Tuesday, June 01, 2010

10.16 The Big Book Of Basketball by Bill Simmons

The Big Book Of Basketball (2009) by Bill Simmons

"ESPN’s Bill “the Sports Guy” Simmons published his long-awaited magnum opus: The Book of Basketball, a 700-page epic that seeks to answer every question anyone could ever possibly ask about the NBA (Was Wilt better than Russell? Did Nash deserve his MVPs?) and then approximately 900 more (Who were the ugliest players of all time? How does the 1992 Dream Team lineup correspond to the different singers in “We Are the World”?).

Simmons recounts the history of the league from its birth in the ultrawhite forties, as well as the history of his own super-fandom (he grew up going to Celtics games with his dad in the seventies and eighties—as he puts it, “studying the game of basketball with Professor Bird”). He projects the hypothetical stats of seventies superstars if they’d never discovered cocaine. He brutalizes Vince Carter early and often: “Fifty years from now, we wouldn’t want an NBA fan to flip through some NBA guide and decide that Vince Carter was a worthy basketball star. He wasn’t.” And he garnishes everything liberally with Simmons-isms: blanket statements, Vegas stories, baroque pop-culture analogies (Kobe Bryant as Teen Wolf), and novella-length footnotes.

The heart of the book (over 400 pages) is what Simmons calls “The Hall of Fame Pyramid”—his idiosyncratic ranking and analysis of the 96 greatest players in NBA history, from Tom Chambers to Michael Jordan. Each ranking is accompanied by an opinionated mini-essay about the player: David Thompson (No. 70) was “the Intellivision to Jordan’s PlayStation 2”; Reggie Miller (No. 62) was “the most overrated superstar of the past thirty years”; watching John Stockton (No. 25) “was like being trapped in the missionary position for two decades.”'

- Sam Anderson in NY Mag

Having taken this book out of the library I have to admit that I skimmed over a few parts. Still, as I am basically the target market for Simmons writing, I definitely loved reading this one. Simmons is a funny writer although sometimes maddeningly digressive. He writes lovingly about the league but is also able to impart so much historical information. The final HoF Pyramid got to be a bit too much and I skipped around looking for players I knew. This is a great book for the true basketball fan but it shouldn't be for someone who is on a deadline but more the kind of book that is sitting around that you can drop into and out of in small doses.

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