“It is the wise coach who, when teaching fundamentals, puts a lot of emphasis on offensive rebounding,” says Arnold ‘Red’ Auerbach in his 1952 book called “Basketball for the Player, the Fan, and the Coach.”
This is Rule # 1 in Auerbach’s section called “Hints On Rebounding”:
Learn to jump with your hands stretched upward.
That thought is echoed on the defensive end by Charles Murphy in his 1938 book, “Basketball”:
The defensive player should leap high in the air, reach up with the arms fully extended, catch the ball in both hands, land on the floor facing the end line, feint one way or the other, dribble sharply to one side or the other, or hook pass out of the danger zone to a teammate at the first opportunity.
This vintage upward thinking reminded me of one of my favorite old school Earth, Wind, and Fire tunes, “Keep Your Head To The Sky.”
Enjoy this rare and beautiful live version of it:
But keeping your head to the sky was only part of the story of rebounding in the old days. Footwork was also involved. And something else.
“I learned my trade mostly from John Isaacs,” says former Harlem Yankees player and collegiate basketball star Donald Hinds, now in his 90s, who I spoke with recently.
“I was a jumper, a rebounder, but my jumping didn’t make any sense against Isaacs because he could take a finger and get me off balance and the ball would fall right into his hands.”
The Yankees, a farm team for the New York Rens, produced such top Renaissance players over the years as Hank DeZonie, Puggy Bell, and Sonny Woods. Isaacs played for the team as he neared the end of his pro career, and also helped coach.
“He taught me all the tricks of the trade,” Hinds says of Isaacs.
Hinds was a star at South Carolina State on a basketball scholarship before getting homesick during his sophomore year. He returned to Harlem to play for the Yankees. His teammates included DeZonie, who later played briefly in the N.B.A., George Crowe, and Bennie Garrett, all of whom already or eventually also played for the Rens.
Isaacs was a top rebounder at a time when rebounds weren’t listed in the box score or tracked statistically. Neither were steals, forced turnovers, blocked shots, assists, and other “hustle” stats.
This is what makes it so difficult for some Black Fives Era players like Isaacs to be fairly considered for comparison and recognition, like by the committees of so-called experts responsible for deciding “veterans” enshrinements into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Isaacs isn’t even the only Rens player who ought to be enshrined. What about “Fats” Jenkins? “Puggy” Bell? “Sonny” Boswell?
In those days, greatness as a basketball player was measured not by stats but by the level of talent of your teammates.
In the case of the New York Renaissance Big Five, every player on the court was expected to do everything, so you had to be up to the level of your teammates or you simply wouldn’t play.
No wonder they didn’t keep individual stats.
Coach John Wooden.
Yet there’s a reason why U.CL.A. coaching legend John Wooden keeps repeating himself about what he calls the “breathtaking precision” of the Renaissance.
“To this day,” Wooden said in 2003, “I’ve never seen more beautiful team play than the New York Rens.”
If life is about the joy of the journey, then the Rens players who haven’t been fully recognized in Springfield need not worry. As Coach Wooden says, “Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.” So, it’s the Hall of Fame’s failure, not the players’.
They will, as Earth, Wind & Fire says, “find peace in every way.” As in rebounding, they need only keep their heads to the sky.
But, as in rebounding, that’s only part of the story. The rest of it is the unfinished business of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
(Wooden photograph courtesy of CoachWooden.com)