The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons

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

There is only one writer on the planet who possesses enough basketball knowledge and passion to write the definitive book on the NBA.* Bill Simmons, the from-the-womb hoops addict known to millions as ESPN.com’s Sports Guy, is that writer. And The Book of Basketball is that book. Nowhere in the roundball universe will you find another single volume that covers as much in s...

Title:The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:034551176X
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Hardcover
Number of Pages:736 pages

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

  • William Johnson
    Oct 30, 2009

    Reprinted from my website

    :

    The Sports Guy (aka Bill Simmons) is an engaging, Internet personality. He previously wrote a book that was a collection of his highly successful and entertaining Internet postings regarding his beloved Red Sox. Any fan of Simmons knows that he is a rabid Boston sports fanatic, most notably the Celtics and Red Sox. If there is any weakness to his writing it is that he is insanely biased to those Boston teams. When approaching topics from a fan perspect

    Reprinted from my website

    :

    The Sports Guy (aka Bill Simmons) is an engaging, Internet personality. He previously wrote a book that was a collection of his highly successful and entertaining Internet postings regarding his beloved Red Sox. Any fan of Simmons knows that he is a rabid Boston sports fanatic, most notably the Celtics and Red Sox. If there is any weakness to his writing it is that he is insanely biased to those Boston teams. When approaching topics from a fan perspective (like the love of the game (MLB or NBA) or fan experiences) then Simmons is top notch but when it comes to overall analysis that involves perspective and objectivity, the bias comes out and makes his opinions seem less relevant.

    The sad thing about The Book of Basketball is that it is Simmons gargantuan attempt at putting the NBA in perspective by ranking the all-time greatest teams and players for most of its length. When Simmons focuses on fan experiences or the love of the game he excels. The book starts out this way and is highly engaging. The prologue may be about his beloved Celtics but it describes his attendance at games, his joy at watching some of the greatest players play and sharing those experiences with his father. The next chapter focuses on ‘The Secret’, a concept Isiah Thomas explained to him about winning. Since the concept is something Simmons and the reader can remember and has (or currently is) witnessed/witnessing, the concept and portrayal in the book is equally as engaging as the opening, heart felt prologue.

    The problem is the ‘objective’ analysis sections. A majority of the book is a breakdown of the 96 greatest players of all time (separated into five levels, the top being the Pantheon). This is all fine and dandy until you realize almost every Celtic ever known is on this list. I can’t particularly argue with it (as my friend and SI contributor Tony points out ‘they did dominate basketball for multiple decades) but while the Celtic players get almost heavenly like bios, other players come under scrutiny and ‘but they had this problem’. . .kind of analysis that makes you wonder if you are reading a ‘Greatest’ list or a ‘Great but. . .’ list. The nastiest trick is that Simmons pretends to be unbiased by placing his beloved Larry Bird as #5 all time behind hypothetical rival Magic Johnson (#4) and real enemy Kareem Abdul Jabbar (#3). He even references, verbatim, ’see, I’m not a homer. . .I put Magic 4th!’. But then he puts Bill Russell as #2. Despite the dominance of the man (and a respect I equally share with the author) there is no way the dude is #2 all time! Simmons even spends hundreds of pages describing how pre-merger NBA players wouldn’t stand a chance against post-merger NBA players. . .so how could Russell, a player from the 60s who had virtually no competition at his position and faced fewer (and less talented) teams be placed so high? Because he’s a Celtic damn it. . .that’s why.

    The worst offender is the Greatest Teams section which is also heavily dominated by Celtics teams. I’m not saying Celtics teams from different eras don’t deserve credit but placing the 1986 Boston Celtics over the 1996 Chicago Bulls as the greatest team of all time is just plain blasphemy. And I’d like to say Simmons uses great research to back up his decision but when the only thing he can come up with is ‘the Bulls struggled in the playoffs’ (they went 15-3) and ‘the Sonics, with no bench, won 67 that year. . .that season was a joke’, I’m not really buying the argument. He derides the players on the bench (Luc Longley, Jud Beuchler, etc) as not holding a candle to Bostons’ Hall of Famers. Duh? Those ‘losers’ on the bench won 72 games and defended their title two more times. The ‘86 Celtics won 60-odd games and didn’t even defend the title the following year (which he chalks up to injuries and Len Bias’ death. Great piled it on the dead guy! Plus he says injuries are part of the game in one section but uses it as his major defense in this section). Something tells me the Bulls won more with less and did it better. Keep in mind. . .I’m an Orlando Magic fan. I got swept in the ‘96 Eastern Finals by that Bulls team.

