The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy
This book is … a lot. I just started watching basketball as a hobby. I was perhaps not the right audience for this book.
Bill Simmons is a sports columnist. He’s the ultimate sports bro. He knows everything. He has an opinion about every subject. He rattles off statistics in a stream of consciousness that never seems to end. There is no subject he won’t get heated about.
And that goes on for 700 pages.
The bulk of the book is a list of who Simmons thinks are the best 96 players in the history of the game (why 96? No idea…) This occupies about 400 pages in the middle of the book. There are names I had never heard of there. From the top 25 or so down, I was pretty familiar, but Simmons talks a lot in the book about the 60s (pro basketball has been a thing since ‘46, apparently). I had never even heard of Bill Russell.
The book can be annoying. The footnotes – Good Lord the footnotes – will just kill you. You pretty much have to decide to read them or ignore them and then stick with that strategy. There’s not a single page without footnotes, and some of his footnotes have footnotes (I am absolutely not kidding). The thing is: a lot of the footnotes are stupid asides that have nothing to do with basketball. Simmons thinks he’s hilarious, like, all the time.
Simmons goes off on long rants about stupid things. You start wading into a paragraph, and you have to decide if this is something you need to know, or if he just wants to talk about Seinfeld for half a page. (The footnotes are bad for this – you learn to read a couple words in and make a decision about whether or not to abandon it because it’s a dumb joke or not relevant.)
But, here’s the thing: I know a lot more about basketball than I did before. I know about The Secret. I know which statistics matter. I know about teams I had never heard of, and players that I had never heard of. I understand that drama and ego plays a huge part in the game. I understand the awe of watching the 80s Lakers and Celtics as a kid. I understand that a team is more than just the sum of its part – the right combination of players and a coach combines them in a way that makes them each better than they are alone.
And that’s kind of what I was looking for. If you hang around with an annoying friend every day who talks about nothing but basketball, you might get pretty tired of him. But there’s no doubt that you’d pick up a lot about basketball just from listening to him drone on and on for hours and hours. Eventually, you keep hearing things over and over and you think, “Maybe that’s an important thing” and the next time you hear it, you’re like, “I remember Annoying Friend saying a lot about that…”
And that right there is Bill Simmons and The Book of Basketball.