The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy

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Overview

Foreword by Malcolm Gladwell
 
Newly updated with fresh takes on LeBron, Kobe, the Celtics & more*
 
*Including even more footnotes!

Bill Simmons, the wildly opinionated and thoroughly entertaining hoops addict known to millions as ESPN.com’s Sports Guy, has written the definitive book on the past, present, and future of the ...

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Overview

Foreword by Malcolm Gladwell
 
Newly updated with fresh takes on LeBron, Kobe, the Celtics & more*
 
*Including even more footnotes!

Bill Simmons, the wildly opinionated and thoroughly entertaining hoops addict known to millions as ESPN.com’s Sports Guy, has written the definitive book on the past, present, and future of the NBA. From the age-old question of who actually won the rivalry between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to the one about which team was truly the best of all time, Simmons opens—and then closes, once and for all—every major pro basketball debate. Then he takes it further by completely reevaluating not only how NBA Hall of Fame inductees should be chosen but how the institution must be reshaped from the ground up, the result being the Pyramid: Simmons’s one-of-a-kind five-level shrine to the ninety-six greatest players in the history of pro basketball. And ultimately he takes fans to the heart of it all, as he uses a conversation with one NBA great to uncover that coveted thing: The Secret of Basketball.

Comprehensive, authoritative, controversial, hilarious, and impossible to put down (even for Celtic-haters), The Book of Basketball offers every hardwood fan a courtside seat beside the game’s finest, funniest, and fiercest chronicler.

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  • The Book of Basketball
    The Book of Basketball  

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[A] slam dunk.”—USA Today

“The work of a true fan . . . It might just represent the next phase of sports commentary.”—The Atlantic

“May be one of those literary lollapaloozas that Simmons’s fans must buy.”—The New York Times
 
“Wildly prolific, ceaselessly witty, harmlessly crass, and generally wise, Simmons has built an everydude empire by triangulating the trashy pop-culture futon talk of Chuck Klosterman and the stats-heavy philosophizing of Malcolm Gladwell.”—The Village Voice
 
“This is just plain fun. . . . The true NBA fan will dive into this hefty volume and won’t resurface for about a week.”—Booklist (starred review)
 
“The book flows much like Mr. Simmons’s ESPN columns. . . . Opinion gushes out of him. But he backs it up with equal parts serious research and off-angle observations. . . . He has produced enough provocative arguments to fuel barstool arguments far into the future.”—The Wall Street Journal

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345520104
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/7/2010
  • Pages: 752
  • Sales rank: 53,702
  • Product dimensions: 7.38 (w) x 11.70 (h) x 1.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Simmons writes “The Sports Guy” column for ESPN.com’s Page 2 and ESPN: The Magazine. He is the author of Now I Can Die In Peace, founded the award-winning bostonsportsguy.com website, and was a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live. He commutes between his home in Los Angeles and Fenway Park.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

THE SECRET

I LEARNED THE secret of basketball while lounging at a topless pool in Las Vegas. As I learned the secret, someone’s bare breasts were staring at me from just eight feet away. The person explaining the secret was a Hall of Famer who once vowed to beat me up and changed his mind only because Gus Johnson vouched for me.

(Do I tell this story? Yes. I tell this story.)

Come back with me to July 2007. My buddy Hopper was pushing me to accompany him for an impromptu Vegas trip, knowing that I wouldn’t turn him down because of my Donaghy-level gambling problem. I needed permission from my pregnant wife, who was perpetually ornery from (a) carrying our second child during the hot weather months in California and (b) being knocked up because I pulled the goalie on her back in February.1 But here’s why I’m an evil genius: with the NBA Summer League happening at the same time, I somehow convinced her that ESPN The Magazine wanted a column about Friday’s quadruple-header featuring my favorite team (the Celtics), my favorite rookie (Kevin Durant), and the two Los Angeles teams (Clippers and Lakers). “I’ll be in and out in thirty-six hours,” I told her.