    This kind of writing suits the Internet but not a 700 page book meant to be the end-all be-all of basketball info. I picked this book up looking for excellent analysis and unbiased opinions: looked like I picked the wrong guy. Since Simmons is an Internet writer first with a gimmick (the fan’s perspective) I gave him a pass. But over 400 pages of ‘objective’ analysis is pushing it. The book does have a ‘you’ve worn out your welcome’ feel to it. The four hundred mark would have been fine but this book gets old after you start entering the 600 page area. Simmons is known for his humorous footnotes and pop culture references but they also overdue there welcome. While I enjoyed the experience overall, I think it would have behooved the Internet writer to make his first foray into book writing be less gargantuan and interested mainly in his gimmick/expertise. I never could trust Simmons for objectivity before and I certainly can’t trust him now.

    This is a hard one to recommend. If Simmons’ ESPN articles are PG/PG-13 then this book is Rated R. There is some foul language, an unbelievable amount of dick jokes and the ability to rip apart anyone he wants without input from his web hosts and employers. Simmons spends one chapter comparing Bill Russell (Celtic) and Wilt Chamberlain. The goal, in the beginning of the chapter, was to compare why Russell was a better winner and player then Wilt despite statistics to the contrary. Instead it ends up being how much of an asshole Wilt was and how bad of a person he was. In the end I felt bad for Wilt even if some of the things he did were pretty assholeish (new word). This is not objective writing. . .this is ‘academic’ bashing.

    I admire the amount of work that went into the book but despite the 700 pages it does feel like it is missing something (besides credibility and objectivity). I feel that for a book its size it should have more to it then just a bunch of lists and random analysis. I also feel that the book should have been a)edited better (there are myriad amounts of typos towards the end which proved the book was being rushed) and b)released later. To release a book after the 2009 Playoffs (the transcripts were written before or during the Playoffs) where major arguments (especially about Kobe and Dwight Howard; The Lakers and Orlando Magic) are made is asking for trouble. The book’s release date made some of the book instantly obsolete. And why not just change all of the transcript? Simmons adds an epilogue focusing on the ‘09 Finals and a few footnotes showing how the transcript was made false by the Playoffs. Why? Just change a paragraph here or there. Ugh. . .it was frustrating and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    Oh well. . .you get a decent book here. But when you sit down and lug around a 700 page book I want a large amount of quality, not a large amount of mediocrity. Enjoy at your own risk if you are a fan of basketball or of a specific team. If you are a fan of the Boston Celtics then this is God’s gift to you.

  • Bobby Otter
    Nov 02, 2009

    Thoughts (Simmons style):

    Simmons must have hired John Iriving's editor to edit this book... and that's not a complement. What was the point of the Grumpy Old Editor? To not edit?

    I think this is the world longest coffee table book.

    The Most Valuable Chapter? Why was this in the book? This was excruciating to read...

    Over all, it's hard to disagree with where Simmons ranked everyone. The only WTF ranking I saw was Garnett over Isiah and Pippen. But everything else is nitpicking.

    I'm not sure I need

    Thoughts (Simmons style):

    Simmons must have hired John Iriving's editor to edit this book... and that's not a complement. What was the point of the Grumpy Old Editor? To not edit?

    I think this is the world longest coffee table book.

    The Most Valuable Chapter? Why was this in the book? This was excruciating to read...

    Over all, it's hard to disagree with where Simmons ranked everyone. The only WTF ranking I saw was Garnett over Isiah and Pippen. But everything else is nitpicking.

    I'm not sure I needed a few thousand words about how Simmons once sat next to Jordan at a resturant. Actually, I'm positive.

    Again, the editing of this book killed my rating of it. Stories are told twice, footnotes are repeated, guys are mislabeled or represented... crappy editing that absolutely killed this book. When talking about the '83 Philadelphia 76ers, when mentioning who they lose to in the playoffs next year, it says Philly in five. Apperently Vancouver and Minnesota entered the league at the same time (they didn't, Toronto and Vancouver did). These mistakes happen all the time. I know mistakes are made in a 700 page book, I expect three or five things to get past people... but twenty-five or more?

