Paul Mcleod's Reviews > The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy

The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons
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Apr 12, 2010

it was ok
Read in January, 2010

When Chuck Klosterman and, of all intellectual giants, Bill Walton can destroy the theoretical foundation of your 700-page book's analysis in ten pages worth of cameos...well, it's probably asking too much for you to admit that you wasted the last two years of your life and start over from scratch, but that's probably what you should do. The Book of Basketball works alright as entertainment, though the expanded license for dick jokes fails to enhance Simmons' humor much, but as a work of analysis, it's a complete waste. In what field besides sports could someone claim to be an expert on a widely discussed subject without even attempting to engage the latest rigorous research devoted to it? Wait, Sarah Palin, don't answer that.

Most every potentially interesting position Simmons takes depends on just-so stories or special pleading or just plain circular logic. The Bill Russell vs Wilt Chamberlain chapter has been widely deplored, and rightfully so. I became viscerally angry as I read it. Most of the player-ranking section is less maddening, but the bit at the end in which Simmons ranks the top teams in NBA history sets our teeth to gritting once more. A more accurate and less risible version would've been called "Top NBA teams that Bill Simmons enjoyed watching or, having not been alive to see them, enjoys the idea of watching." Not a very interesting list, sure, but at least it would have been honestly labelled.

Nothing is as dumb as the Isiah Thomas / "The Secret" story, though (no, not that Secret. It's a different Secret that applies only to the NBA). He'd teased the story in his column for years, and I was fully prepared to have my mind blown. And then it turns out to be a fairly uneventful conversation between three minor celebrities about the fake almost-fight that two of them had, which culminates in the earth-rending revelation that BASKETBALL IS A TEAM SPORT. I could see how, if you were Bill Simmons, this whole episode might have seemed a bit surreal, but to a third party it's not that astonishing at all.

Or at least Simmons lacks the ability, even though he strains, to convey the surreality and astonishment to we the reading third parties. And that's the main problem: Bill Simmons is at best a competent writer. He's agreeably conversational for the most part, and he has excellent comic timing (although if you've read many of his columns you can anticipate his rhythms as they unfold by now), but eliciting emotional responses is beyond him and has always been. So is producing prose that is a pleasure to read just for its construction (a rare gift, sure, but one that Klosterman possesses so obviously that his one-page passage makes the text around it seem little but a vast ashen wasteland). Simmons knows this, and apologizes for it frequently, but the best apology would have been to abstain from mediocrity in the first place.
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