She signed off and directed her anger at the magazine for making me work on a weekend. (I told you, I’m shrewd.) I quickly called my editor and had the following exchange.

me: I don’t have a column idea this week. I’m panicking.

neil (my editor): Crap. I don’t know what to tell you, it’s a dead month.

(A few seconds of silence ensues.)

me: Hey, wait...isn’t the NBA Summer League in Vegas right now?

neil: Yeah, I think it is. What would you write about, though?

me: Lemme see what the schedule is for Friday. [I spend the next 20 seconds pretending to log onto NBA.com and look this up.] Oh my God—

Clippers at 3, Celtics at 5, Lakers at 6, Durant and the Sonics at 7! You have to let me go! I can get 1,250 words out of that! [Neil doesn’t respond.] Come on—Vegas? The Celtics and Durant? This column will write itself!

neil (after a long sigh): “Okay, fine, fine.”

Did I care that he sounded like I had just convinced him to donate me a kidney? Of course not! I flew down on Friday, devoured those four games and joined Hopper for drunken blackjack until the wee hours.2 The following morning, we woke up in time for a Vegas Breakfast (16-ounce coffee, bagel, large water), then headed down to the Wynn’s lavish outdoor blackjack setup, which includes:

1.Eight blackjack tables surrounding one of those square outdoor bars like the one where Brian Flanagan worked after he fled to Jamaica in Cocktail. Once you’ve gambled outdoors, your life is never quite the same. It’s like riding in a convertible for the first time.

2.Overhead mist machines blowing cool spray so nobody overheats, a crucial wrinkle during the scorching Vegas summer, when it’s frequently over 110 degrees outside and 170 degrees in every guy’s crotch.

3.A beautiful European pool tucked right behind the tables. Just so you know, “European” is a fancy way of saying, “It’s okay to go topless there.”3

If there’s a better male bonding experience, I can’t think of one. For our yearly guys’ trip one month earlier, we arrived right before the outdoor area opened (11:00 a.m.) and played through dinner. For the first three hours, none of the sunbathers was willing to pull a Jackie Robinson and break the topless barrier, so we decided the Wynn should hire six strippers to go topless every day at noon (just to break the ice) and have their DJ play techno songs with titles like “Take Your Tops Off,” “Come On, Nobody’s Looking,” “We’re All Friends Here,” “Unleash the Hounds,” and “What Do You Have to Lose? You’re Already Divorced.” By midafternoon, as soon as everyone had a few drinks in them, the ladies started flinging their tops off like Frisbees. Okay, not really. But two dozen women made the plunge over the next few hours, including one heavyset woman who nearly caused a riot by wading into the pool with her 75DDDDDDDDDDs. It was like being there when the Baby Ruth bar landed in the Bushwood pool; people were scurrying for their lives in every direction.4
So between seedy guys making runs at topless girls in the pool, horny blackjack dealers getting constantly distracted, aforementioned moments like the Baby Ruth/multi-D episode, the tropical feel of outdoors and the Mardi Gras/beads element of a Euro pool, ten weeks of entertainment and comedy were jam-packed into eight hours. Things peaked around 6:00 p.m. when an attractive blonde wearing a bikini joined our table, complained to the dealer, “I haven’t had a blackjack in three days,” then told us confidently, “If I get a blackjack, I’m going topless.” The pit boss declared that she couldn’t go topless, so they negotiated for a little bit, ultimately deciding that she could flash everyone instead. Yes, this conversation actually happened. Suddenly we were embroiled in the most exciting blackjack shoe of all time. Every time she got an ace or a 10 as her first card, the tension was more unbearable than the last five minutes of the final Sopranos episode. When she finally nailed her blackjack, our side of the blackjack section erupted like Fenway after the Roberts steal.5 She followed through with her vow, departed a few minutes later, and left us spending the rest of the night wondering how I could write about that entire sequence for ESPN The Magazine without coming off like a pig. Well, you know what? These are the things that happen in Vegas. I’m not condoning them, defending them, or judging them. Just understand that we don’t keep going because some bimbo might flash everyone at her blackjack table, we keep going for the twenty minutes afterward, when we’re rehashing the story and making every possible joke.6

