Tag Archives: The Book of Basketball

Cameri Theater, Damascus Gate, Semi-Pro.

Robert Stone shows the pull Jerusalem has on many different people in Damascus Gate.

We had a relaxed day here in Tel Aviv, shopping again at the Carmel Market, walking for hours to find the Cameri Theater that our dear friend, Holocaust survivor and writer Ava Kadishson Schieber helped found 60 years ago,  and visiting with her daughter Shira, son-in-law Rami, and their four children.

Aidan plugged away on his research paper comparing Upton Sinclair and Andrew Carnegie’s responses to industrialization while we were roaming the streets and, at night, had a unicycle lesson from Shira and Rami’s adopted son, Nimrod, our tour guide for Hebron and some of the West Bank settlements.

After the lesson, I continued reading Damascus Gate, Robert Stone’s panoptic look at Jerusalem’s inexorable pull on an enormously wide range of people.  The book is set in the early 90s, during the first intifada, and follows a wide range of characters who all in some way are seeking spiritual or political or moral direction in Jerusalem.  I’m not sure if I’m going to make it to the end, and it has been a lot of fun to read about places we have already been or plan to visit soon.

We also caught the end of Semi-Pro, the Will Ferrell flick about an ill-fated fictional team in the pre-merger ABA.  In The Book of Basketball, Bill Simmons includes some information about the league and some of its top players like Dan Issel and Artis Gilmore in his five-leveled pyramid of the 75 greatest players in basketball history.

Our time here is winding down, the inevitable return to the Chicago winter beckons, and I am feeling some sadness on both accounts.  Nevertheless, we will make sure to get as much as we can out of the next two days-I’m getting my unicycle lesson tomorrow night after we return from Jerusalem-and my strong sense is that we will return.


Kareem Abdul Jabbar battles leukemia, books about the hoops legend.

Rather than fighting Bruce Lee, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is battling cancer.

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar announced yesterday that he is undergoing treatment for a rare form of leukemia.

The league’s only six-time MVP said his prognosis is optimistic.

This is only the latest in a series of setbacks for Abdul-Jabbar, who was the league’s all-time leading scorer when he retired in 1989.

In 1983 his home was consumed in a fire, taking with it his valuable collection of oriental rugs and 3,000 jazz albums.  This contributed to his bankruptcy four years later.

Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball ranks Abdul-Jabbar as the third greatest player of all time-behind Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, and ahead of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird-but only after calling him a ‘ninny’ about 200 times during the course of the 700-page book.

David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game recounts the incident after Johnson’s first game as a pro. The then-20-year-old hugged Abdul-Jabbar after the center hit a game winning skyhook.  “You’ve got to pace yourself,” the veteran told the rookie, in essence.

Abdul-Jabbar’s basketball exploits and cameo appearance in Airplane, the legendarily politically incorrect film in which an El Al flight had a beard and an elderly white woman “spoke jive” with a young Samuel L. Jackson, are well known.

But his The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes is not.

That’s too bad, because this accessible book recovers the forgotten story of the all-black battalion that served in the Battle of the Bulge and other European campaigns. Abdul-Jabbar learned about the battalion from a family friend during his childhood.  His purpose in writing the book was to honor their service by letting a younger generation know what they had done.

Although as a Celtics fan I had a visceral dislike for Abdul-Jabbar during my childhood and remember fans mobbing him as they stormed the floor after the Celtics’ victory in Game 7 of the NBA championship series, I do wish him well in his recovery and do recommend that people read his book.


ReadJack’s Monster Review of Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball.

I wrote earlier this month about Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball, which is already topping the New York Times’ best seller list.

Reader ReadJack has written a self-described “monster review” of the book that is definitely worth checking out when you can.

The Sports Guy Rests in Peace

Bill Simmons chronicles his relationship with the Red Sox in this book.

I wrote yesterday that I spent a lot of time this weekend with Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy.

This was the product of several factors:

a. Our shared Brookline backgrounds and sports obsessions.

b. His prodigious amounts of writing.

c. My brother Mike’s consideration and generosity in buying both books.

d. My desire to complete tasks and flickering desire to read more books this year than last year.

e. My wife’s indulgence of d.

These factors culminated in my reading all 700-plus pages of The Book of Basketball, Simmons’ new book about hoops, and Now I Can Die in Peace, a paperback and updated version of his baseball writings, which focus almost exclusively on the Red Sox.

They are different types of books.  Now I Can Die is a chronological collection, with introductory essays for each of the five sections that roughly follow the narrative arc of a play, while The Book of Basketball is a full-fledged and largely original work.

The Red Sox book goes back to the late 90s and the Dan Duquette era at Fenway, while the basketball book covers the league’s entire history.

The basketball book’s focus is wider, too.  Simmons writes about the entire game, rather than his understandably complicated relationship with the Red Sox, who at times provoke heartbreaking anguish, frustration, misery and, of course, in 2004, unprecedented and transcendent joy.

