The Book of Basketball
Author: Bill Simmons
Original Release: October 27, 2009
Bill Simmons’ “The Book of Basketball” is huge. Well, perhaps “huge” is an understatement. This sucker is massive, a full 700 pages of material. This is the Sports Guy given free reign to write as much as he wants about his favorite subject, basketball.
The Book of Basketball is essentially split up into two main sections. The first half of the book is all over the place, but its main focus is on the history of the sport from its inception through 1984. Why stop at 1984, you ask? As Simmons says, “I needed something extra for the paperback.” Outside of the written history, Simmons lists his top 33 “What If?” scenarios and includes a lengthy chapter on the immortal Wilt Chamberlain vs. Bill Russell debate (his take? Russell, easily). In the second half of the book, Simmons creates his fantasy Hall of Fame in what is essentially his list of the top 96 players of all time, all of whom are ranked in different tiers. It is a very, very long list, and ideally could have been a full-length book in its own right. He also writes about the best teams of all time, and his theoretical best lineup using players of all eras. To put it mildly, this is an exhaustive book.
Given the elongated nature of this opus, it is not surprising that Simmons has a tendency to ramble. He gets off on tangents very easily, often writing about random pop culture nuggets in comparison to the NBA. He is able to get away with this for the most part by including footnotes at the bottom of nearly every single page in the book. Seriously, the dude has a footnote fetish. Some pages have footnotes that take up at least half of the text. This bizarre format definitely takes some getting used to, but the notes are usually entertaining.
This free-form rambling is both a gift and a curse, although Simmons does have a knack for some well-timed jokes. He is a genuinely funny writer, and I found myself laughing a lot while reading. I could have done without some of his 80s pop culture references (was a rant comparing Kobe Bryant to Teen Wolf really necessary?), but for the most part this is a wildly entertaining book.
If you are a fan of the sport, you will enjoy The Book of Basketball. While its excessive length is daunting and could have been trimmed a bit, I found the book to be a surprisingly quick read. Nearly every subject in NBA history is touched upon, and really, who doesn’t enjoy reading lists about the greatest (of anything) of all time? Bill Simmons is a man who knows the game inside out and isn’t afraid to tackle any issue, even discussing racial differences at length, and this makes him all the more gratifying.
– Helpful tip: If you do end up reading this book, make sure you have this Interactive Guide open in your browser. It has video clips and other helpful media to correspond with what Simmons is talking about.