    Most annoying aspect of the Book of Basketball? When Simmons starts out with quote from a former player (say Bill Bradley) discussing another player (random 70s player). Simmons tells us that this PERFECTLY describes random 70s player... and then Bill spends a few thousand words discussing random 70s player. 'hey look, I know that Bill Bradley just totally nailed Jerry West, but I'm going to lob on an extra 2,900 words to hammer home my own views on a guy I never saw play and as I said, is perfectly described by what Bill Bradley said already!'

    Finally, I should say, Simmons' passion and love of basketball comes though and his endearing style makes the book hard to hate. But the flaws are too great to over come what should have been a fantastic book. The book wasn't a history of basketball as much as a review of the games great players and a few teams. I can't help but think that a "Fever Pitch" type book where Bill discusses his love for the Celtics would have been a trillion times better. I know Bill has said that this is the best book he'll ever write... but he's setting the bar far too low.

  • Joe
    Nov 03, 2009

    Ultimately, a pretty disappointing book. As a big fan of the Sports Guy's columns about the NBA, I thought I would be laughing from beginning to end and learning a lot. Neither turned out to be true. By expanding upon the worst parts of his columns - his obsessive biases towards certain types of players and teams - and mostly ignoring the profound insight he usually incites with his biting humor, Simmons comes off as someone who spent too much time watching pro basketball and now can do nothing

    Ultimately, a pretty disappointing book. As a big fan of the Sports Guy's columns about the NBA, I thought I would be laughing from beginning to end and learning a lot. Neither turned out to be true. By expanding upon the worst parts of his columns - his obsessive biases towards certain types of players and teams - and mostly ignoring the profound insight he usually incites with his biting humor, Simmons comes off as someone who spent too much time watching pro basketball and now can do nothing but rant about it. I wanted to learn about all the great players of history in this book, but instead I mostly learned what Simmons thinks is wrong with them.

    It's clear that Simmons has thrived online due to the work of his editors in corralling his babbling and refining his humor. The supposedly hilarious footnotes in this book consist of nothing but bad porn star humor, bad 80's movie humor, and Simmmons making jokes about how he can't stop making porn star and drug jokes. It is to our great benefit that ESPN keeps this boorish immaturity out of his columns. I began glazing over them about halfway through the book. I thought, perhaps, that I was just on Sports Guy overload, but I kept reading his columns online while I read this book, and they continued to make me chortle. By the last section, "the best teams ever," I was skipping pages entirely, as it was obvious that Simmons was just blasting out whatever it took to prove his favorite team of all time, the '86 Celtics, were also the best team of all time.

    You could pick apart this book's rhetoric from many different angles, but I think it can be nicely summarized by saying that Bill Simmons is a second rate writer who, because of the popularity of his humor and his honest insights, has been tricked into thinking he is in the upper echelon. The best parts of this book are when Bill quotes other writers. But just because you hang out with Malcolm Gladwell and Chuck Klosterman (and get them to contribute amazing passages to your tome of rants) doesn't mean you can keep up with them on the page.

  • Andrew
    Dec 05, 2009

    It's incredibly entertaining at best, infuriating and a drunken digression at others. Simmons views himself as an expert, and that comes through on every page - whether in his decision that John Stockton played in era of "inflated assists" or his condemnation of the last twenty minutes of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. He's just not that smart, frankly. In both cases, he makes specious claims and then moves on to more specious claims or backs them up with statistics that are supposed to be taken at fac

    It's incredibly entertaining at best, infuriating and a drunken digression at others. Simmons views himself as an expert, and that comes through on every page - whether in his decision that John Stockton played in era of "inflated assists" or his condemnation of the last twenty minutes of NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. He's just not that smart, frankly. In both cases, he makes specious claims and then moves on to more specious claims or backs them up with statistics that are supposed to be taken at face value.

