By: Mike DeLucia, ISDA Contributor
Who is the greatest basketball player of all time?
It’s not Michael Jordan.
That distinction belongs to hall of fame forward, Hank Luisetti, the first person to sore 50 points in a game, the innovator of the running one-handed shot, and the one responsible for paving the road to the NCAA March Madness competition and the formation of the NBA. Nobody—not even Jordan can claim that.
— Stanford Men's Basketball (@StanfordMBB) September 24, 2015
It’s time the world learned the story of basketball’s great pioneer; the man who fought the establishment and changed basketball’s genetic footprint with his unorthodox playing style. James Naismith invented basketball in 1891; Hank Luisetti reinvented it in 1936.
— Dan Ivie (@boxscoreguy) September 8, 2015
Hank Luisetti, a graduate of Stanford University, grew up in the same San Francisco neighborhood as his contemporary Joe DiMaggio—the two actually knew each other and went to the same elementary school. DiMaggio had the luxury of legends like Babe Ruth, and Ty Cobb cementing the foundation of the MLB, but Luisetti played in an era where there was no NBA. It was he who provided a taste of what basketball could become.
In the days before the NBA, basketball was a filler sport between baseball and football seasons. Passing and shooting with two hands was at the center of basketball’s stop-set-shoot philosophy, until Hank Luisetti defied the establishment during a time when final scores of basketball games rarely totaled forty points. It was said that shooting with one hand was radical, and a shot predicted on a prayer wasn’t real basketball. After Luisetti’s heroics were displayed in a game at Madison Square Garden between Stanford and LIU, basketball, as we know it, was born.
The Stanford/LIU game would both test Luisetti’s unorthodox style and determine the unofficial national champion. Hank shocked the sports world, and the New York media machine knew they were witnessing history. People began to emulate the great Luisetti, and basketball became an exciting sport—building a fan base of its own.
After barely surviving spiral meningitis while serving during WWII, Luisetti turned down lucrative offers to play in the NBA when it formed in 1949. Hank Luisetti, the man who reinvented basketball and even starred as himself in a major motion picture opposite Betty Grable in 1938, faded into obscurity, but not for long. Madness portrays the challenges of hall of famer Hank Luisetti to bust past the barriers of haughty basketball purists, as well as his own demons, and usher in basketball’s modern era.
Click here to learn more about Mike DeLucia’s new book, Madness — which is due out early next month — and get the full story on the best basketball player who ever lived.
Author Mike DeLucia grew up in the Bronx and spent his childhood playing baseball, softball, and all of the street games associated with city living in the ‘60s. He began his career as an actor and entrepreneur but wound up teaching high school English in his forties and authoring books in his fifties. Besides the story of Hank Luisetti—Madness, Mike published Boycott The Yankees: A Call to Action by a Lifelong Yankees Fan, about how the rising costs of stadium seating is destroying the family-friendly atmosphere of the Great Ballpark in the Bronx, and Settling A Score, a short story that invites readers to the Bronx during the 1960s and into the home of the DeFrancos where two estranged brothers are forced to play on the same little league team. In the process they learn about life, each other, and the enduring challenges of being brothers.