\Bill Simmons’ book, The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy is fantastic (or, I suppose, FAAAAAAAAAANTASTIC! as the NBA marketing machine would have phrased it.) I am about halfway through, closing in on those players he considers the best of all time (so far) – what with the first third of the book being dedicated to what that might mean – and it’s unbelievable.
I thought I was nuts about the NBA, but he makes me look like I occasionally like watching prep basketball. He paid attention to everything. There are places where he skips over events such that I wish he’d gone into more detail – but that’s what Wikipedia is for, and one of the best things about the book is how little he pretends he’s not here, with us, on the internet, watching blogs and YouTube and God knows what else. He pokes fun at his foibles. He uses language that he, golly, might actually use in real life.
He converses, in an endless stream-of-consciousness filled with love and obsession, and by golly, he abuses footnotes almost as badly as I do! (To be fair: I’m worse. I use more of them, and I’m the only person I’ve ever known who’s used footnotes for other footnotes. I’m a little ashamed to admit that. When I was writing more often, it took effort to trim that out.)
What’s more, he’s so freaking knowledgeable that it all makes sense. When he pokes at my favorite player of all time (Patrick Ewing, which should get a footnote, but instead will get a blockquote), I have to nod in assent, even while bristling at the slight. He’s right. I hate it, but he’s right.
Look. Patrick Ewing is my favorite player. Ever. Deal with it. When I finally decided I liked basketball, I latched onto the player on a successful team – the Knicks – who I wanted to play like. That was Ewing. I had no offensive game. (Well, unless you consider bricks “offense.” Hey, you can’t get an offensive rebound unless you miss, right?) I am not seven feet tall. (I’m 6’1 or 6’2 or so.) I am not fast. I am not a good dribbler. (I’m an excellent drooler, though.) What I could do was play defense. I could chase anybody and annoy the crap out of them. I had no shame. I would foul them. I would pull on their shorts to frustrate them. I would push. I would pull. Anything.
When I played organized basketball, my role was the lockdown guy; I was assigned to the weakest offensive player on the other team, which makes perfect sense given that I was the best man-on-man defender on the team. See, as the assigned defender of the weakest offensive player on the other team, that meant that I could play help defense on everyone else – which meant that not only was my guy shut down, but I could switch off at need and hurt the best guy too. Of course, my team preferred zone defense … and when they did play man, they didn’t know how to switch or help at all.
Anyway: Ewing. Given that I was … raw, offensively, it’s natural that I’d pick Ewing as The Guy. Charles Oakley was probably a better fit, really, but he had a good ten-foot shot and, well.
Ewing may be my favorite player, he may be one of the best 50 of all time, whatever, but he never won a championship in the NBA. His teams got better when he was injured (the “Ewing theory” that Bill discusses.) He was moderately clutch, but… a superstar isn’t moderately clutch. A superstar is expected to make those shots. When Jordan misses an 18-footer to win the game, everyone is surprised. When Ewing misses a finger roll to get back to the championships, people shrug and say “he tried.”
You can’t explain it better than that. Well, I can’t. Simmons can. Read the book.
Anyway, he backs up what he says with statistics, relevance to era, honesty… all kinds of things. (Anyone who distorts the criteria for “the best 96 of all time” to keep Bill Laimbeer off of the list… true fan. True fan. Word.) And he delivers it with honesty that’s rather staggering.
He avoids hiding skeletons. The Sacramento Kings’ collapse in the playoffs a few years ago, the worst-officiated game I’ve ever seen – sorry, LA, but you were handed that game, I don’t know why you even bothered to show up – is not glossed over. He doesn’t give Kobe Bryant anything Bryant doesn’t really deserve, good or bad. He gives Ewing props for being what he was, even while dissing him for, well, being what he was.
Excellent book. Again, you’re best reading it with YouTube handy (he tells you to check stuff out on YouTube, a lot) and Wikipedia (likewise, he kinda jumps over some things I wish he’d go into more detail about), but if you’re interested in perceiving the NBA as it really is – although with a slight Celtics bias – this is the book for you.
Author’s Note: Another repost.