THE BOOK OF BASKETBALL.
As you do on Holiday, I devoured books like Godzilla over Tokyo. I took a really great range of books, some political (and eerily prescient) to the salacious, but fascinatingly detailed story of a Star (more on this one next time) and another Peter Biskind book that felt like you needed a degree in film theory and cold war politics to truly understand. While Miss. Mullen took what seemed like every single Malcolm Gladwell book going and devoured each and every one.
But secretly, I had taken a book that I had waited months to read, to find the perfect spot, the perfect atmosphere to soak it up, for I knew that this book would be an indulgence of the highest order. 700 pages of pure unadulterated Basketball. From the first page to the last Bill Simmons book The Book Of Basketball was a love letter to a sport that is much more than the sum of it’s parts.
For those that don’t know anything about Basketball writing, Bill Simmons has a huge following on ESPN vis his Sports Guy persona. The Sports Guy goes beyond just reporting of events like an AP wire, or a reporters neutral analysis. It is passionate, biased and stuffed full of cultural references. Effectively, how sports fans from football to ‘football’ (guess which one is which) talk about the game when crowded round a the TV at home or in the bar. My affinity with Simmons’ writing was helped in no small measure by his lifelong devotion to the Boston Celtics, which happen to be the same team I’ve followed since I was twelve and went to the Boston Garden waaaay back in 1992. His anecdotes of witnessing first hand ‘The Greatest Game Ever played’ (The 3OT 1976 NBA finals Game 5) to seeing the majesty of the Celtics dynasty of the 80’s pulverise opponents are some of the most infectious and well written throughout the entire book.
But Simmons is not just a Celtics fanboy, he LOVES Basketball, and casts a critical and fascinating eye over not just the Jordan years, or the Bird Magic years, but tries (valiantly) to contextulaise the achievements of the pioneers of Basketball. The Bill Russells’, Wilt Chamberlains’, the George Mikan’s and the Bob Cousys’. His conclusions sometimes challenge and other times validate the conventional thinking of what makes, and what has defined ‘great’ in the sport over the last sixty years.
On the way we learn about what ‘The secret’ is, (obviously I’m not going to tell you) we get to understand ‘how the hell did we get here’ how the NBA evolved (season by season) from the groundbreaking sixties, to the troubled seventies (ALOT of cocaine basically, plus ‘the punch’ didn’t help) to the birth of the NBA in the 80’s as the multi-billion dollar sport it is today.
I also learn’t more about the players behind the icons. The brilliance of New York Knick Bernard King, the frustrating talent of David ‘Skywalker’ Thompson, the dark side of Basketball with ‘broken mirror’ Spencer Haywood, or the fact that Rick Barry wore a wig throughout the entire 1976 NBA season (truly staggering). It’s these stories that through it’s monster size keep the book flowing with funnies mixed with jaw dropping anecdotes with each page turn.
There are two stories that really stood out though, Simmons breakdown of the career of Oscar Robertson (a notorious grouch when playing) is a sad study in how segregation and racism in 1960’s America embittered a great player, one who’s achievement of averaging a triple double in a season has never been bettered, but is tainted by his reputation. But Simmons writing reaches it’s apex when talking about the heartbreak of Len Bias, a college phenom, who was groomed to be the heir to Bird, Parish and McHale and continue the Celtics dynasty into the next decade. Two days after being drafted, he died of cocaine overdose, it took the Boston Celtics 20 years to recover.
I could go on and on about the myriad of other subjects and people the Book Of Basketball touches on, but just go and buy it, and then make a note as you go of the all the videos you’ll want to be checking out on YouTube. (Trust me)