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FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History Hardcover – October 26, 2010
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“Baseball has its numbers and football has its hard hits, but basketball, more than those sports, has style. And no one has done more to try to capture that than the collection of bloggers known as Freedarko.” ―New York Times
“To say that they've written one of the most enlightening books on the game's evolution (which they have) is to miss the point. The book isn't intended solely to educate; it's also meant to entertain, and to that end it succeeds wildly.” ―Sports Illustrated
“FreeDarko isn't standing outside the mainstream of basketball discussion: It's driving it ... This is a history of basketball told straight, but smartly, with wit and detail and undeniable affection....Any NBA fan can read this: It's not for grad students and stoners and revisionists; it's for everyone ... We are now living in a FreeDarko world. Hail, hail.” ―New York Magazine
“This is a history of basketball written with a degree of conceptual complexity that's just about unique in the canon of the sport. But it's also an inviting, accessible narrative that doesn't have to be praised in terms of baroque sociology... It's also, and by some distance, the prettiest sports book I've ever seen... It's like a McSweeney's you don't have to pet.” ―The Run of Play
“The book is an essential guide to the NBA as seen through the eyes of brilliant outsiders--writers, statisticians, and illustrators--unwilling to describe the contents of the game in the typical language of the sports section. If you are watching basketball without the guidance of FreeDarko, you are simply doing it wrong.” ―The Portland Mercury
“A highly graphic look at both well-and lesser-known moments in the pro game's past, written by the sport's most entertaining bloggers. Get infotained with illustrated awesomeness.” ―Maxim
Read an excerpt from FreeDarko Presents: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History [PDF].
Top customer reviews
This book does exactly what FreeDarko set out to do: tell the history of the NBA in a riveting, entertaining and bring-the-past-to-life way, rather than simply regurgitating stats and facts as so many other history books have done.
FreeDarko's previous book: "The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac" portrayed current players in a different light, and brought the personalities within game to the forefront. It wasn't just about players and stats, but about how these players fit within the game itself. This book takes the same approach with players and teams of the past. FD's Almanac used to be my favorite basketball book, but I can safely bet that "The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History" will edge it out as my personal favorite.
As far as the book goes, I enjoyed it a lot and would never have not bought it, but felt a little let down after the Almanac. It's second-book syndrome to a certain extent, an attempt to find out what to do after having put out a statement to be reckoned with in the first one, and then the "what next" and of course the weight of Simmons' historical tome (different in style, but definitely competitive) coming down the pipe.
The most unique and exciting stuff is in the data and statistical visualizations. The FD crew understand that the statistical revolution is personal and visual. The comparison charts of black players and national TV viewers, or breaking down hairstyle change is vintage FreeDarko and worth the price of admission alone. The history on the early ethnic barnstorming teams was also unique, instructive and entertaining. Combined with the carryover of the excellent visuals, you can't help but have your inspiration for basketball renewed after this.
The dryer patches come with the attempt to do potted summaries of the eras we already know well. While all the chapters are interesting, the organization by decade sometimes feels like it is putting everything in a predetermined narrative we've already heard before. When the writing shines (as it does with Bethlehem Shoals, always) it works a treat. Other times, there seems to be a sub-Gladwell pop social-science ethic at work, that frankly becomes a little bit of a grind in a book which is not well placed to provide that kind of "evidence" (on that level, and only that level, Simmons' book generates more "archival credibility" in historical jargon).
The bottom line is that I consumed this in a few days, and if you really love basketball, or feel somewhat attracted to it for reasons you can't explain, there is no reason to not buy this book. You will get more than your money's worth, and even better than that, be drawn into a different economy of basketball value.
"...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
There are tangents here as well, but the information is a good mix of encyclopedia knowledge and frivolous pop culture. The chart that creates a fighting tree is top-notch, and worth the cover price alone.
Freedarko made a solid mark, and this book should be in any basketball fan's collection.