Top critical review
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either frustratingly fantastic or fantastically frustrating
on September 8, 2010
If you know Bill "do you agree?" Simmons from his columns on Page 2 or his BS Report podcasts, you pretty much know what you're getting with this book. We all know he can be long-winded (a plus on the podcasts and HUGE minus online).
This book is 715 pages long and there's nothing wrong with that if there was 715 pages of good stuff in it. There isn't but let's start with what works. The chapters comparing Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlain and on NBA history are as fun to read and food for thought. The writeups on the top 100 players taken on their own are the best things I've ever read on players as they cover all sorts of quirks, trivia, off-court stuff as well as the stats. The rankings I could care less about to be honest.
Where this book fails badly is his statistical analysis, especially of teams. When he ranks teams the stats he presents are often not consistent team to team (i.e., has most teams records vs. the top teams that particular season but for some reason doesn't for the '01 Lakers). Another flaw is talking about teams and how well they dominate the playoffs when sometimes a seven-game series win against a worthy opponent is far more a sign of a great team than, say, an easy win in the Finals vs. a flukey team.
As well, when he compares records of teams and talks about the relative weakness of the NBA at certain times in its history this is valid, but he also needed to compare how the team that wins the most games ranks vs. the second- and even third-best teams. Narrow that focus a bit and I can live with the conclusions.
I can live with his Boston Celtic bias (and I don't mean Len) because, face facts, the C's have the most championships as well as the most Hall of Fame players. It comes with the territory.
The chapter on "What Ifs" is a total waste of time? I'd sooner see him do a year-by-year draft analysis (didn't he do this in one of his Page 2 columns) and one on the best trades in basketball history.
Another point is he whines about how the Basketball Hall of Fame is organized and goes through creating this pyramid ranking players by levels of greatness yet totally ignores most ABA stars. Look, if you're going to rank Arvydas Sabonis who had a less than stellar NBA career and is only in there based on his international play, you cannot leave out guys like Mel Daniels, Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis, Louie Dampier, Zelmo Beaty and Willie Wise. After all, it is the "Basketball" not "NBA" Hall of Fame.
Why does Bill take stock of how guys did in All-Star Games to prove points? All-Star Games most fans stop watching after junior high school. The game is a joke. It's an exhibition game period and for someone who goes on and on endlessly about the ABA not playing defense (guess he's never seen the '75 Kentucky Colonels vs. Indiana Pacers DVD that is floating around online), why even mention any no-D All-Star Game. You cannot form opinions on how good a player is from All-Star Game play.
Also, I hate to say this Bill but my guess is the vast majority of readers don't care that you were "at" certain games in Celtic history with your dad or about your friends' opinions on basketball (save that for the podcasts with House). Bill is a strange bird (not Larry) as he seems either needy or insecure (I'll leave that to the psychologists to figure out) as what other writer do you know of who constantly mentions his dad and friends when writing about sports? Maybe it's an only child of divorce that drives this weird way of talking about his private life in public. Guess what, Bill, that's what Facebook is for, if you're that way inclined.
Throw in the weird obsession with Boogie Nights (and porn in general), the IMDb approved list of movies he thinks someone should like (I'm talking about Shawshank Redemption mainly as give that a rest will ya? Shawshank is such a vastly overrated movie thanks to IMDb users pushing it beyond the point of no return on their "best of" list) and the whole gay tendencies (which he addresses in a footnote on p. 456 so at least he's somewhat self-aware) or this juvenile need to talk about seeing exposed female breasts (hey, dude, you can still sneak peeks at celeb breasts just stop acting like a 12-year-old who still sneaks Playboys into his room...you're freakin' 40+ now, Bill! It just makes your basketball arguments sound like they are coming from a child).
The bizarre thing is Bill has great taste in good TV ("The Wire," "Mad Men") and in bad guilty pleasure TV ("Beverly Hills, 90210," "Melrose Place," "Real World"). Then he'll go off about WWE (seriously?) or the Karate Kid (thankfully, I can't recall him mentioning that much, if at all, in this book). The cultural touchstones work for me, but his tastes vary from spot on to widely off the mark for someone who follows a sport considered "cool."
You could toss all the countless footnotes out and incorporate the good ones into the actual text, axe the chapters on "The Secret" and the weakest debate section (the Simmons' pick vs. the official MVP one) and you'd have possibly a sort of basketball version of Bill James' Historical Baseball Abstract in basketball form. Of course, that would require Simmons letting an editor do his job which is something he just can't seem to give his all to. The editor who worked on this probably just gave up after page 200 just happy to get this out.
I'll wait till the paperback before I actually buy a copy mainly for the player section that I love. The rest--meh! I can take it or leave it.