I spotted this column today from Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum, in which he highlights three worthwhile basketball books recently released:
During an interview with the New Yorker's Avi Zenilman a few months ago, Bill Simmons, an ESPN columnist/author and a man who doubtless dashed off 3,000 words this morning before I managed to get the brown sugar and banana on my oatmeal, was asked about the paucity of great basketball books. See, when you write about the NBA, as Simmons does and I have done for many years, you are generally asked negatively toned questions. What's wrong with the game? What's wrong with the refs? What's wrong with the young players? What's wrong with the Knicks? What's wrong with Mike Miller's hair?
The question hearkens to George Plimpton's theory -- probably erroneous when it was uttered and now outdated anyway -- that the smaller the ball, the greater the literature. (George did love him some golf and tennis.) Simmons answered by talking about the lack of access writers get to athletes these days. But had he been asked the question now, he could've said: "Well, it's a helluva good time for NBA hoops books. Including mine." In fact, that's probably what he would've said.
Three have caught my eye and, fortunately, the eyes of much of America: Simmons' The Book of Basketball; Jackie MacMullan's autobiography/biography (I don't know how else to describe it) of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird called When the Game Was Ours; and Chris Ballard's The Art of a Beautiful Game.
When McCallum, whose Seven Seconds of Less remains one of my favorite sports books of all time, recommends something, I listen -- but as it happens, I've already got a headstart. I'm actually in the middle of When the Magic/Bird opus (I received a review copy several weeks ago) and was already planning on picking up Ballard's book after Tom Ziller's ringing endorsement yesterday.
I also pre-ordered Simmons' book but I've fought the urge to crack it open -- in part because I'm still digesting the excellent Pro Basketball Prospectus, another must-buy for hardcore fans interested in the analytical side of the game.
(Also waiting in the wings: David Halberstam's classic Breaks of the Games, which I've never read before but was inspired to order this week after a recent conversation with a friend. And were I unfortunate enough to live in Ohio, I'm sure Buzz Bissinger's recent "collaboration" with LeBron James, Shooting Stars, would be on my list, as well.)
The complaint about there being few quality basketball books isn't a new one, but it's seriously being put to rest this season -- FreeDarko's Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac raised the bar last year, and this year's titles have continued the momentum. Seriously, it's a good time to be literate.
(Have I missed anything? List your favorite classics in the comments)