Parfrey also introduced me to the bowels and beauty of New York City softball and baseball leagues where we consistently play through the warm months in many great locales—Riverdale, Central Park, Prospect Park, Riverside Park, etc. It is such a privilege to play a competitive sport in Central Park. (I read once that only 2% of the world gets to play a sport in Central Park throughout an entire life.) Later, when I broke my leg, Ian drove me to the hospital while my ankle was busy separating from my tibia and swelling to the size of a paper-towel roll. The other night I was telling that daftly senseless story to another friend who was unaware of how I got all of that numb mess taken care of and I told the friend what Ian did. The friend replied, slightly aghast, “That’s friendship.”
In his bio, Parfrey writes that he gave up the security of a small paycheck to write about basketball full time. His first book, Ten Thousand Minutes, is a historical ranking system for pro basketball players; he currently writes and edits for Brooklyn Fans, a website that covers the Brooklyn Nets and events at the Barclays Center. He lives in Greenpoint with his wife and daughter.
KLW: What is your working title of your book?
IP: There are two of them. Maybe more. I'm supposed to be writing about the first season of the Brooklyn Nets—Flatbush and Atlantic—but my heart is in a book about pro basketball teams in Brooklyn in the 1920s— Greenpoint Knights and Visitations.
KLW: Where did the idea come from for the book?
IP: I discovered the APBR website. That's the Association of Professional Basketball Researchers. They had pages for all these leagues dating back to the turn of the 20th Century that I'd never heard of, mostly just won-loss records and championships and a few basic stats. As it turned out, the Metropolitan League, based in Brooklyn, was the premiere pro league in the country in 1924 and 1925. I googled a few teams, and that led me to the Fulton History website, which has catalogued an obscene number of historical newspapers from all over New York state. So I began to write, a little bit here and there at first, and then I became very proficient in using the database's search terms. I realized there was a big story in here that hadn't been told because no one either knew about this archive, or had the patience to sift through it.
KLW: What genre does your book fall under?
IP: Obscure sports history. You think it'll sell?
KLW: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
IP: I'd just go to the Coen brothers and say, here, you figure it out. We'd probably have to pick a main character, and re-frame the story around him. "Poison" Joe Brennan was one of the great players in this league, and unlike almost everyone else, he stuck around—didn't jump any contracts, didn't play for five leagues at a time, didn't go to seek his fortune in the bigger pro leagues. He played on three of the first four champions in the Met League. The league only lasted seven seasons. The only other guy to play on three champions was Bob Griebe, who was a defensive specialist on Brennan's teams. Those are my main characters. All I know about Brennan as a player is that he had a reputation for baiting referees, and he spent a lot of time winning. The league also had some pretty good antagonists— Benny Borgeman, who's in the Hall of Fame, won the scoring title every year he played, but his teams usually fell short at the end. Stretch Meehan was the biggest guy in the league. He was 6 foot 7.
KLW: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
IP: Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Brooklyn was one of the earliest hotbeds of basketball activity, and this is its untold story.
KLW: Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
IP: I do almost everything myself. I like having some control over the process. The profit margins on e-books are pretty terrific. I shell out for the ISBN, and after that, the e-book basically prints very small amounts of money. I have one out there already, and once I have a few more, and raise my profile in the sports-writing world a little, the pocket change might start to add up. I also produce paperback copies, but that's not where the money is.
KLW: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
IP: No draft. I edit as I go, a little, then give it a once or twice-over at the end. It's 95 pages right now, and will probably be well over 200 when finished.
KLW: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
IP: Murry Nelson's books on the Celtics and the NBL are a decent reference point. Mine will be not quite as scholarly, and have fewer... what the fuck do they call them... primary sources. My sources are the newspaper archive, my illustrations are line drawings contributed by friends. I come at this from the MFA and sports fan side, not fromthe "my footnotes are longer than the fuckin'book is" side. I don't want to strangle the story.
KLW: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
IP: My hatred of my old job? I don't know. I got an MFA in poetry, studied under Lou Asekoff, who is really terrific, and found that all I wanted to do was talk about sports, write about sports, and play them. I had no patience for what most of the poetry world was up to. It was sort of like a badge of honor to get your head all the way up your ass and write from that position. I wanted to hit home runs and shoot three pointers. This is a compromise between both sides of my brain, and it feels like exactly what I should be doing.
KLW: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
IP: The artwork is gonna be fucking amazing. And to the best of my abilities, I found statistics for these players, which can't be found anywhere else. The game itself is nothing like the one you know. It was segregated, for one thing, and everyone in the Brooklyn league was white, and most of them were Irish. If a guy was Jewish and he could really ball, they found a spot for him. They played exhibitions with the black teams, and everyone got along pretty well, but the league was lily white. The ball was larger, not perfectly round, and not always well inflated, so no one could shoot. They fouled like crazy. I found one instance of a guy scoring 30 points, in seven years in this league. His name was George Norman and he wasn't even one of the top players. In a lot of games, the entire team didn't score 30. You wouldn't recognize it at all. You'd wonder why they were holding a 5-on-5 wrestling match with a ball.