Since the world recently found out that future NBA lottery pick Kemba Walker has read just one book in his life it seems like a good time to go over some of the best basketball books out there. Hopefully this list gets to Kemba and inspires him to give reading another shot and maybe learn some more about the sport he will soon be paid millions to play.
The Breaks of the Game: Might as well start with the best. David Halberstm’s chronicling of the 1979-1980 Portland Trailblazers is the gold standard for basketball books. The book tackles what was ultimately a trying season for the Blazers, especially for stars Bill Walton and Kermit Washington.
Walton was battling an injured foot before ultimately being traded to the Clippers and eventually suing Portland for their mishandling of his injuries. Bill Walton of course would go on to become the best sixth man of all time on a championship Celtic’s team and then become the third most unbearable NBA announcer after Dick Vitale and Tommy Heinsohn.
Kermit Washington was on the Blazers trying to resurrect a career that had been derailed by a fight with Rudy Tomjanovich where Washington’s fist destroyed Rudy’s face and nearly killed him. This is incident only takes up a small portion of the book, but is expanded on more thoroughly in a newer book by John Feinstein called “The Punch”, which is also very good, but not really essential NBA reading material.
Can I Keep My Jersey: Ah, the good old days of 2007 when Paul Shirley was everybody’s favorite NBA Hipster, blogging on ESPN about his life as a fringe NBA player as well as his thoughts on the hot bands of the day that I’ve never heard of. This is also before he wrote about Haiti and compared them to the local homeless person and told them wear condoms.
While Shirley may have revealed himself for an asshole, it doesn’t color his past efforts. His book is well written and full of many wry observations about the less glamorous life of the NBA 12th man or an American playing basketball somewhere in Serbia.
It also could be a bit of scared straight for the rest of the NBA draft class who might think twice about leaving college if they new the far off corners of the globe they might be plying their trade if they don’t make it as one of the 450 or so members of the NBA.
FreeDarko Presents The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History: I covered my love of the FreeDarko writers earlier this month when they decided to end their blog, so of course I’m going to make sure one of their books is on my list. Their NBA history book is set up like a text book, but the most colorful, funny, and gorgeously illustrated text book of all time. It’s not a comprehensive history book, it jumps and skips around, but much like your AP US book from high school, it hits on the important events and people and dooms the rest to be forgotten.
This book explains the who’s who of each NBA era and leaves with the general sense that you now understand the history of basketball from its beginnings to today much better than someone who hasn’t read this book. Basically what I’m saying is this: I know more about basketball then you.
The Book of Basketball: Bill Simmons is a bit of controversial figure among sports bloggers. He is often criticized for his overly elaborate theories, his Boston homerism (despite living in LA) and the increasing mentions of his wife and child that no one gives two shits about.
This is all jealously. We all want to be Bill Simmons.(Full disclosure, my copy of this book is autographed by Simmons, thanks to the Duckman)
Remember how I said FreeDarkos book wasn’t comprehensive? Well, its only 211 pages. Simmons book clocks in at 697…and its not comprehensive either, though it comes much closer. Simmons covers all eras about the NBA, but his thoughts on the early days of the sport aren’t particularly insightful or interesting.
However, this is the most comprehensive guide to the last 30 years of the NBA that has ever been written. His knowledge of the sport from the time he started watching it until today is possibly unmatched. Or at least unmatched in his willingness to deliver that knowledge in a way that’d both informative and interesting.
Yeah the book has problems, Simmons is obsessed with fucking footnotes in this thing for some reason, and while they’re often entertaining asides, they also frequently about shit no one cares about such as the 5th season of the Real World.
Eating the Dinosaur: This is my least favorite Chuck Klosterman book. And its not about sports. Or basketball. In fact its on this list for one essay “What We Talk About When We Talk About Ralph Sampson”, which is about basketball. The essay is nice meditation of the relationship between talent, effort, and failure, but that’s not why I mention it here.
I mention it because Ralph Sampson has become a haunting figure in my life. After I read this essay Sampson has repeatedly come up in my life. He comes up in other books I read, on TV, Twitter, everywhere. I know that, since I run in a basketball loving sphere of people, my exposure to basketball related things is much higher than most, but Ralph Sampson has a dominate presence in it that he never had on the court.
Ralph Sampson is just one of those people…