Edith Roberts (1902–1966)
From Basketball: Great Writing About America’s Game
As basketball fans immerse themselves in the delighted insanity of March Madness, we look back more than six decades—to when the NCAA and the newly formed NBA were barely presences on the nation’s sports pages.
After Alexander Wolff assembled the contents for the LOA’s new anthology of basketball writing, he noted the sport’s ascendance in the last half century, almost from obscurity. “When you look at the early ’60s and before, there really wasn’t much written at a high level about basketball because the sport hadn’t yet ascended to the position it now occupies.”
In fact, before the late 1960s, the sport itself wasn’t anyone’s idea of a career goal, much less a subject for top-notch writers. One of few selections in the anthology from before the 1970s is “Indiana’s Town of Champions,” Edith Roberts’s report about the 1954 Milan High School team that, thirty years later, became immortalized in the movie Hoosiers. The team’s star player, Bobby Plump, went on to play basketball at Butler University, but declined to sign to an NBA team (salary: $4,000) and instead sold oil for Phillips 66 while playing on the company’s team (salary: $6,200) in the National Industrial Basketball League. He left the sport entirely after three years because it simply didn’t pay enough.
Incidentally, Crispus Attucks High School, the team that lost to Milan in the semifinals that year, would win the state championship the following year—the first all-black team in the nation to do so. The following year they would become the first team in Indiana history to have a perfect season (31-0) and would claim the championship again. One of the players on the Crispus Attucks team all three years would stick it out and make a career out of basketball, as a point guard for the Cincinnati Royals. His name was Oscar Robertson.