7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars
Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Basketball, but Never Thought to Ask, Nov. 12 2009
Bill Simmons, AKA The Sports Guy, is obsessed with basketball. As Malcolm Gladwell points out in his forward to Simmons' mammoth Book of Basketball, Simmons is one of the few people in America who can afford to follow sports so closely that he can spend three years researching and writing the history of the NBA. The rest of us - we have jobs, spouses, hobbies, and sleep schedules. Some of us want to watch sports all the time, but we either feel guilty or we get in trouble for allowing them to dominate our lives. Myself, I have all day Sunday and Monday night. That's my time (though not all the time). I can sit down in front of the TV at 1 pm on Sunday, watch 10 hours of football, eat when I remember to, and then go to bed. The rest of the week, sports are mainly off limits. For Simmons, a man who has made himself wealthy as a sportswriter and podcasting pioneer, watching sports is his job.
In The Book of Basketball, Simmons makes it a point to right basketball history's wrongs. He corrects and expands the reader's perceptions about hundreds of players who have excelled at the game. In one lengthy section, he ranks the top 98 basketball players of all time, placing them into five levels of a excellence that accounts for the player's individual statistics, his team's success, and the era in which he played. In another chapter, he reviews the league's MVP award, telling us which players deserved to win that year and which did not, even pointing out the absolute travesties. Additionally, since his message through the book is that basketball is a team game based upon secret knowledge few players attain, he examines the best single season teams of all time. Wait, there's more, not content with the game's history, he pieces together his perfect team, taking players at their peak, putting them into a time machine, and preparing the team's plays for a hypothetical basketball game versus an alien race, with the fate of the human race hanging in the balance. (I can see the movie now. Think of Bill and Ted recruiting players to challenge the aliens in Mars Attacks. Only it's not a comedy.)
Simmons' examination of the NBA history would be a little dull if not for the pop culture humor he sprinkles throughout the book, comparing movie plots to basketball scenarios (with a multitude of fantastic Boogie Nights analogies). Few people care about the NBA as much as Simmons. He is like the high school English teacher who loves Shakespeare far more than his students, but cares enough to take the time to translate the prose. Here, Simmons explains the brilliance of certain superstars, as well as the true nature and motivation of basketball's greatest villains. He makes an effective argument as to why Bill Russell is better than Wilt Chamberlain, and explains in detail what makes Michael Jordon such an unstoppable force of nature (and not just on the basketball court). He is sharing his esoteric understanding of the game with those willing to listen and he certainly has my attention.
Those who follow Simmons' podcast, The B.S. Report, will know that he put a lot of hard work into this book and that he is very proud of the result. He has been writing brilliant columns for ESPN over the past decade and this is his first book of original material. He claims that it is the best book he will ever write. I disagree. Simmons is too good to be delving into statistics and writing what is essentially a history of the NBA. When he talks about the players and teams he loves, its riveting; when he outlines the statistical achievements of players he has never seen play, I wasn't nearly as engaged. The best section of this book is his description of Paul Pierce, a career Celtic who was nearly stabbed to death in his 2nd year in the league, spent almost a decade starring on a team that had no championship hopes (even losing 18 games in a row at one point), and seemed to be heading down the wrong path mentally. Simmons' description of Pierce's resurgence, attitude adjustment, and eventual starring role on the 2008 NBA Champions is a heartfelt account of a player that The Sports Guy cheered for throughout the decade. Simmons is a Boston native, probably the Celtic's biggest fan, and the perfect person to describe Pierce because he cares so much about the player's legacy. These are the stories I want to hear. Now that he has given us a full account of the game's history, I want to hear more about his history with the game.