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"The Book of Basketball" – Three-Pointer for The Sports Guy

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Bill Simmons, the ESPN Sports Guy, hits a three-pointer with “The Book of Basketball” (Ballantine Books) a wildly entertaining treatise on professional basketball, and the players and teams that make the sport special.

Simmons, a native New Englander, fellow Holy Cross alum (the SportsLifer was class of 73) and admitted Celtics fan, fills the “Book” with levels, pyramids and categories, remindful of Cosmo Kramer’s interior design in his Manhattan apartment.

The most fascinating debate in the book is the selection of the top 96 players in NBA history. Michael Jordan as number one should hardly surprise anyone, although defining Jordan the all-time, forever pick isn’t defensible. Who’s to know there’s not some kid on the horizon, born already, who will someday surpass Jordan’s numbers and his “pathological competitiveness, command of the room and mystique.” Never say never, always or forever.

Anyway, after Jordan, the rest of Simmons’ top 10 in order is Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain, Tim Duncan, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Hakeen Olajuwon. Duncan is the only active player on the list, but Kobe (15)  and LeBron (20) are coming.

1986 Celtics Voted Best Team
The Sports Guys nod to the 86 Celtics as the greatest team in NBA history smacks of homerism. First of all, Simmons eliminates or severely penalizes all teams before 1976, citing the following reasons:

  • The pre-1960 teams (not enough black players, defense and quality shooting)
  • The 70-76 teams (because of the expansion ABA/double whammy…)
  • The pre-70s teams (because I’ve seen the tapes and you can’t tell with a straight face that the 65 Celtics or 67 Sixers wouldn’t haven gotten swept by the 01 Lakers by 25 points a game.)

The No 1 team vote for Larry Bird, right, and the 86 Celtics was based in part on Boston’s remarkable home winning streak, 50-1 that season, 55 straight over two years, 40 of the 55 wins by double digits. “You have a better chance of seeing another multi-permed NBA coaching staff than seeing another NBA team win 55 straight games in the luxury box era,” said Simmons. “No way it will happen.”

The hair reference refers to Celtics assistant coaches Jimmy Rodgers and Chris Ford, who sported ghastly perms that season. Simmons footnoted that “Ford even threw in a porn mustache and variety of 80s suits that looked like they came from the Philip Michael Thomas estate sale.”

BTW, the 01 Lakers are #5 on the all-time team Book of Basketball list, behind the second-ranked 96 Bulls, third-ranked 87 Lakers, and fourth-ranked 89 Pistons.

The best part of “The Book of Basketball” is the wacky style and creative, rambling prose of the Sports Guy. For instance, this is how he describes Allen Iverson, #29 on the all-time list.

“…..one of the most fascinating, complex athletes of my lifetime: a legendary partier and devoted family man; a loyal teammate who shot too much; a featherweight who carried himself like a heavyweight; an intimidating competitor who was always the smallest guy on the court; an ex-con with a shady entourage who also ranked among the most intuitive, self-aware, articulate superstars in any sport. If I could pick any modern athlete to spend a week with in his prime for a magazine feature, I would pick Allen Iverson. In a heartbeat.”

Hmmm, that’s interesting. The Answer. Who knew.

Lastly, you can’t do the book justice without reading the footnotes, like this one on Bob Cousy, another former Holy Cross Crusader.

“Cooz had a phenomenal French/New York accent. He couldn’t pronounce R, but that didn’t stop him from announcing Celtics games for two solid decades, leading to him calling Rodney Rogers “Wodd-ney” in 2002.”

And of course Rick Robey was Wick Wobey.


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