All in all, I liked, but did not love, Now I Can Die.  While Sports Guy fans will find all the staples of his writing, and, in fact, can see the germination of some of the idea he develops in his most recent book-enter Keyser Soze here, among others-his knowledge of, and connection to, baseball is different than basketball.

While Simmons knows and understands baseball as much as any other rabid member of Red Sox Nation, he is a true student of the game in basketball.  He saw more games at the Garden than he did at Fenway, the number of players and their roles are different and the Celtics had lots of success at numerous points during his youth, while the Red Sox were living through the final two decades of their 86-year drought.   As a result, I felt I learned more from the basketball than the baseball book.

My preference may also reflect my own relationship with the Boston sports teams.  While I lived and died, mostly the latter, with the Red Sox, the Celtics truly got into my guts and stayed there.  Seeing the Celtics beat LA in Game 7 of the NBA Finals with Mike is a sports moment that will be hard ever to top.

So, while I enjoyed ploughing through Now I Can Die in Peace and felt only slightly like someone who had eaten a whole pepperoni and mushroom pizza compared to the usual five pieces, I preferred Simmons’ The Book of Basketball.

Of course, reasonable people may differ, and I welcome the conversation.

The Sports Guy weighs in on basketball.

The Sports Guy shares his love of basketball in this 700-page behemoth.

You’ve got to hand it to Bill Simmons, aka The Sports Guy. 

Even if you’re not a Celtics fan, even if you find him incredibly self-promoting, even if you disagree with every single one of his opinions and even if you tire of his endless references to the Rocky series, you have to admit one basic fact.

The man has made a career of being a sports fan.

A passionate, informed and prolifically writing sports fan, to be sure, and, let’s face it, the man is paid to watch, talk and write about sports.

Plenty of sportswriters do this, too, but Simmons is different to the extent that he is a fan first and foremost.   

I’ve got some grounds to make this statement because I spent a lot of time with Simmons this past weekend, thanks to my brother Mike, who gave me The Sports Guy’s newly released tome, The Book of Basketball.

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

While I cannot make it to his appearance today here in Chicago, I recommend that others consult his book tour schedule and go in other cities.

In part, my pleasure in reading Simmons stems from the fact that I get to relive cherished parts of my childhood. 

We spent large chunks of his youth in Brookline, came of age during the 70s Red Sox and 80s Celtics era, and loved deeply our hometown teams and the endless statistics that came with following sports.

Larry Bird has a permanent place in our Sports Pantheon.

When he writes in The Book of Basketball about a game where Bird waved his arms to a hostile Clippers crowd before shooting game-winning free throws, for example, I remember watching that with best friend Pete D’Angelo.

The intersecting nature of our childhoods aside, I liked The Book of Basketball because it shows Simmons in all his passionate, knowledgeable and at times excessive fullness.

To begin, the book is 700 pages long-a fact that he mentions both in the footnotes toward the end and in the acknowledgments, when he quotes his wife, The Sports Gal, saying, in essence, that she will leave him if he ever proposes to write another book of similar length.

Readers who follow Simmons’ columns will find a lot of recycled material in the book, and there is much that is new.

He has a five-tier Hall of Fame and identifies the 75 players who should occupy those levels.   He takes the reader through the league’s history.  He has lengthy discussions of the best teams of all time-a list that culminates, unsurprisingly, with the 1986 Boston Celtics.

Readers of Simmons’ previous work will find all the same ingredients: heavy doses of discussions with his father; plenty of self-referential interactions with everyone from Elgin Baylor to Tom Seaver to Bill Walton; lots of popular culture references; pinches of phrases like “Stick a fork in him”; and plenty of lists with criteria attached to them and the people or teams who fit them.

I skimmed certain parts of the history and will say that I read most, but not all, of the footnotes.  And, to be sure, the book has its shortcomings.

His jokes and repeated digs at his “Grumpy Old Editor” aside, Simmons really could have written the same book at a little more than half the length.  He asserts in several places that you know something is meaningful when you remember where you were when it happened-a proposition that need not be true, and, even if it is, probably does not bear repeating.

His criteria shift, but are argued with equal conviction. 

He says that Bill Walton deserves to be on the list of Hall of Famers because of the brilliance he showed for a short time, but later gives Karl Malone the edge over Charles Barkley because Malone fulfilled his lesser potential while Barkley did not play at his highest level for long periods of time.

While Simmons does talk about the size of Dennis Johnson’s “equipment,” he neglected to include one of my favorite nuggets about DJ that Jim D’Angelo pointed out-that he picked his spots to the point where he did not score at all in the first half, but ended up with 17 points and a number of big steals in the 118-116 1988 Game 7 victory over the Atlanta Hawks that is most known for the Bird-Dominique duel

But, in many ways, each of these criticisms both are what Simmons wants, an engaged readership, but, more than that, underscores the very point that he is able to write what he wants because it is HIS BOOK.

Near the end of the work, Simmons writes with just a slight tongue in cheek tone that The Book of Basketball is the second-best book about hoops ever.  I don’t know about that, but I do know that I am very grateful to my brother for sending me this fantastic birthday present and I am grateful to Simmons for caring and writing about sports as much as he does.