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The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy Paperback – December 7, 2010
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Amazon Best of the Month, October 2009: The Book of Basketball is a 700-page work of hoops genius that would make Dr. James Naismith beam proudly – and probably blush. Author Bill Simmons, best known as ESPN.com's "The Sports Guy," explores the NBA with hilarious insight, brilliant analysis, and a bevy of irreverent footnotes. Simmons is a fan first – a fact best explained in an entertaining foreword by Malcolm Gladwell – and writes from the stands, not the press room. His knowledge and passion for the game provide him with few peers, yet his voice represents those who stick by their teams through thick and thin. As a result, The Book of Basketball is not just a tribute to hardwood heroes, but also a celebration of yelling at TV sets, revering lucky jerseys, and holding our breath until the final buzzer sounds. Throw in pages of nearly-insane statistical breakdowns (including a projected boxscore from the movie Teen Wolf), and it's easy to see why fans of all levels should clear shelf space for this instant classic. --Dave Callanan --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
*Starred Review* Simmons, aka “the Sports Guy,” is a regular columnist on ESPN.com. He writes about all sports, with a particular affection for his hometown Boston teams. Stylistically, there’s no one quite like him writing about sports. Sardonic, both irreverent and reverent, silly, self-deprecating, and melancholy are all adjectives that can be used to describe his work. The NBA seems to bring out his best stuff, perhaps because of its unique mix of personalities and cultures and the mysteries of its team dynamics. This monster of a book (more than 700 pages) is equal parts history and analysis. Simmons summarizes the history of the league, discusses his personal fandom, includes a great “what if?” chapter (what if Michael Jordan had been drafted second by Portland instead of third by Chicago?), analyzes Most Valuable Player choices through the years, and dissects the careers of the league’s all-time best players. The true NBA fan will dive into this hefty volume and won’t resurface for about a week, emerging from the man cave unshaven, smelling of beer and pizza, grinning, and armed with NBA history, insight, anecdotes, statistics, and a dozen new examples of Simmons’ Unintentional Comedy Scale. This is just plain fun. Expect significant demand from hoops junkies. --Wes Lukowsky --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I managed to get an early copy of this book, and spent the next 48 hours plowing through it as fast as I could. It's very clear that Simmons put everything he had into the book. There aren't a lot of loose words around. Even the genitalia jokes are well-constructed. Yes, it's pretty good.
The basis of this book is determining who mattered in the NBA. Which teams, players, coaches, etc. played the biggest role in getting us to where we are today, in shaping our perception of what it takes to win in the NBA, and how we remember different players and events. It's very interesting to see him go back into the 60s and 70s and try to write about Walton, Russell, and Chamberlain and how they were perceived then, and try to get to see what forces created and changed that perception. This is ultimately what the book is all about. It reads almost like a history of the NBA, in a very easy-to-read style.
My personal favorites are his ABA pieces. Not nearly enough has been written about this crazy league, and Simmons did a very good job looking at just how things broke down, at what could have been, and how the ABA led to many fundamental changes in the NBA itself.
Finally, this is definitely a book for the NBA junkie. It's comic style and easy-to-read writing style does make it accessible to those with only mild-to-intermediate interest in the NBA, but at its core, it's for the junkies who want to fill up with as much NBA knowledge as possible. It's a great book, and for its price (as of October 27, 2009), a great deal.
For example, reduce by roughly 30% the praise he heaps upon any Celtics team or player, especially from his childhood in the mid-80s. Yes, these were great teams and athletes in many cases, but Simmons' adulation overcomes his objectivity here.
Increase by 20-25% his unenthused assessment of any star or team from an era before his time and for which he can find little video. (For example, being unable to view Julius Erving's astounding 5-year ABA career, during which Dr. J achieved heights (literal and figurative) of skill and creativity that no other hoopster has or will, leaves Simmons to assess Erving less generously (and less accurately) solely on his more restrained subsequent NBA work.)
Increase by 20% his assessment of any team that beat (or outdid) a Celtic team by playing better "Celtics basketball" (his assessments of the 69-70 and 72-73 NY Knicks championship teams are especially stingy).
And decrease by 15-20% his assessment of recent stars in the overall pantheon of NBA talent - again, he relies too heavily on the familiar.
Much here to pick nits and argue with, but also much to enjoy - and Simmons does communicate convincingly his love for the sport and the league. He could also be a bit more skeptical of the ways that marketing has weakened the sport and fan experience, but there are some hands that feed him that he might be best served not to bite.
Overall a very enjoyable read.
First of all, the good: Even though this book is over 700 pages and DOES take a while to read, it doesn't drag. You'll certainly get his opinions on people, which is fine...he IS a columnist, not a historian. It helps if you're a Celtics fan. He's got a breezy style, you'll learn about a lot of past and present NBA players, and the early chapter dealing with Isiah Thomas and "The Secret" is probably the best in the book because it really explains how champions become champions...talent is only part of it. The section on Simmons' "Pyramid" of great players runs well over 300 pages long and you'll disagree with some of his assessments, but again, that's what columnists do. You're SUPPOSED to disagree sometimes.
Now the not-so-good: There are a number of factual errors along the way. They're fairly minor, but knowledgeable fans will spot them. Also, he all but ignores the NBA's first 10 seasons because there wasn't a shot clock before 1954 and no great black players before Bill Russell appeared in 1956. The pioneers definitely get the short shrift. Finally, although Simmons says early on that he doesn't intend to spend time speculating on how players would've fared outside their own respective eras, he ends up doing a lot of just that. It's a given that the level of athleticism in all sports has improved over the past 50-60 years, and that George Mikan wouldn't fare any better in the NBA today than Ralph Kiner would in modern MLB baseball for the same reason: They weren't good enough athletes. Even Jackie Robinson would struggle in 21st Century baseball to some extent.
If anyone is going to write a book centered around the top 96 players of all-time in a given sport, PLEASE judge players within the context of the era they played in. Fifty years from now, people might say, "That Michael Jordan was pretty good in his day, but he couldn't play in the NBA now." Sound crazy? It would sound crazy to people back when Bob Cousy and Bob Pettit were perennial All-NBAers.
In the end, I'd say go ahead and buy this book, but don't look upon it as an encyclopedia or concise history. It's an entertaining, 700-page op-ed piece.