Thursday, December 21, 2006

Basketball Book Buying Spree

Bobby Legend, circa 1975
Bob "I am the G.O.A.T." Ryan, circa 1975.

Merry Christmas to me. I recently did something that I've been meaning to do for quite some time - I went to an online used book store (I chose Alibris; Abe Books is another good one) and went on a book-buying spree to expand my basketball library with some older/out-of-print selections.

A couple things sparked my binge:
1. I was flying out of the Milwaukee airport recently, had a little extra time and saw a sign in the distance for "Renaissance Books", walked in and...to my shock and delight, it was a sizable used book store (I later read that it had 60,000 volumes). In an airport! What a treat! Apparently, it's a branch of a huge downtown used book store, and I was so thrilled to find it that I rewarded them with a purchase, as I bought Red Auerbach: An Autobiography (1977) in hardcover.

2. When I got home and did a little online research about the Red book, I ran into this outstanding resource on Celtics.com: an exhaustive reference list of Celtics-related books over the years. As I skimmed the list, I must have found, conservatively, 20 titles which intrigued me. So it was time. And I was off. Here are the 15 books from Alibris that I ended up adding to my collection:

Celtics Pride: The Rebuilding of Boston's World Championship Basketball Team, Bob Ryan (1975)
I got that beauty-of-a-photo above from the back cover of this one. It's the story of how the C's recovered from Bill Russell's retirement (which was also the time Ryan took over as the beat reporter for the Globe, at age 23) and a couple down years to return to championship glory in 1974. I'm kind of interested to read Bobby Legend in his early days.

Boston Celtics: The History, Legends, and Images of America's Most Celebrated Team, Bob Ryan (1990)
A basic compendium of Celtics history. I figured that if the words were by Ryan, it was worth getting. And I figure that if you have C's history covered through, say, 1988, you pretty much have all of the glory covered, don't you think? I love The (M.F.) Truth, but beyond Larry's Game 5 vs. Indiana in '91, Rick Pitino's first game and the big playoff comeback vs. the Nets, there hasn't been too much to add in the intervening period....

Mr. Clutch: The Jerry West Story, Jerry West (1969)
One of the things that inspired me to think about building out my basketball library was this 2002 piece on ESPN.com by Eric Neel: "Sacred Hoops Books". The first paragraph reads, "In the summer of 1976, I carried a paperback copy of "Mr Clutch: The Jerry West Story" everywhere I went. I read it three times. It was a natural part of my basketball devotion, no different than my ball or my shoes or listening to Laker games on the radio." So I've always had this book in the back of my mind - something of a symbolic purchase although The Logo is of course a worthy subject.

The Last Loud Roar, Bob Cousy with Edward Linn (1964)
I bought this thinking it was a standard Cousy autobio, but it looks like it might be more interesting than that, as it focuses on the last two days of the Cooz's Celtic career in great detail, including a breakdown at Game 6 of the 1963 Finals, when Cooz famously dribbled out the clock on the C's fifth straight championship. It also appears to include reflections upon his career and life in the pros in general.

Keepin' It Real: A Turbulent Season at the Crossroads With the NBA, Larry Platt (1999)
Platt is a perceptive Philly writer who wrote the strangely underrated Allen Iverson bio, Only the Strong Survive, and I've been meaning to pick up Keepin' It Real ever since I read that one. He followed around five players at different stages of their careers - Charles Barkley, Matt Maloney, Jerry Stackhouse, Chris Webber and Vernon Maxwell - for the 1997-98 season.

Unstoppable: the Story of George Mikan, the First NBA Superstar, George Mikan with Joe Oberle (1997)
Living the Dream: My Life and Basketball, Hakeem Olajuwon with Peter Knobler (1995)
Part of my goal is to collect some combination of bio/autobio for each of the 30 or so most notable players in NBA history. Thus would explain these two purchases, additions to the many bios I already own. I find it interesting that the centers - Russell, Kareem, Wilt, even Shaq and Yao to a certain extent - have written some of the most genuinely interesting autobios - usually a fairly banal genre - in the sport.

I'm not expecting the Hakeem book to be of that caliber, but Dream's a Top 25-or-so guy and was a beautiful player to watch at his peak, and it was sitting there for $2.95 (as many of these were - generally in VG condition), so why not.