Needless to say, wild horses couldn’t have dragged Hopper and me from the outdoor blackjack section during summer league. We treaded water for a few hours when I ran into an old acquaintance who handled PR from the Knicks, as well as Gus Johnson, the much-adored March Madness and Knicks announcer who loves me mainly because I love him. Gus and I successfully executed a bear hug and a five-step handshake, and just as I was ready to make Gus announce a few of my blackjack hands (“Here’s the double-down card...Ohhhhhhhh! it’s a ten!”), he implored me to come over and meet his buddy Isiah Thomas.

Gulp.

Of any sports figure that I could have possibly met at any time in my life, getting introduced to Isiah that summer would have been my number one draft pick for the Holy Shit, Is This Gonna Be Awkward draft. Isiah doubled as the beleaguered GM of the Knicks and a frequent column target, someone who once threatened “trouble” if we ever crossed paths.7 This particular moment seemed to qualify. After the PR guy and I explained to Gus why a Simmons-Isiah introduction would be a stupifyingly horrific idea, Gus confidently countered, “Hold on, I got this, I got this, I’ll fix this.” And he wandered off as our terrified PR buddy said, “I’m getting out of here—good luck!”8

I played a few hands of rattled blackjack while wondering how to defend myself if Isiah came charging at me with a piña colada. After all, I killed this guy in my column over the years. I killed him for some of the cheap shots he took as a player, for freezing out MJ in the ’85 All-Star Game, for leading the classless walkout at the tail end of the Bulls-Pistons sweep in ’91. I killed him for pushing Bird under the bus by backing up Rodman’s foolish “he’d be just another good player if he were white” comments after the ’87 playoffs, then pretending like he was kidding afterward. (He wasn’t.) I killed him for bombing as a TV announcer, for sucking as Toronto’s GM, for running the CBA into the ground, and most of all, for his incomprehensibly ineffective performance running the Knicks. As I kept lobbing (totally justified) grenades at him, Isiah went on Stephen A. Smith’s radio show and threatened “trouble” if we ever met on the street. Like this was all my fault. Somewhere along the line, Isiah probably decided that I had a personal grudge against him, which simply wasn’t true—I had written many times that he was the best pure point guard I’d ever seen, as well as the most underappreciated star of his era. I even defended his draft record and praised him for standing up for his players right before the ugly Nuggets-Knicks brawl that featured Carmelo Anthony’s infamous bitch-slap/backpedal. It’s not like I was obsessed with ripping the guy. He just happened to be an easy target, a floundering NBA GM who didn’t understand the luxury tax, cap space, or how to plan ahead. For what I did for a living, Isiah jokes were easier than making fun of Flavor Flav at a celebrity roast. The degree of difficulty was a 0.0.

With that said, I would have rather been playing blackjack and drinking vodka lemonades then figuring out how to cajole a pissed-off NBA legend. When a somber Gus finally waved me over, I was relieved to get it over with. (By the way, there should be no scenario that includes the words “Gus Johnson” and “somber.” I feel like I failed America regardless of how this turned out.) Gus threw an arm around me and said something like, “Look, I straightened everything out, he’s willing to talk to you, just understand, he’s a sensitive guy, he takes this shit personally.”9 Understood. I followed him to a section of chairs near the topless pool, where Isiah was sipping a water and wearing a white Panama hat to shield himself from the blazing sun. As we approached, Gus slapped me on the back and gestured to a female friend who quickly fled the premises, like we were Mafia heads sitting down in the back of an Italian restaurant and Gus was shedding every waiter and busboy. Get out of here. You don’t want to be here for this. Meanwhile, Isiah rose from the chair with a big smile on his face—he’d make a helluva politician—saying simply, “Hi, I’m Isiah.”10

We shook hands and sat down. I explained the purpose of my column, how I write from the fan’s perspective and play up certain gimmicks—

