Let's Get Physical


Few things look more foreign to me than basketball clips from the '50s and '60s, and my reaction to them isn't so different than most young people's reaction to viewing classic films. Rather than appreciating it for what it is and how it's shaped what we've come to know and love we can't get past the fact that it's shot in black and white and that much of the acting is way over the top. Watch if you will, the clip below which is about 26 seconds of the first game at Allen Fieldhouse. The date is March 1, 1955, and the opponent is Kansas State.

To me, "40 Minutes of Hell" back then, looked more like 40 minutes of.....well.....kinda just being in the way. Also, it appeared as though Tyrel Reed drew more fouls from his own teammates Wednesday night than these guys did in a season.

Rest assured I'm not calling any of the players soft as I'm one of the nearly 130,000 viewers to have seen another YouTube gem showcasing footage of the '61 KU and MU brawl on the court. My guess is the haymaker you see at about the 25-second mark in the upper left corner would hurt just as much today as it did back then. This one's worth a few plays.

Such pieces do make me wonder, however, if a speedy guard like Reed or a wrecking ball like Sherron Collins might just blow the short shorts off a back-pedeling defender of the '50s. To put an end to my constant state of fear that columnist Bill Mayer would read this blog, march down stairs and slap me over the back of the head for insulting the legends, I instead asked his opinion, along with that of sports editor Tom Keegan. We talked about the game's evolution into hyperdrive and hyperphysical.

Beyond the advent of the dunk, which obviously revolutionized the game, Bill, who witnessed firsthand the feats of Wilt Chamberlain, Clyde Lovellette and JoJo White, explained that implementing year-round conditioning has played a great role in producing stronger and faster athletes. He did, however, stop me short of my next question to emphasize that these three greats, as well as plenty of others, could more than hang in today's game. Tom opined, with a smile, that the play and players have gotten faster but the refs have not, which can partially explain a more physical and loosely-called game.

Whatever the case, maybe I'm glad it's where it's at now because the physical game can be pretty interesting photographically. I'd rather be shooting game action where an occasional elbow sneaks by and one that isn't so ridiculously polite.


Ben Kane 11 years, 8 months ago

Nick, you continue to be one of my favorite reads!

5DecadeHawk 11 years, 8 months ago

Good stuff Nick.

I'm not sure why you're quoting Olivia Newton John... but hey, I guess you can listen to whatever music you want to.

Ryan Wood 11 years, 8 months ago

I love how Jameson Curry is looking at the official shouting "What did I do?" as Russell Robinson bleeds to death.

Mike Kendall 11 years, 8 months ago


Missouri and KU fights--I really saw a good one, when I was growing up in Lawrence. I mentioned this before, but the Steve Stiponovich fight in AFH, with Storman' Norm Stewart coaching, was a good one. The fight spilled into the crowd by the bleechers and there was a significant game delay. I can't remember who Steve was fighting with or what year it was (had to be 75-78), but you can feel the animosity between the two teams when they play each other. Border Showdown? My favorite Jayhawk TV personality, Dave Phillips, would say, "Border Showdown? No, it's a Border War, baby!

justanotherfan 11 years, 8 months ago

Two quick notes

1) The physical advantages enjoyed by today's players would not have affected the top line. In other words, Great players like Chamberlain, Lovellette, White, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, etc. would have been great players today, just as great players today would have been great then.

The difference would have been in the middle. The 6-6, 210 lb back to the basket post guy of the 1950s would struggle in today's more up tempo athletic game. The "only dribble with the right hand" point guard of that era would be in trouble. But the true greats would rise above, because that's what makes them true greats.

2) Watching that KU-Mizzou fight made me wonder - Why are old fights revered for showing how tough players back then were, but now fights, or even a little pushing and shoving, are seen as evidence of "thuggishness" or a "me-first" attitude.

That KU-MU fight spilled into the crowd. If that happened today, chances are everyone involved would be in danger of being kicked off the team, or kicked out of school entirely.

That link is of a hockey fight in the 1970s between the Boston Bruins and fans in New York. Pretty much the entire team went in the stands.

We all know what happened when the same thing happened a couple of years ago with the Indiana Pacers.

I think the perception of fighting in sports has changed dramatically. I don't know what the tipping point was, but at some point, the tide shifted.

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