    The most embarrassing section is early, when he reveals "The Secret." Spoiler alert: the secret is that championship teams rely on teamwork, not individual superstars. Wooah!!! I've never heard that before! Oh, except I have - my T-Ball coach told me that when we just assumed that we would win every game with the help of this skinny, white-headed kid named Kevin Geshke who hit solo home runs every time he walked to the tee (we did, thus disproving Simmons thesis). But Simmons dedicates pages and pages to a point that my Grandmother understood, without attempting to figure out the groups who disproved that (the '06 Heat for instance, or the early 00's Lakers).

    Simmons ranking of players is arbitrary and ultimate critic-proof, but he finds a way to take pot-shots at the players he doesn't like (like Stockton and Clyde Drexler) and elevates those he does on revisionist history (like Allen Iverson).

    The best part, and what it makes it ultimately worth reading for the ardent NBA fan, is his "What if" section: when he takes episodes from NBA History and wonders what would have happened if the ball had swung a different way: what if Len Bias hadn't died and the Celtics had an extra big man in the late 80s? what if Jordan got drafted by Portland?

    Still, while entertaining, it's pretty maddening.

  • Jake
    Dec 18, 2009

    Here's the problem with being a huge fan of a prolific columnist: When you've read every single word a guy has squeaked out for 7-plus years, you start to know all his (or her, I suppose) jokes, all their beats and all their tendencies. You lose the element of surprise.

    So when it was announced that The Sports Guys new basketball book was more than 700 pages, I cringed. Not sure if I could take that many pages of Karate Kid jokes and Celtics handjobs. My infatuation with the guy has died wuite a

    Here's the problem with being a huge fan of a prolific columnist: When you've read every single word a guy has squeaked out for 7-plus years, you start to know all his (or her, I suppose) jokes, all their beats and all their tendencies. You lose the element of surprise.

    So when it was announced that The Sports Guys new basketball book was more than 700 pages, I cringed. Not sure if I could take that many pages of Karate Kid jokes and Celtics handjobs. My infatuation with the guy has died wuite a bit over the last year and a half, and I absolutley planned to avoid this monstrosity. But goddamn Amazon roped me in for like $12, and I couldn't pass it up. I put it next to the shitter and away we went.

    For the most part, I was very pleasantly surprised. Yeah, a lot of the jokes and riffs are familiar, and huge chunks are just over-expanded versions of ideas he shat out in columns ad nauseum over the years, but for the most part, I was entertained. There isn't a single person who knows the NBA better than this guy. As one of the last true basketball fans alive, that means something to me. And except for an entire chapter devoted to tongue-bathing Bill Russell's taint, Simmons manages to keep his Boston-centric blatherings to a minimum. Even the Russell chapter is digestable because it destroys Wilt Chamberlain at the same time, and that is always a good thing.

    Anyway. If you haven't been exposed to Simmons nonstop for the last decade, and you give a shit about the NBA at all, give her a read. It's beter than you think.

  • Hilary
    Jan 10, 2010

    I have to confess that finishing this book felt like something of a chore. At 700 pages, you really have to love basketball, or Bill Simmons - or both - to get through it. I like basketball a lot, but I can't pretend to have followed it very closely, historically. The Book of Baseball would have been an easier read for me, because I already know more about the main characters. I started this months ago and plugged away, plugged away, finally devoting the better part of a weekend to finishing it.

    I have to confess that finishing this book felt like something of a chore. At 700 pages, you really have to love basketball, or Bill Simmons - or both - to get through it. I like basketball a lot, but I can't pretend to have followed it very closely, historically. The Book of Baseball would have been an easier read for me, because I already know more about the main characters. I started this months ago and plugged away, plugged away, finally devoting the better part of a weekend to finishing it. I told myself, "You bought this book, now read it!"

    And why did I buy it? I do love Bill Simmons. Or, at least, I did. I think I need a little break from him, for the time being. His writing is much better suited to (relatively) pithy internet columns. In this book, he makes too many jokes about his forthcoming Pulitzer for any of them to be very funny. And enough jokes about the inevitable publication of "The Second Book of Basketball" to make me nervous. I need a two-week vacation from any sentence beginning "The Mount Rushmore of [obscure pop culture reference:] would have to include...."

