From the New York Times bestselling author of The Big Bam
A clash of NBA titans. Seven riveting games. One young reporter. Welcome to the 1969 NBA Finals.
They don’t set up any better than this. The greatest basketball player of all time - Bill Russell - and his juggernaut Boston Celtics, winners of ten (ten!) of the previous twelve NBA championships, squeak through one more playoff run and land in the Finals again. Russell’s opponent? The fearsome 7’1” next-generation superstar, Wilt Chamberlain, recently traded to the LA Lakers to form the league’s first dream team. Bill Russell and John Havlicek versus Chamberlain, Jerry West and Elgin Baylor. The 1969 Celtics are at the end of their dominance. The 1969 Lakers are unstoppable.
Add to the mix one newly minted reporter. Covering the epic series is a wide-eyed young sports writer named Leigh Montville. Years before becoming an award-winning legend himself at The Boston Globe and Sports Illustrated, twenty-four-year-old Montville is ordered by his editor at the Globe to get on a plane to L.A. (first time!) to write about his luminous heroes, the biggest of big men.
What follows is a raucous, colorful, joyous account of one of the greatest seven-game series in NBA history. Set against a backdrop of the late sixties, Montville’s reporting and recollections transport readers to a singular time – with rampant racial tension on the streets and on the court, with the emergence of a still relatively small league on its way to becoming a billion-dollar industry, and to an era when newspaper journalism and the written word served as the crucial lifeline between sports and sports fans. And there was basketball – seven breathtaking, see-saw games, highlight-reel moments from an unprecedented cast of future Hall of Famers (including player-coach Russell as the first-ever black head coach in the NBA), coast-to-coast travels and the clack-clack-clack of typewriter keys racing against tight deadlines.
Tall Men, Short Shorts is a masterpiece of sports journalism with a charming touch of personal memoir. Leigh Montville has crafted his most entertaining book yet, richly enshrining luminous players and moments in a unique American time.
Sportswriter Montville (Sting Like a Bee) masterfully combines memoir and sports history in this thrilling deep dive into a legendary NBA championship battle. As a 24-year-old novice reporter for the Boston Globe in 1969, he had a first-row seat to an epic duel that went the full seven games and pitted Bill Russell's Boston Celtics against Wilt Chamberlain's Los Angeles Lakers. The Celtics, Montville writes, were "at the end of their dominance" they'd finished fourth in their division, and their leader, Russell, was playing his final year. The Lakers, meanwhile, had just brought on Chamberlain, who many considered the "most stupendous" player in the league. Historically, the Lakers had routinely been bested by the Celtics, but the L.A. team's two games to none lead at the outset of the Finals gave them the upper hand. Instead, Boston won by two points in the seventh game, with Chamberlain injured on the bench in the final, crucial minutes. Montville recounts his race against "the tightest of deadlines" to file game reports including the first game's "53 beautiful backcourt points" scored by Jerry West that he hoped would catapult his career. In vividly evoking the ups and downs that led to this monumental match-up, Montville paints a humanizing portrait of the game. This is another success for a gifted writer.