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A Work of Art In Its Own Right,
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This review is from: FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History (Hardcover)
In Bethlehem Shoals's writing for the FD blog (or one of the other 18 sites he writes for) I can always count on at least one display of casual writerly irreverence that will stop me in my tracks and make me wonder what the Hell just happened, exactly as the most amazing basketball athletes do. From his music blog:
"...I prefer to think of it as Sun Ra making peace with an unfamiliar life form, one that tries to strangle him twice, then eats the Saltines he offers, then radiates orange light and [defecates] sundaes."
Its the verbal equivalent of playground ball, where the informal nature of the session leads to greater risk taking and more stunning displays of athletic ability.
To write a full scale book however, requires a whole other set of skills. It takes the fundamental game that too many playground legends unfortunately lack, which spells their doom in the NBA. In short, it requires structure. Form to allow a topic like history to be developed in a meaningful sense.
In this book, I'm happy to state that the writerly flair he applies to his shorter work is reworked directly into the structure of this book. The same creative skills set up frameworks that don't just show off his skill but actually help present the information at hand in a more informative manner. George Mikan isn't just the first superstar of the NBA, he is related to the same questions of "Time and Space" that led to a standardization of basketball rules.
At the end of a 2 or 3 page essay, several issues have been presented clearly, efficiently, coherently and with an enjoyable aesthetic style.
The entire book is similarly structured. Shoals is only one member of the Free Darko High Counsel, and the other members contribute hundreds of asides, detail shots, etc. that act as a harmonic balance to the primary soundtrack.
And then there's the art. Jacob Weinstein brings the exact same qualities to the table as I attributed to Shoals above. In detail they are beautiful, with unexpected elements (I could stare a long time at a piece comprised entirely of the chain link fences in the Connie Hawkins illustration), but their overall structure- how they present their subjects, is just as impressive.
In short, this book is the whole package. It is enjoyable not just as something that pertains to basketball but as a work of art in its own right. Even if you don't know basketball, you can appreciate this work of craft. Though it would probably help to like basketball