at the record book to learn the winner of 1969 title, but Montville’s revealing anecdotes and suspenseful writing build the tension.
VERDICT Over 50 years after he first covered these games, Montville gives basketball fans a book they won’t want to put down.
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