Summer Reading: New Golden Age of Basketball Books?
With summer upon us, we here at The Painted Area thought it might be a good time to cobble together a reading list of basketball books.
In doing so, what struck us more than anything is that it seems like we might be in the middle of a Golden Age of basketball books - we came up with no less than 26 hoop books which have been published since 2004 alone that we've either read or are interested in reading.
It remains to be seen if there are enough truly memorable books to make this period as fertile as, say, 1972-76, when enduring classics such as David Wolf's Foul!: The Connie Hawkins Story, Bill Bradley's Life on the Run, Rick Telander's Heaven Is A Playground and Phil Jackson's Maverick (a must read to get a more unvarnished, acid-tinged perspective on the Zenmaster before he was a superstar coach) were all published, plus autobiographies from Rick Barry (Confessions of a Basketball Gypsy) and Wilt Chamberlain (Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door). But all I know is that my reading list keeps growing much faster than my slivers of personal reading time allow.
Without further ado, here are our 26 Intriguing Hoop Books published since 2004:
Seven Seconds Or Less, Jack McCallum (2006)
This one's received plenty of (largely positive) publicity, and was thoroughly covered on True Hoop, so you probably already know that longtime SI NBA writer McCallum followed the Phoenix Suns around for the 2005-06 season, and that this book is every bit as much worth reading as the one produced from the last time he followed a team around for year: Unfinished Business, which chronicled the Boston Celtics near the end of the Bird era in 1990-91.
• Simon & Schuster: Excerpt
• True Hoop: Seven Seconds or Less in About 20 Minutes
The Show, Roland Lazenby (2005)
A definitive oral history of the Los Angeles Lakers by a prolific author of quality basketball books. True Hoop ran a compilation of short excerpts and also another juicy bit delving into the origins of why Phil Jackson and Jerry West don't get along.
• LakerNoise: Excerpt
Red Hot and Rollin', edited by Matt Love (2007)
Blazermania, baby. As the subtitle says, it's a retrospective of the Portland Trail Blazers 1976-77 NBA Championship Season, an anthology which seems by all accounts to capture the magic countercultural symbiotic relationship between team and fans which swept through the state of Oregon in 1977.
• ESPN.com: Blaze of Glory (with links to excerpts)
• Powells.com: Guest blogger Matt Love
The Last Season, Phil Jackson (2004)
[Note: I mistakenly forgot to include this one when I originally posted.]
Sure, the quality of the writing is closer to Dennis Rodman than Ernest Hemingway, but the candor that Phil displayed was truly staggering. I'm still somewhat shocked that he is back coaching - and coaching Kobe no less - after The Last Season. I was certain he was retired for good after seemingly shattering the sanctity of player-coach confidentiality.
• SI.com: Extended excerpt
Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, Mark Kriegel (2007)
Maravich, Wayne Federman and Marshall Terrill (2006)
Dueling Pistol Pete bios which came out within months of one another. Kriegel wrote a highly regarded bio of Joe Namath a couple years ago, and he's apparently working his way through iconoclastic athletes of the late '60s/early '70s, as he's now tackled Pistol Pete.
Federman is actually a comedian by day (I respect him greatly for having credits on both Larry Sanders and Curb Your Enthusiasm) who apparently started working with Terrill in 2000 on their tome, which was done in concert with Pistol's widow, Jackie, who provided lots of access.
As Bill Simmons noted in ESPN Magazine, the books are fairly complementary and each has something to offer:
- Pistol had an impact on me. And that's what the two Maravich books are about -- not his legacy as much as his impact. Kriegel delivers a lyrical look at Pistol's life that is well-written and weighty. It's a little full of itself, but big-picture biographies work only when they're written that way. I really liked it. The Federman/Terrill effort isn't crafted as well, but it examines Maravich's life more comprehensively (better research, better detail, tons of pictures). I liked it, too.
It comes down to what you're looking for in a Maravich book. For instance, I couldn't wait to relive Pistol's stint with the Celtics, which Kriegel glossed over and Federman/Terrill recounted in more detail. Any Maravich junkie should read both, but the casual fan curious about Pistol's mystique might be better off with the Kriegel book.
• True Hoop: Mark Kriegel on Pistol
WILT AND RUSS
Wilt: Larger Than Life, Robert Cherry (2004)
Wilt, 1962, Gary Pomerantz (2005)
Two Wilt Chamberlain books, both very well-reviewed, yet it seems like the Pomerantz book (which is centered around the night Wilt scored 100) got all the hype while the Cherry book (a fuller biography) gets slept on a bit.
• Hoops Hype: Wilt: Larger Than Life excerpt
• Hoops Hype: Wilt, 1962 excerpt
The Rivalry, John Taylor (2005)
Out of the books on this list that I have yet to read, this is probably no. 1 in my queue. It's the story of the Chamberlain-Russell rivalry, while also more widely depicting that era of the NBA, in the context of the civil rights era.
