2009-10 Basketball Books Preview
2008-09 was a fairly thin year for basketball books, all told. Looking back at our preview from last year, it ended up that there were probably only a couple of true standouts in our opinion, David Falk's The Bald Truth and the Free Darko Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, though we're still working our way through all of the tomes. We also liked When March Went Mad from Seth Davis and Red and Me by Bill Russell (which we managed to overlook last year - d'oh!), and then there really wasn't too much more out there of note. In fact, several of the books in last year's preview are making repeat appearances in this year's, as we jumped the gun a little bit on a couple given the slim pickings, and there were also a few couple postponements.
The good news is that 2009-10 looks much more promising, on sheer depth alone. We've managed to cobble together 20+ hoops books currently due to be released by next summer (included a handful which were released in the last couple months). And pay attention to the release dates below, as there is an absolute flurry of basketball books coming out in the next two weeks alone. Speaking of which, let's get things rolling with the most notable release of all....
THE 700-PAGE GORILLA
The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy, by Bill Simmons (Oct. 27)
The Simmons hoop manifesto is certainly the most eagerly anticipated basketball book of the year. Given that the landscape is wide-open for a broad and readable one-volume history of the NBA, The Book of Basketball has a chance to become nothing less than one of the most essential basketball books ever written. And given that Simmons' thoroughly researched columns on Elgin Baylor and the so-called "Clipper Curse" are perhaps his best work over the past year, we think the chances are promising, and we're certainly hopeful.
Excerpt - ESPN.com: Meeting Isiah
Excerpt - ESPN.com: Summer of 1976
Excerpt - ESPN.com: What if the ABA had landed Kareem?
Excerpt - ESPN.com: Should Walton have won '78 MVP?
When The Game Was Ours, by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson with Jackie MacMullan (Nov. 4)
Here's another one that's fairly high on our the anticipation scale: respected longtime Boston Globe scribe Jackie MacMullan brings you Magic and Bird on one of the definitive rivalries in the NBA history. Hasn't even been released and Isiah's already p.o.'ed.
Excerpt - Boston Globe Magazine: 1984 Finals
Excerpt - HMH Books: Benched together as college All-Stars in '78
Doc: The Rise and Rise of Julius Erving, by Vincent Mallozzi (Nov. 2)
We've long thought there was a need for a definitive biography of the great Dr. J, Julius Erving - one of the game's icons of the '70s, and one of the most influential players ever - and hopefully, this is it. Mallozzi previously wrote the well-regarded Asphalt Gods: An Oral History of the Rucker Tournament.
Excerpt - Wiley Publishing: Chapter 1 (pdf)
Jerry West: The Life and Legend of a Basketball Icon, by Roland Lazenby (Feb. 23)
Veteran author Lazenby has many basketball books to his name, including must-haves like The Show, an oral history of the Lakers, and Blood on the Horns, the story of the "Last Dance" 1997-98 Bulls. Now he takes on a biography of the basketball legend known today as The Logo, and in the past as Mr. Clutch and Zeke from Cabin Creek. He may face stiff competition on the shelves from....
Untitled Autobiography, by Jerry West (Spring 2010)
West produced the autobiography Mr. Clutch: The Jerry West Storyway back in 1969, so there's certainly room for an updated version, especially since West has remained a central figure in the league in the intervening 40 years, well after his playing days ended. West has generally been frank and forthcoming in interviews, so here's hoping he opens up on his thoughts of the Showtime Lakers, the Shaq-Kobe era and beyond. The most recent reports suggest that the book will be released by Father's Day of 2010.
King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, by Aram Goudsouzian (May 1)
While there have been tons of books written on the Celtics dynasty, and Bill Russell himself has produced two of the sport's most provocative autobiographies, there's never been a great biography written specifically about Russell. I've never heard of Goudsouzian, who is a professor of history at the University of Memphis and wrote a Sidney Poitier biography which has a couple 5-star reviews on Amazon. We wish him well, as we'd love to have a top-notch Russell bio to put beside The Rivalry (John Taylor's book on the Russell-Wilt era) and recent Wilt bios Wilt: Larger Than Life and Wilt, 1962 on our shelves.
Shooting Stars, by LeBron James & Buzz Bissinger (released Sept. 8)
We haven't yet had a chance to read Shooting Stars, released in September as something of a companion to More Than a Game, the documentary film about LeBron James and his core group of friends who became improbable high-school basketball national champions out of a private school in Akron, Ohio. Excerpts and reports to date have indicated that Bissinger's prose doesn’t quite feel like it's LeBron's voice, making the book feel a little off-kilter. We loved the movie, so maybe this is a somewhat rare case where the book is inferior to the film.
Excerpt - Vanity Fair: LeBron James's Band of Brothers
Score Like Agent Zero, by Gilbert Arenas with D.J. Gallo (Feb. 9)
This was originally scheduled to be published this spring, but with Arenas sidelined by injury, the release was pushed back to next February. As we wrote in last year's preview, here's how Arenas described the book in his blog, back in 2007:
- I'm writing a book.