I like the Boston teams and dislike anyone who battles them, I pretend to be smarter than every GM, I think Christmas should be changed to Larry Bird’s birthday—which made Isiah a natural foil for me. He understood that. He thought we were both entertainers, for lack of a better word. We were both there to make basketball more fun to follow. He didn’t appreciate two things I had written: that he destroyed the CBA (which he claimed wasn’t true) and how I lumped him with other inept GMs in a widely read parody column called “The Atrocious GM Summit.”11 That led to us discussing each move and why he made them. He admitted two mistakes—the Jalen Rose trade (his fault) and the Steve Francis trade (not his fault because Larry Brown insisted on it, or so he claimed) and defended everything else. Strangely, inconceivably, each explanation made sense. For instance, he explained the recent Randolph trade by telling me (I’m paraphrasing), “Everyone’s trying to get smaller and faster. I want to go the other way. I want to get bigger. I want to pound people down low.” I found myself nodding like Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé in SNL’s “Sinatra Group” sketch. Great idea, Chairman! I love it! You’re a genius! Only later, after we parted ways and I thought about it more, did it dawn on me how doomed his strategy was—not the “getting bigger” part as much as the “getting bigger with two head-case fat asses who can’t defend anyone or protect the rim and are prohibitively expensive” part. You get bigger with McHale and Parish or Sampson and Olajuwon. You don’t get bigger with Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph.12

But that’s not why I’m telling you this story. After settling on an uneasy truce about his job performance, we started remembering those unforgettable Celtics-Pistons clashes from the eighties: how their mutual hatred was palpable, how that competitiveness has slowly eroded from the league because of rule changes, money, AAU camps and everything else. Today’s rivals hug each other after games and pull the “I love you, boy!” routine. They act like former summer camp chums who became successful CEOs, then ran into each other at Nobu for the first time in years. Great to see you! I’ll talk to you soon—let’s have lunch! When Isiah’s Pistons played Bird’s Celtics, the words “great to see you” were not on the agenda. They wanted to destroy each other. They did. There was an edge to those battles that the current ones don’t have. I missed that edge and so did Isiah. We both felt passionate about it, passionate enough that—gasp—we were legitimately enjoying the conversation.13

I was getting comfortable with him. Comfortable enough that I had to ask about The Secret.

And here’s where I won Isiah over—not just that I asked about The Secret, but that I remembered it in the first place. Detroit won the 1989 title after collapsing in consecutive springs against the ’87 Celtics and ’88 Lakers, two of the toughest exits in playoff history because of the nature of those defeats: a pair of “why did that have to happen?” moments in the Boston series (Bird’s famous steal in Game 5, then Vinnie Johnson and Adrian Dantley banging heads in Game 7), followed by another in the ’88 Finals (Isiah’s ankle sprain in Game 6). The ’89 Pistons regrouped for 62 wins and swept the Lakers for their first championship, vindicating a controversial in-season trade that shipped Dantley and a draft pick to Dallas for Mark Aguirre. That season lives on in Cameron Stauth’s superb book The Franchise, which details how GM Jack McCloskey built those particular Pistons teams. The crucial section happens during the ’89 Finals, with Isiah holding court with reporters and improbably offering up “the secret” of winning basketball. Here’s an edited-for-space version of what he tells them on pages 310 and 311. The part that matters most is in boldface.

It’s not about physical skills. Goes far beyond that. When I first came here, McCloskey took a lot of heat for drafting a small guy. But he knew that the only way our team would rise to the top would be by mental skills, not size or talent. He knew the only way we could acquire those skills was by watching the Celtics and Lakers, because those were the teams winning year in and year out. I also looked at Seattle, who won one year, and Houston, who got to the Finals one year. They both self-destructed the next year. So how come? I read Pat Riley’s book Show Time and he talks about “the disease of more.”14 A team wins it one year and the next year every player wants more minutes, more money, more shots. And it kills them. Our team has been up at the Championship level four years now. We could have easily self-destructed. 

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 169 )
Rating Distribution

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4 Star

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2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 170 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2009

    Tabloid Fandom at it's Finest

    A friend purchased this for me due to my love of NBA basketball, and thought it would be a good read...as it was highly recommended here.

