Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Review: The Book of Basketball, by Bill Simmons

The Book of Basketball is Bill Simmons' magnum opus. His seven-hundred-plus page tome devoted to the sport which made his writing famous, his podcasts ESPN's most downloaded and his "in the moment" diaries of games and drafts attracting ridiculous attention. Simmons is perhaps the most influential sports-writer in the USA today. And his thing is basketball.

There's one overriding theme of The Book of Basketball, that of "The Secret". He recounts which players and teams got it and which didn't; it's apparent he believes the only way to win is to fully embrace it in all it's rawness. To this end he describes in the foreword meeting an angry Isiah Thomas, who Simmons roundly and correctly pilloried for his shambolic period in charge of the New York Knicks, and how the discussion turned from "What have you got against me?" to "The Secret" within minutes: both realised they had cottoned on to the idea independently (as one must). The epilogue is a recorded conversation with Bill Walton (who also makes the book's "All-Bearded Team"), an iconic figure who, it seems, always knew "The Secret".

How do you fill 700 pages with basketball? Easily, apparently. Simmons' columns are usually in the region of 5000-7000 words and have been known to top out above 10K. To give you an idea of how much text that is, so far Books with Balls boasts only 10114 words in its three-month existence: a lazy weekend for The Sports Guy. What makes his schtick so readable is that it feels so conversational, rather than strident - language like he's at the bar with his mates.

The BoB is much more than a lengthy homily to winning in the NBA. There are few better-informed observers of NBA culture and history than The Sports Guy and he takes the opportunity to walk us through the past sixty-five years of the League: key moments, the best players - his childhood, teen and adult memories intermingled with the thoughts of those involved. His bibliography, touchingly, isn't arranged alphabetically but in order of the usefulness and entertainment value of the book. Bill Simmons has long been anointed the voice of the educated sports fan in America. With the Book of Basketball, he confirms it.

This may be the most appropriate ranking in Books with Balls' short history: Basketballs.

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  1. I really liked when this book went off explaining random things

  2. Yeah, I agree - I love the way Simmons goes off on tangents and just rants about anything and everything. Particular favourites were "White Guys who play like Black Guys Team", the "All-Beard Team" and the "All-Afro Team".

    I reckon he put as much thought and effort into half the footnotes as he did the actual text!