It ain't going to be the T.O. 'I Need My Ball' or whatever that book was called. It ain't going to be the Phil Jackson book. Mine is going to be more like Chicken Soup for the Soul. Mine is going to be like that with more funny stuff. It's going to be hilarious.
Stuff like, 'If you're a No. 1 or No. 2 pick, why do you need an agent?' Reality stuff like that. You might as well just give your money to Vegas because that's all you're doing with the agent, you're just giving it to him. Because you're the No. 1 or No. 2 pick, point blank, you don't need an agent. It's a slotted system now. It's not like you're Glenn Robinson coming out saying 'Give me $100 million.' You can't do that anymore.
So it's going to be mostly funny stuff like that. Attacking people, attacking the system, attacking critics - stuff like that.
Character Driven: Life, Lessons and Basketball, by Derek Fisher with Gary Brozek (released Sept. 8)
We understand how things work: when N.Y. or L.A. teams win championships, we get tons of books from all manner of primary and secondary characters. And we don't begrudge Fish his book, as he's long been one of the league's stand-up guys. Clutch performer, president of the player's union, has suffered through plenty of off-court tribulations dealing with his baby daughter's health – there's plenty to this man's story.
Excerpt - Simon & Schuster: Chapter 1
We're just bummed that, as we've written before, there are no books on the San Antonio Spurs out there. We know they'd sell about 47 copies of those things, but we're fans of the game who want the whole story to be recorded. The Duncan/Robinson-era Spurs are an essential NBA team, with four championships and a 20-year run of success. And for all the public perception that these Spurs are boring, we think they've actually been one of the more interesting cast of characters in league history, led by three of the most unique cats ever to pass through the league, in Tim Duncan, David Robinson and Gregg Popovich. The funny thing is that, if this team were based in New York, there would probably be about 50 books about them.
TWO OF OUR FAVORITES
The Art of a Beautiful Game: A Thinking Fan's Tour of the NBA, by Chris Ballard (Nov. 3)
We think that SI's Ballard is one of the better basketball storytellers working today. This book examines different elements of the game from multiple perspectives of various players. TrueHoop recently suggested that the book needed more of a central organizing theme, but that it was "meaningful, insightful, enjoyable and well worth the read."
Excerpt - Sports Illustrated: The Hoops Whisperer
Untitled "Inside the League" Project, by Ric Bucher
Here's what we wrote on this in March - we have no further information:
- On a recent podcast with Bill Simmons, ESPN's Ric Bucher noted that he was working on a book that offered "an inside look at various jobs around the league," and said that he had spent time with a GM right at the trade deadline.
I think this book has the promise to be pretty good, as it sounds like Bucher might have gotten the access to really see the details of how the sausage is made in terms of how trades are made, or how they fall apart, among other things. I would also say that I think this type of longform reporting/storytelling is a strength of Bucher's, as I also thought he did a nice job of building the narrative of Yao Ming's life as the center's ghostwriter in Yao: A Life in Two Worlds. Bucher said his new book should be out in late 2009.
Pro Basketball Prospectus 2009-10, by Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle (released Oct. 8)
The Basketball Prospectus 2010 Major Conference Preview, by John Gasaway (Nov.)
Increasingly, we find that the basketball analysts who are worth our time are those who are able to offer both objective and subjective analysis, and Pelton is one of the best. He has the statistical chops, for sure, but he's not just a numbers geek. He complements the objective stuff with astute analysis drawn from observation. Pro Basketball Prospectus offers team essays and player comments for everyone in the league. The Major Conference Preview will provide similar content for the college game.
Excerpts - Basketball Prospectus: Thunder player comments/Rockets team essay
Mathletics: How Gamblers, Managers, and Sports Enthusiasts Use Mathematics in Baseball, Basketball, and Football, by Wayne L. Winston (Sept. 17)
You know how we just said that we need our analysis to be objective and subjective? Most analysts still lean far too heavily on the latter, but Winston's recent comments that he wouldn't take Kevin Durant for free, based on his poor adjusted plus-minus numbers, indicate that he may have a bit of an unhealthy belief in his own numbers. But decide for yourself - there's been plenty of Winston on TrueHoop recently. If you like what you read there, you'll probably dig Mathletics.
CAROLINA BLUE OVERLOAD
Light Blue Reign: How a City Slicker, a Quiet Kansan, and a Mountain Man Built College Basketball's Longest-Lasting Dynasty, by Art Chansky (Oct. 27)
Hard Work: My Life On and Off the Court, by Roy Williams with Tim Crothers (Nov. 23)
One Fantastic Ride: The Inside Story of Carolina Basketball’s 2009 Championship Season, by Adam Lucas, Steve Kirschner, Matt Bowers (Oct. 22)
That's a lot of Carolina propaganda, we know, but give 'em a break – 2009 is a big year, as it marks the 100th anniversary of Carolina basketball and of course, the Tar Heels celebrated in style by winning the NCAA championship earlier this year.