    Suffice it to say that I felt this was one of the worst "books" I've ever had the misfortune of reading. Though I used to read his columns (and listen to his podcasts) intermitedly (and admittedly, they were funny), I found all that was wrong with his writing in this massive tome to tabloid sports writing.

    I can take his rapid Boston fandom. There are over-testosteroned imbeciles all over the country. I can even take the rest. Ridiculous, disrespectful opinions on a variety of NBA players (most of whom are widely considered great representations of the sport), his shameless bashing of other teams, playres, and organizations not Boston-affiliated, plus over 200 pages of Simmons' childhood obsession with the Boston Celtics (according to him, the most important organization in the history of sports).

    Then there are his glorious lists. List upon list comprised of his personal bias, masquerading as an excercise in impartiality. Even more pathetic is that this excuse for "professional" sports writing looks and reads like the drunk, under-average IQ "fan" at your local sports bar took notes on his incessant spouting of nonsense, and spends a majority of its convulted pages seemingly being a diary for the typical ESPN board warrior idiot.

    There is one caveat. If you bleed Celtic green, spend your free time poking needles in Laker player voodoo dolls, engage in conversations consisting of "the NBA is nothing without the Celtics" and "unless you are Michael Jordan or were a Celtic, you are trash," and believe that the city of Boston is the Almighty's greatest gift to humankind, this is definitely the book for you. If you enjoy the sport of basketball, irregardless of which team you support, and are looking for a decent, relatively impartial read on anything relating to the subject matter, this "book" is better off in the recycling bin.

    3 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 3, 2009

    Highly Intelligent and LOL Funny Review of the Long History of Pro Basketball

    The core of this book is a ranking of the 96 greatest players of all time. This ranking is both highly intelligent and highly idiosyncratic. I strongly disagreed with only a single ranking, which is remarkable. The reviews are peppered with Simmons' tangents on marginally related, analagous and sometimes totally unrelated topics of interest to young (at heart) sports guys. These tangents are often contained in copious footnotes that you can avoid if you don't want a full belly laugh every couple of pages. A thorough delight for the already well informed, engaged hoops fan.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 14, 2012

    One of the greatest books I've ever read. The amount of detail i

    One of the greatest books I've ever read. The amount of detail is overwhelming and actually unbelievable. I hope someday someone writes the same book for other sports, especially college football. This was truly a wondrous undertaking by the Sports Guy. It was funny and incredible. 5 Stars!!!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2011

    Best book

    My kid and me both love this book we fight to see who get to read the book first.
    Best book about sport

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2011

    Great in Theory

    hard to read a book were the guy is so heavly biased toward celtic players, and hates most of the Laker greats because they did something different than the celtic player of that time

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Rejuvenated my interest in the NBA

    Being a fan of the BS Report podcast, I purchased this book with hopes of it being an easy, entertaining read. I haven't followed the NBA very closely for quite a few years, but this book has brought me right back into the fandom of my childhood following the likes of Jordan, Ewing, Miller, and of course young Shaq. Given the relative young life of the NBA, Simmons is able to seemingly capture EVERY major event of the life of the league, from it's inception as a league of mostly chain smoking, hard drinking white guys in the 50's, to the merger with the rogue ABA in the 70's, to the Magic and Bird renaissance of the the 80's, and of course a study of the greatest player to ever play the game, Michael Jordan, who dominated the entire decade of the 90's. Simmons is unapologetically biased towards his beloved Celtics, and of course with that comes a hatred of all things Lakers, especially Wilt Chamberlain, Kobe Bryant, etc.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2014

    NCAA all day!