• NPR: Excerpt
Cousy, Bill Reynolds (2005)
A thorough bio of one of the NBA's first superstars by this Providence Journal columnist who is also known for writing Fall River Dreams.
• Simon & Schuster: Excerpt
Let Me Tell You A Story, John Feinstein and Red Auerbach (2004)
I have to admit that I'm not a big Feinstein guy, but this makes the list because it's just about as bankable a basketball topic as you can ask for: sit around with Red, listen to his endless trove of stories, and relay them to the world.
As far as Feinstein, I mean, I respect Season on the Brink and all (as well as the underrated A Season Inside), but I think his work has gotten a bit tired as he's continued to pump books out, and he was never the greatest writer to begin with.
When I was researching whether his 2006 book The Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four was worth reading, I seemed to find several reviews with this sentiment, so I passed.
• NPR: Excerpt
When Nothing Else Matters, Michael Leahy (2004)
Michael Leahy was essentially the Michael Jordan beat reporter for the Washington Post when MJ was a Wizards player. I have not yet read this book, but judging by the exceptional, thorough pieces from Leahy which periodically ran in the Washington Post Magazine while Mike was in D.C., I'm hoping that I'll find this worthy of being the third installment of the essential Jordan trilogy, along with The Jordan Rules (Sam Smith, 1991) and Playing for Keeps (David Halberstam, 1999).
I respect Leahy for risking the wrath of MJ by portraying him fully as a human being, flaws and all (as distant and aloof from his Wiz teammates as Barry Bonds is from his, really). Sam Smith's the only other writer I've seen who wasn't afraid to do that (even the Halberstam book, for all its rich detail, was an exercise in hagiography).
• Simon & Schuster: Excerpt
Tip-Off: How The 1984 Draft Changed Basketball Forever, Filip Bondy (2007)
This is about Mssrs. Olajuwon, Barkley, Stockton, Perkins, and - of course - Bowie in addition to MJ, but hey, Mike's on the cover and he was the primary agent in changing basketball forever, so I threw it in this subsection.
• NY Daily News: Excerpt
Can I Keep My Jersey, Paul Shirley (2007)
Everybody's favorite 12th man chronicles 11 Teams, 5 Countries, And 4 Years In His Life As A Basketball Vagabond.
• NPR: Excerpt
Man In The Middle, John Amaechi (2007)
This Brit of course made waves by becoming the first NBA player to publicly come out as a gay man. Beyond all of the hullabaloo, I'd always found Amaechi to be a thoughtful cat during his playing days, so I'd have been interested in his take on life in the NBA even without the headline-making stuff.
• ESPN The Magazine: Excerpt
• Slate: Review by Kevin Arnovitz
Spinning The Globe, Ben Green (2005)
Cue up "Sweet Georgia Brown" and dig into this exhaustive history of the Harlem Globetrotters.
• HarperCollins: Excerpt
Tricksters In The Madhouse: Lakers vs. Globetrotters, 1948, John Christgau (2004)
The tale of a fascinating, forgotten game prior to the integration of the NBA, when the Harlem Globetrotters were more than just clown princes of basketball - they were elite players. In Feb., 1948, they matched up against George Mikan's (all-white) Minneapolis Lakers for a thriller at the old Chicago Stadium (aka "The Madhouse on Madison"). I won't tell you who won.
• Univ. of Nebraska Press: About/Excerpt
YAO MING MANIA
Yao: My Life in Two Worlds, Yao Ming and Ric Bucher (2004)
A more interesting read than the standard jock autobio. It feels like Bucher (whose reportorial skills are underutilized in ESPN Mag, imho) did a nice job of mining material from the big man. I was surprised at how open Yao was in places, such as when he expresses a modicum of disdain for the demands and expectations from so-called "ABCs" (i.e. American-born Chinese); Yao imparts that he's the product of a different cultural experience.
• NBA.com: Excerpt
Operation Yao Ming, Brook Larmer (2005)
The chronicle of the making of Yao Ming -- all the way back to what the author claims was some genetically motivated matchmaking by the Chinese authorities....
• TIMEasia: Excerpt
CAROLINA V. DUKE
To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever, Will Blythe (2006)
Any book with cover art depicting Coach K as a rat has gotta be good, doesn't it? The life and times of an inveterate Tar Heel and his hatred of all things Dook.
• Inside Carolina: Five excerpts
Blue Blood, Art Chansky (2005)
A more straightforward depiction of the greatest rivalry in American sports. Chansky is a Tar Heel, so I guess as an offering of equal time to Dukies, here's an abundance of heartwarming Coach K books to serve as palliatives if necessary.