    But he IS entertaining, and that's why I stuck with it. I definitely learned a lot about a sport of whose history I was fairly ignorant. The huge middle section of the book is devoted to the ranking - and detailed analysis - of the players Simmons deems the 96 greatest of all time. Ninety-six! (He's leaving room for four more to emerge in the modern era.) He starts with #96 and works his way up, so it was somewhere in the eighties that I lost steam and gave up for a while. However amusingly written, it is really hard to read pages and pages about Arvydas Sabonis and Cliff Hagan if you knew next to nothing about them, going into it. But once I renewed my commitment to finish the damn thing, his countdown grew more and more interesting, as we entered the territory of players with whom I was more familiar. A statistical comparison of Bailey Howell and Bobby Dandrige is tough going for me, but by the time I reached Simmons' Top 30 I was much more interested.

    Here's the thing, though: Simmons ends his book by assembling - with the previous 650 pages as evidence - The Greatest Team of All Time. He's not just picking the twelve greatest players, of course, but the twelve who would best function together, complementing each other and assuring victory. And guess what? He picks all post-merger players. Going back to his Top 96 ranking, he included Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Moses Malone in his Top 12 "Pantheon" - but none of these merit inclusion on his Greatest Team Ever roster. Not even on the bench. The reason is obvious: we aren't confident that their game would translate to the modern era. I understand that, and I even agree. But what, then, is the point of ranking those top 96 all on one scale, if we're admittedly judging them on completely different criteria? And, since this list takes up 300+ pages, the obvious next question is: What is the point of this goddamn book?

    Simmons finally comes close to offering an answer, in his epilogue: he visits Bill Walton at his San Diego home and, in the course of their conversation, Walton jokes about being known to later generations as "Luke's dad." Simmons is enraged, but his motivation for writing this book comes into clearer focus for me, as the reader. He just wants us to know and appreciate these guys. I don't know how many people will make it through the whole thing, but I appreciate what he's trying to do: pay homage to a sport's history, and to the men who helped it evolve.

    Ultimately, I'd say that Simmons failed to convince me that lists like these - the bread and butter of his NBA columns - are anything less than wildly arbitrary. He does, however, provide a terrific reading list of the NBA-related books mentioned throughout his own, and once I finally feel the need to pick up a basketball book again, there are several on there I definitely want to check out. Just give me a couple of months.

  • Paul Mcleod
    Apr 12, 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 analysi

    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.

  • Doug Stotland
    Apr 07, 2012

    If you're a huge NBA fan, a guy, are between the ages 40 and 48 (as of 2012) and have watched an insane amount of TV and movies this is a no-brainier 5 star book(1). Otherwise I don't think you'll like it.

    I haven't enjoyed a book this much in a very long time. Malcom Gladwell nails it in the forward here he says Bill Simmons is what you would be if you had endless hours to devote to being a fan. Bill Simmons is hilarious + his love of the NBA and his ability to create analogies from random stuff

    If you're a huge NBA fan, a guy, are between the ages 40 and 48 (as of 2012) and have watched an insane amount of TV and movies this is a no-brainier 5 star book(1). Otherwise I don't think you'll like it.

    I haven't enjoyed a book this much in a very long time. Malcom Gladwell nails it in the forward here he says Bill Simmons is what you would be if you had endless hours to devote to being a fan. Bill Simmons is hilarious + his love of the NBA and his ability to create analogies from random stuff (mostly movies and TV shows) that I love gave me great joy. I've seen other people criticize B.S. for his lack of objectivity in compiling his rankings. It didn't bother me. B.S.'s excruciatingly detailed arguments and justifications for each ranking were mostly ingenious, interesting and often hilarious. The book opens with a love letter to the Celtics and then he proceeds to claim he's objective for the ensuing 750 pages(2). But he is a homer and that's part of what makes the book such a joy to read. Seeing the game through his eyes makes it difficult not to love the NBA more(3).

    I'll spoil it for you cause there's no suspense: Russel was better than Chamberlain and the 85 Celtics were better than the 96 Bulls (4).

    (1) I'm considering it for my sports book pantheon. Definitely better than Halbertsam's breaks of the game, which, ironically, would be sacrilege for B.S.

    (2) citing his ranking Magic Johnson 1 spot above Larry Bird as definitive proof that he's not a homer.

    (3) I almost had to go double negative I was so excited about this observation.

    (4) Claiming anyone other than the 96 Bulls was the best team in the history of the NBA is definitive proof that B.S. is a total homer.


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