Review: The Book of Basketball
I have no love for basketball. I hated playing it in gym class all those years ago and get little enjoyment from playing it today. It is one of the few professional sports I have never seen live and one I really have no interest in seeing live. I know very little about the game and, frankly, do not care to know much more. That March Madness always overshadows the joy of Spring Training is a genuine tragedy. Reading “The Sports Guy” Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, though, unavoidably drew me toward the game, at least for a few days. It was quite a chore, not least because this book is epic, weighing in at over 700 pages. 700 pages is a tall order for any single topic. But for basketball it comes close to a crime.
Simmons is a basketball freak. Seriously, I doubt there could be a greater fan of the game. Basketball is his life, his religion. From the time he was a young child he was absorbed in the game and over the years his passion has not diminished a bit. His knowledge of the game, its teams and its players is encyclopedic. And in The Book of Basketball he offers his take on just about every important question in basketball history: Who were the greatest players? Which were the greatest teams? What is the single greatest key to winning? Will there ever be a better player than Michael Jordan? And on and on.
The answers to these questions are nothing if not thorough. The quest to find the best players in the history of the game leads him to offer rather extensive looks at nearly 100 players, culminating in the inevitable conclusion that Michael Jordan has to be at the top of the list. The quest to find the greatest team is, thankfully, considerably shorter, though still extensive. I can’t deny there was some level of interest as I read through these long lists of players, seeing what distinguished one from the next and discovering how each of them made their mark on the game. Yet at the end of a list of 100 players, the majority of whom are no more than names to me, it is difficult to distinguish one from the next. My head was left spinning. Interesting at the moment, but gone a day or two later. It is just too much to absorb!
Parenthetically, The Book of Basketball highlights one of the pitfalls of e-books. I happened to read it using my Kindle and found myself skipping a lot of end notes I otherwise might have read. There are hundreds (and hundreds and hundreds) of end notes, but with the Kindle there is often too much effort involved in searching them out. And so I just took a pass on most of them. Had I been reading the printed book, I’m sure I would have done a lot more flipping back-and-forth. There are many things the Kindle does well; end notes is not (yet) one of them. If Apple does come out with a tablet book-reading device, I bet we’ll see a far more advanced and usable system. Here’s hoping!
The Book of Basketball is often profane, with rough language and regular jests about pornography, strip clubs and the like. Simmons appears to be caught in perpetual adolescence. Or maybe he just knows his audience. Why is it that sports are so often accompanied with base humor? Regardless, the regular inappropriate quips grow really old really fast, detracting from the otherwise enjoyable witty flavor Simmons employs. The guy has a terrific sense of humor; it’s too bad that he chooses to misdirect it so often.
In the end, I’d say this book is for basketball fans only, and even then only the biggest fans. To dedicate to basketball the amount of time it takes to read a book like this hardly seems worth it to me. Baseball, perhaps (but probably not). Basketball? No way.
Verdict: Read it only if you’re a super-mega-ultra basketball fan.