• SI.com: Excerpt
NYC-AREA HIGH SCHOOL 2003-04
The Miracle of St. Anthony, Adrian Wojnarowski (2005)
The standout Yahoo! columnist spent a season with legendary coach Bob Hurley's high school team in Jersey City.
• Penguin Group: Excerpt
The Jump, Ian O'Connor (2005)
I was reluctant to add this to the list, and I still don't know if I'll ever be able to read it, just because I sort of recoil at the overrated Sebastian Telfair - the most overhyped player in a generation (I mean, the guy was the third-best player in the U.S. at his *position* (Paul, Livingston) as a H.S. senior, yet he was treated like another LeBron).
But the plaudits were too strong for this chronicle of Telfair's senior season - as he became tangled in the pressures and business of making the high-school-to-pros jump - so I had to relent and show respect for O'Connor's work.
• Inside Hoops: Excerpt
Eagle Blue, Michael D'Orso (2006)
We could probably do another post on how many compelling high-school hoop books have come out in the last 15-or-so years, but we'll spare you. This is the story of a team from a village in Arctic Alaska.
• Bloomsbury: Excerpt
Runnin' Rebel, Jerry Tarkanian and Dan Wetzel (2005)
You know, I'm probably going to go to hell for choosing this over one of the endless array of John Wooden books that is sure to make me a better person, but man, tales from Tark the Shark sure sounds like more fun, doesn't it? And I enjoy the work of Sole Influence author Wetzel, including his piece last year reminding us that a lot of the moralizing from Wooden is a bit rich considering he bought his players just like every other major-college team does....
The Inside Game: Race, Power and Politics in the NBA, Wayne Embry with Mary Schmitt Boyer (2004)
Under-the-radar and quite candid account of life in the front office from the well-respected Embry, the first African-American to become an NBA GM, who most recently held down the fort in Toronto while the Raps were transitioning from Rob Babcock to Bryan Colangelo. Made headlines for Embry's assertion that Don Nelson told him blacks were "not qualified" to be NBA head coaches.
• Hoops Hype: Excerpt
Whew. OK, after that roll call of 26, I'd like to add three more upcoming basketball books that intrigue me.
Mr. Basketball: George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers, and the Birth of the NBA, Michael Schumacher (Oct. 2007)
To clarify, this was not written by the Formula 1 uber-legend. Rather, it's an author who has written bios on Allen Ginsberg, Eric Clapton and Francis Ford Coppola. I'm looking forward to it hopefully, as I think that a good George Mikan bio is absent from the NBA literary oeuvre currently.
The Franchise: LeBron James and the Remaking of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst (Oct. 2007)
Man, the Akron Beacon Journal sure is fortunate to have such a dynamic NBA duo in the legend Pluto (Loose Balls, Tall Tales, Forty-Eight Minutes) and the upstart Windhorst, one of the top beat reporters in the league. It's like when the Spurs already had The Admiral and added Timmy... when NBC already had Carson and added Letterman... when The View already had Barbara Walters and added Rosie. OK, maybe not, but I'm still looking forward to their take on the early LeBron era.
Sports Illustrated: The Basketball Book, Rob Fleder
Another in the series of handsome, well-illustrated coffee-table books devoted to a sport, following in the footsteps of The Baseball Book and The Football Book.
And before we go, two more books that I hope we get at some point.
A Tim Duncan autobiography
I know, I know, sounds scintillating at first blush ("So then, I turned on my man, faced up, sized up the situation and hit a bank shot"...), but I hope at some point, perhaps after he retires, that Timmy opens up a little and lets us into his head.
I just always go back to this 1999 piece from the old Sport magazine which True Hoop unearthed -- The Psychoanalysis of Tim Duncan, by Tim Duncan -- as evidence that there's a fascinating guy underneath the vanilla facade, and I think people might be somewhat blown away if he actually let us in.
Too Much Rod Benson
The D-Leaguer is quite simply the most entertaining writer playing professional basketball today.
OK, I know there are even more recent hoop books out there - we had to (mercifully) cut it off at some point. I'm really going to try to make a point of plowing through a bunch of the above books which I haven't yet read in the next few months, and I'll report back with picks and pans along the way.
In the meantime, feel free to let us know your opinions in the comments - what are some of your favorites on this list? Which have no business being here? Which recent hoop books that we omitted should be here?
Finally, we just wanted to acknowledge a few pieces which have given us inspiration and tips:
- Eric Neel, ESPN.com: Sacred Hoop Books
- Henry Abbott, True Hoop: Top Ten Basketball Books of All Time
- Adam Beechen, Suns.com: Summer Reading List
- Celtics.com: Celtics-related books
And we'd also like to point back to a couple lil' ol' basketball book-related posts that we've done here, in case you're interested:
- Basketball Book Buying Spree
- David Halberstam's NBA Books
Happy hoop reading!