Season of the 76ers: the Story of Wilt Chamberlain and the 1967 NBA Champion Philadelphia 76ers, Wayne Lynch (2002)
Show Time: Inside the Lakers' Breakthrough Season, Pat Riley (1988)
The Franchise: Building a Winner With the World Champion Detroit Pistons, Basketball's Bad Boys, Cameron Stauth (1990)
In the Year of the Bull: Zen, Air and the Pursuit of Sacred and Profane Hoops, Rick Telander (1996)
Blood on the Horns: the Long, Strange Ride of Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, Roland Lazenby (1998)
Another part of my goal is to collect the stories of the most notable teams of NBA history. Thus would explain these purchases.

Show Time covers the 1986-87 season, which I consider to be the best Laker team ever. Strange that "co-writer" Byron Laursen (yeah, like Riles was pounding this out on WordPerfect back in the day) didn't get a actual credit beyond a note on the back book jacket.

The Franchise is one I hadn't heard of before. It's the 1988-89 Pistons - god, I hated that team, but the book sounds interesting: it appears to go into excruciating behind-the-scenes detail, with a focus on/access to GM Jack McCloskey.

In the Year of the Bull is the 1995-96 Bulls. The SI excerpt I read back in the day seemed to have too much MJ worship to be of interest me at the time (esp. after Sam Smith had done such a strong job of portraying MJ as a human being), but hey, I've softened over time, I guess - the club won 72 freaking games, why not worship the guy a little.

Shame on me for not getting Blood on the Horns, about the '97-98 Bulls, by "Rockin" Roland Lazenby, until now. I enjoyed the SI excerpt of this one (priceless brutal vignettes of MJ and Pip tormenting J Krause) and I read the Halberstam and I guess I was all '97-98 Bulled out. My bad.

I should also note that I was really tempted to buy The Pivotal Season b/c I wanted a book about the '71-72 Lakers, but I just couldn't bring myself to reward Charley "LeBron James will never be more than an average player" Rosen. Mr. Lazenby, could you please write the definitive '71-72 Lakers book? That team is, IMO, slightly overrated b/c the league was diluted by ABA defections at that time, but I'm basing that on a paper evaluation, as I was too young to have seen them. Still, they won 69 and had interesting characters at interesting pts in their respective careers, so they're worthy of the treatment.

And yes, I already own The Last Banner by Peter May ('85-86 Celtics) and Dynasty's End by Thomas Whalen (about the '68-69 Celtics - which I think just might be the best team story in league history), among others.

Skyline: One Season, One Team, One City, Tim Keown (1994)
When ESPN Mag writer Keown was an SF Chron scribe, he followed around an Oakland high school team for a year. I've heard good things about this one, seems like it's worthy of joining the high school hoops canon, which is of course headed up by the must-read The Last Shot.

Pro Basketball Prospectus: 2003 edition, John Hollinger (2003)
Filling out my collection of season annuals from Professor Hollinger, which he wrote from 2002-03 to 2005-06 (now carried online on ESPN.com). I dunno, I guess life got busy in '03, so I was missing this one.

Manute: A Center in Two Worlds, Leigh Montville (1993)
I've never been a huge Montville fan, which is why I guess I've held off on buying this one, though I've heard it's an excellent portrait of one of the most unique people to ever play in the league. An overdue addition to my collection.

And there you have it. All that, for less than $100 total (though the shipping ran about 40-50 bucks b/c these were coming from multiple sources). I've got some reading to do.

One last shout-out for this one:
Bill Walton: On the Road with the Portland Trail Blazers, Jack Scott (1978)
Another book that I didn't realize existed but seems to have a ton of potential: Walton, at the height of his wacked-out powers, written by wacked-out '60s "athlete activist" Jack Scott. I found this on the shelves of Powell's Books on a recent visit to Portland, and I'm adding this mainly to have an excuse to point out that Powell's is not only one of my favorite places on Earth, but also hands-down the best bookstore in the U.S., and there will be absolutely no argument about this.

Strangely, Powell's was also the scene of one of the moments I regret most as a basketball fan. I was browsing mild-manneredly at the magazine stand one day when I noticed that then-Blazers asst Bill Musselman was browsing just a few feet away from me. I really wanted to tell Muss that I thought his 1987-88 Albany Patroons team (48-6 with Micheal Ray Richardson, Sidney Lowe, Scotty Brooks, Tony Campbell, D-III legend Derrick Rowland and the immortal Eric Fernsten) was the greatest CBA team of all-time, and a joy to watch. But I choked, and decided not to bother him. He passed away of something called amyloidosis a couple months after (in the middle of Blazers' 2000 playoff run, actually, says Wikipedia). I wish I had spoke up. Alas.

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