Light Blue Reign is a history of the program by Carolina chronicler Chansky, who also wrote Blue Blood, on the Carolina-Duke rivalry, and Dean's Domain, a Dean Smith bio. Hard Work is the autobiography of Williams, who has now established one of the more impressive coaching resumes in NCAA history, with two national championships and seven Final Four appearances. One Fantastic Ride celebrates the glory of the most recent championship run. Lucas wrote The Best Game Ever, about the 3OT 1957 national championship game between North Carolina and Kansas.
Excerpt - TarHeelBlue.com: Light Blue Reign
Excerpt - TarHeelBlue.com: One Fantastic Ride
Asheville Citizen-Times: Roy Williams talks about abusive father in book
COUPLE MORE COLLEGE NOTABLES
Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson, by Rus Bradburd (Feb. 9)
Forty Minutes of Hell is definitely our choice as the sleeper to keep an eye on out of all these books – underrated author, underrated subject. Bradburd wrote the beloved Paddy on the Hardwood, about his experiences coaching basketball in Ireland (2006 interview on TrueHoop). Richardson is a fascinating subject - an outspoken pioneer among African-American coaches – both on and off the court. Frank Deford's 1988 Sports Illustrated story on Richardson dealing with the death of his 15-year-old daughter Yvonne is one of the most moving pieces we've ever read in that magazine, and that's saying something.
Outside the Limelight: Basketball in the Ivy League, by Kathy Orton (Nov. 15)
Maybe it's because we're Division III guys at heart, but we're always interested in a look at the college game as something closer to how it was meant to be played, where the term "student-athlete" is a bit truer than it is during the bread and circus of March Madness. Orton has covered college hoops for a decade for the Washington Post.
Return of the Gold: The Journey of Jerry Colangelo and The Redeem Team, by Dan Bickley (released Oct. 1)
Coach K's The Gold Standard from earlier this year was a reasonable telling of the story of USA Basketball's road to redemption, even if it told us little that we hadn't already known. We'll see if Arizona Republic columnist Bickley can pull more out of the tale by telling it through the eyes of Colangelo, the chief driving force of the U.S.'s return to Olympic basketball gold.
American Hoops: U.S. Men's Olympic Basketball from Berlin to Beijing, by Carson Cunningham
Cunningham is a former player at Purdue who is now a professor of history at DePaul. We don't have much to add here, as the title seems pretty straightforward.
OLD-SCHOOL HALL OF FAMERS
James Naismith: The Man Who Invented Basketball, by Rob Rains with Hellen Carpenter (Oct. 28)
You can't really have much more of an old-school Hall of Famer than Naismith, as the building is named after him in Springfield, after all. Rains has written biographies of various St. Louis sports figures, while Carpenter is Naismith's granddaughter, who apparently provided more than 300 documents from Naismith's files to help the cause.
NY Times: For Naismith, Basketball Was Only a Start (by Rob Rains)
Jim Pollard: The Kangaroo Kid, by Dolph Grundman (released Aug. 28)
Show some respect to Pollard, the key no. 2 player next to George Mikan on the Minneapolis Lakers teams which won five championships in six years in the early NBA. As the nickname in the title suggests, the 6-5 forward from Stanford was one of the most athletic players of his era. Surprisingly, there have now been bios of the three key players of those MPLS teams – Mikan, Pollard, and Vern Mikkelsen– all published within the last three years. How 'bout that. No books about Whitey Skoog that we know about are on the horizon.
Stockton Record: New legs for "Kangaroo"
Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd, by Sean Kirst (Nov.)
Lloyd was the first black player to play in the NBA, as he broke the color line by entering the league along with Sweetwater Clifton and Chuck Cooper back in 1950. Lloyd was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2003.
COUPLE RE-ISSUES OF NOTE
Heaven is a Playground (35th Anniversary Edition), by Rick Telander (Nov. 1)
Telander's 1974 chronicle of the characters who inhabit the pickup courts in Brooklyn is an all-time basketball classic. The 35th anniversary third edition includes a new introduction from Telander.
Excerpts - SLAM
A Good Man: The Pete Newell Story, by Bruce Jenkins (Feb. 28)
This book was originally published in 1999. It's a bio of Newell, one of the most immensely respected coaching minds in basketball history. Newell, who passed away in 2008, coached Cal to an NCAA championship in 1959, and left his mark on multiple generations of NBA basketball through his legendary summer Big Man Camps, which improved the skills of countless NBA players over the years.
Something of an addendum here, but there have been rumors over the last year or so that disgraced NBA official Tim Donaghy was planning to release something of a tell-all book from his perspective, called Blowing the Whistle, but Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported in a recent column that the proposed Donaghy book is now dead.
Excerpts - Deadspin: The Book The NBA Doesn't Want You To Read
While we're sure that not all of these books will be winners, it certainly seems like there are plenty of intriguing books to keep hoop fans occupied over the next year. We can't wait to dig in.