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.