    The KANSAS JAYHAWKS are more fun to watch than any NBA team any day! NBA= boring! ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK #jayhawkforlife

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2013

    NBA( NATIONL BASKETBALL ASSOTIATION)

    NBA ALL DAY

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Great book on pro basketball history

    Simmons does a great job to illustrates his points about players over the decades. The analogies may ramble on at times but he is making a point. As a die hard Bulls fan, his love for Boston did not turn me off at all. I would love to see him revisit this subject in 10 years.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012

    Good Book

    I really enjoyed this book because with my love for the NBA i really understand this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 16, 2012

    Sexpdidusjspussyjdzjxkdpenis

    Whjsjsfleeb no habla espanol

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2012

    ????????

    Im not kobey bryant

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 24, 2012

    Coret

    What up

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2011

    A must for any NBA fan

    I just finished reading the TBOB this week, and can't recommend it highly enough. Bill Simmons's pure obsession with and dedication to the NBA comes through loud and clear in this book, which basically reads as an obsessive fan getting almost everything he ever wanted to get off his chest about the sport down on paper. It's a true labor of love, one that will help you recall and appreciate memories you may have of the NBA through its history, place different eras and players in historical context, and laugh over and over again at Simmons's ridiculous pop-culture references and occasional mockery of the NBA's ridiculous moments and characters.

    Highly recommended!

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    pg. 106 mistake

    on page 106 text is inserted that is not supposed to be there which comes from a few pages back. great book though

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2010

    One of the better basketball books

    Bill Simmons, the "definitive basketball guy" delivered an informative and insightful basketball book. I very much liked his take on dividing the "all-time greats" into groups, or pyramids, as he refers to it in the book. He categorizes the basketball greats into the following categories "barely, or debatable hall of famers", "solid or doubt it hall of famers", "all-time great hall of famers", and then the "pantheon", or basically basketball "immortals". It is one of the best basketball books I have ever read. I only have two complaints:
    1. I did not see the need for him to use the profanity in the book that he used. It just wasn't necessary
    2. I wish, with each player he discussed, he had given us their lifetime statistics, which were not included. It would have made it easier for the reader to either agree or disagree with his rankings of players, if the reader had the stats (both regular season and playoffs) along with commentarys.
    Other than these two complaints, the book is great

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 11, 2010

    If you ever need proof that Bill was better than Wilt ...

    ... you'll find that here as well as why the Basketball Hall of Fame should be blown up. If that's not enough, you get the lowdown on the 96 best players of all time (but really, Patrick Ewing in the top 50 -- pleeese! Lots of history, lots of funny lines and (what's important) a good overview of the history of the NBA.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    the only book about the NBA

    Simmons does an excellent job.
    The BEST book about the NBA

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  • Posted March 21, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Perfect for any NBA fans.

    The definitive book for NBA fans young and old! Russell or Wilt? West or Oscar? Bird or Magic? Best team of all time? The best player ever?

    These are just a few of the questions asked and answered in this 700+ page testimonial to professional basketball. This means from 1946 till now, the modern NBA. Each opinion while not meant to be definitive provides an exquisitely researched (and footnoted) guide to some of the biggest questions and debates of NBA fans through the years. And even more importantly than just statistical data is some esoterica. Who made their teammates better? Who owns the better basketball IQ? Who is the most effective leader?

    The book is divided into easy to handle chapters that make reading easy. It lends itself to being read voraciously or just skimmed (although I'd recommend the former). I didn't necessarily agree with all the author's opinions, but he gave a very reasoned and informed argument for each decision. It makes you really examine your responses similarly.

    Bill Simmons, the author, grew up as a fan of the Boston Celtics, but is careful not to let that color the book. He works now as the ESPN sports guy. He speaks clearly and passionately about the NBA. You can tell it was a labor of love.

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  • Posted March 1, 2010

    One Fun Read

    I'm an old guy who read this book because a young guy recommended Bill Simmons book to me, calling it "One Fun Read". Bill Simmons it turns out is one of the kings of the internet and podcast world. Reading Bill Simmons is like discussing sports with one of your buddies over a beer at a sports bar. He managed to make a very long and detailed book informative, interesting, easy to read, and very fun. If you like Basketball, you'll love this book. The last chapter ties the book together and gives the book a serious touch. One more note, the footnotes are hilarious. Don't overlook them. Enjoy.

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