The Book of Basketball

For anybody familiar with his 5,000 word columns on espn, that Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball clocked it at damn near 700 pages is not any sort of surprise.  In its hardcover form, lugging it on my commute represented legitimate weight lifting.  It also made me look smarter, like a PhD candidate or something.  Of course, I probably needed to take the cover flap off to obscure what I was reading.  But I digress.  The book is Bill Simmons’ take on the history of the NBA.  He has opined in his columns that basketball is his favorite sport and the Celtics, his first love.  Sometimes I wondered if his columns were just homerism, and on the football and baseball angles, they certainly were.  However, his knowledge and passion for basketball is real – the sheer amount of research that went into this book is incredible.

As for the quality of the book itself?  Well, the above paragraph probably describes the book quite nicely – it is packed to the gills with information, rantings and his passion – it is also very very long.  For instance, his section on the 96 best players of all time ends up taking nearly half the book’s length.  The book is full of lists – the best teams of all time, his all-this, all-that, Simmons’ recapping of the entirety of the history of the NBA and how eras fundamentally differ.  The individual sections are a mixture of new information, but they also contain a decent amount of material from his columns that seem reworked.  Of course, I have a disorder that compelled to read all of these columns, so I know them – but that’s me not having a life.  But I try to be objective.  Simmons’ voice, to the unfamiliar, is as pop culture-littered as Chuck Klosterman, without necessarily the verbal flair.  Klosterman is an outsider to life’s rich pageant – Simmons is in the fray.  Whether that makes a great writer, I am not sure, but it makes a sure voice with authority and perspective – an essential for the good essayist.  Indeed, some of the chapters are brilliant.  In particular, his painstakingly detailed breakdown of Russell vs Chamberlain was an eye opener and provided a more educated assessment than any I have encountered.

Also interesting his his introduction of “The Secret”, the inspiration for his book.  Simmons advances that there is a specific trait to winning in a team setting, that is tangible and true.  He tries to define it – frames it as a “force” of sorts.  The sort of trait that forces athletes to simply not be able to properly articulate to media types or fans.  Indeed anybody on a good team understands it, that ubuntu sort of magic.  But then he pooh poohs statistical analysis in defending his secret analysis, although indeed the work done in that end is getting at the same questions he is – but using data instead of anecdotal evidence.  Fortunately, he acknowledges some of this in footnotes – copious and a comic device here.  Ultimately the book is not precisely a page turner – but it plays well as a kind of super-almanac.  The sections are all engaging and interesting – though it does not beg to be read in order as I did.  But it is a good book to have in the collection, no doubt.



3 thoughts on “The Book of Basketball

  1. Hey man,

    I liked the book quite a bit, but I think his overwhelming biases got the best of him in a few cases. He once mentioned that MVP voters are naturally screwed up by the fact that they are inherently biased towards huys on the local teams they cover. They see a guy every day and therefore become more aware of all the little things he does to help the team and so forth. If he realizes this, why did he so dramatically overrate almost every Celtics player (He got Bird and Russel just about exactly right)? One glaring example is Kevin Mchale. Loved him, but ahead of #1 guys like Patrick Ewing, Dwayne Wade, Paul Pierce and Domenique Wilkins. He’s soooo Boston biased its ridiculous. He also gives far to much credit to guys who played with legends and benefited greatly, over guys who had to be THE MAN and carried crappy teammates. Which brings me to….Ewing.

    He’s always been way off on Ewing, but he goes off the freaking reservation in TBOB. #39 isn’t terrible, but he makes ZERO allowances for how crappy Ewing’s teammates were while he was in his prime. Who’s the best player he ever played with in his prime? John Starks? Charles Oakley? Those guys had two career All Star appearances combined (both barely made it in 1994)!!! Also, the Knicks haven’t drafted an All Star since they drafted Mark Jackson in 1987, who they stupidly traded away in that terrible deal for Rivers, Charles freakin Smith and Kimble. Furthermore, he’s outrageously inconsistent. He makes serious allowances for how bad Kidd and Nique’s teammates were, but never ONCE mentions the word teammate in Ewing’s section. My head is about to explode. Khalid, OUT.

    P.S. Love the site man, keep doin what you’re doin.

  2. McHale I do rate very highly because his skillset was so unique, and really he would have averaged 30 a night on a team without Larry Bird. Best post game of our time. Ewing he was – well, he should have allowed for teammates – on the other hand, Ewing himself was not a dominant post scorer. He was an excellent scorer – but decidedly on the tier below Duncan-Shaq-Hakeem-McHale for “automatic 2”.

    He also underrates Nowitzki, whose best skills lie in what he doesn’t do (make turnovers, miss shots). Him at the elbow is the surest two points in the NBA in 2009. I am a big Hollinger fan so Simmons’ bashing of stats is unfounded (quantitative methods are going after the same answers he is – and Hollinger freely admits that defense is a black box on the individual level).

    I am more complimentary of the undertaking than the results – hell, we can all argue results – but actually taking that sort of home run cut at a fairly rigorous tome about NBA history is worthwhile. As far as his teams go – I think the top 3 are hard to argue, though you can quibble on the order. That said, I am more whimsical about playoff success – less of a believer in “the secret”. Cleveland was the best team in the NBA last year for instance – they did not lose because of not knowing the secret, they lost because they ran into the one team who countered them the best.

  3. I agree with you that the book truly is a wonder to behold. I love that a writer had the guts to go soooo big with it. It sparks great debate and that’s probably what he wa looking for, so it’s a rousing success, warts and all.

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