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Book Review: The Book of Basketball

When I was a kid, I wore glasses (and looked something like this (second photo)), and when I played sports, I wore goggles. And when we put up a basketball hoop in my backyard, my friends and I prentended to be the Lakers (local team), and because I wore goggles, I pretended to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (with skyhooks and everything). Which is a little strange for a 10-or-so year-old white kid of average height, but there you go. (Somewhere in my life I have an autographed photo of Kareem, sky-hooking over Wilt. It’s awesome.)

As a child, basketball was my favorite sport to watch. I drifted away from sports when I went to college (I in fact could get quite self-righteous about how professional sports is a tool for narcotizing masses). About 4 or so years ago, I got back into watching sports. I tried out football for a season, but it didn’t really take. Basketball has, and, for better or worse, I root for the Warriors (local team).

One of the sad truths of my current life is that I don’t believe any of my friends are basketball devotees. Football, yes, even baseball, but the graceful game is lost on my companions. So, I’ve turned to the internet to get my fix when it comes to basketball discourse, and as part of that, I’ve become quite a follower of Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy, whose columns are the most reliably funny writing since vintage Dave Barry. It turns out that while Simmons follows all sports (including, it seems hockey and even a little international soccer), basketball stokes his passion most, and his latest tome, the 700-page The Book of Basketball, is his love letter to the NBA.

Though I’ve finished the book, I’ll admit I read about 80 or so percent of it. It’s crammed with stuff, including exegeses on players and teams from so long ago that I had trouble caring. But the bulk of the book engages, is funny, and informative. You do have to look past his Boston homer-ism (and his strange antipathy for Kareem, even though as a kid, Simmons wanted to change his name to Jabaal Abdul-Simmons), his needless porn, stripper, and Vegas references, and his inscrutable support for Allen Iverson, a player who violates pretty much everyone of his tenets for great basketball, and ranks extremely high in his Pyramid (Simmons’ suggestion for a new Hall of Fame). If you do, you’ll learn a lot about basketball, it’s history (pre-ABA, during ABA, and post-merger with the ABA), what players and coaches themselves have said about one another, and why, when you study it closely enough, Russell is simply better than Wilt. You’ll also laugh, as Simmons is nothing if not funny.

There’s no way I can recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t love basketball. Those who do have likely already heard about it. I don’t know if it’s worth the full price, but if you do check it out from a library, be prepared to renew it at least once if you plan to get through it all.

  1. What (second photo)?

    You should also post the photo you autographed back to Kareem.

    At the Spectrum Club shower room yesterday, a young man was showering with a towel around his waist, reminding me, of course, of the time Coach Goodrich told his youth team to take their towels in to shower, and literal you came back with yours soaking wet.

    As for the debate over Russell and Wilt, one was the superior gamer, the other, the superior athlete. Is there really a better at their level?

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