Thursday, March 13, 2008

Bibliotech: Basketball

Thanks to the good folks at Ballhype for inviting us to participate in their Bibliotech series on sports books. We contributed a piece on five upcoming 2008 sports books that we're looking forward to, and five more sports-book topics that we'd like to see.

As a complement to that article, back here on the roundball terra firma of The Painted Area, we offer a sampling on ten basketball books that we'd like to see, starting with the one hoop topic that was part of our Ballhype story:

Larry, Magic and David
There aren't really any definitive biographies of Larry Bird or Magic Johnson out there. Of course, the two are inextricably entwined, so why not combine them into one, and throw in a profile of David Stern to boot, and make it a full-scale look at the NBA's rise from the ashes, focused on the time period between the players' storybook 1979 college seasons and the ultimate triumph for all parties at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. A no-brainer.

The Steve Kerr Memoirs
Obviously, this one would have to wait a little bit, until Kerr's tour of duty as the Phoenix Suns GM is over (which may be sooner rather than later after the Shaq trade, of course).

But the guy is like the Forrest Gump of basketball, an unrecruited kid out of Pacific Palisades who suffered the tragedy of his father being assassinated in Beirut when he was a freshman at Arizona. Steve also recovered from a blown-out knee to experience a storybook career at Arizona which climaxed in a Final Four run.

Then, in the pros, he was everywhere over the course of an improbable 15-year career. He was in Orlando during Shaq's rookie year. The heart of his career was of course in Chicago during the second threepeat, highlighted by his championship-winning shot in 1997. For good measure, he pocketed two more rings with the Spurs, finishing his career in style, coming out of nowhere off the bench as a washed-up 37-year-old with a staggering fourth-quarter shooting display that finished off the Mavs in Western Conference Finals.

In terms of a book, the quality of his observations along the way are as least as important as the measure of his experiences. He was always an accommodating go-to guy for the media during his playing days, and immediately became one of the top TV analysts when he took his seat next to Marv.

On top of all that, the crazy thing is that, during Kerr's stint as an analyst for Yahoo! Sports, we learned that the dude can really write. His Yahoo! stuff wasn't ghosted, and one would imagine his book wouldn't need to be, either.

On the Road with Brent Barry
Whether you think they're deathly boring or paragons of team basketball, the San Antonio Spurs are four-time champions and I really feel like we need a book which somehow captures an element of this team for the historical record, sales potential be damned.

In our piece on the new golden age of basketball books last summer, we noted that this 1999 piece from the old Sport magazine -- The Psychoanalysis of Tim Duncan, by Tim Duncan -- offered evidence that there's a fascinating guy underneath the vanilla facade of the Spurs superstar, and that people might be somewhat blown away if he actually let us in.

Considering that that might be unlikely, I'm going to suggest another approach now that Brent Barry is back in San Antonio. I'd be more than satisfied with a season diary with Bones. He's always been full of wit and wisdom as a media go-to guy like Kerr. I'm sure he'd have plenty of observations on life in the craziness that is the modern league, and I really think he'd offer an insightful window into the champion Spurs, which really is an interesting -- and unorthodox, by NBA standard -- collection of characters in terms of both coach and players.

2 S's, 2 L's: The Sam Cassell Story
A guilty pleasure. Turn on the tape recorder, let the man go with 15 seasons full of stories, it writes itself. I find that any newspaper story full of Sam Cassell quotes brightens my day. And the beauty is that you never really know what's going to come out.

My favorite Sam quote from this year was when someone asked something about whether the Clippers were in a hole that they weren't going to be able to get out of, and his response was something to the effect of: "A hole? A hole is something in Chris Kaman's head." True dat.

Around the World with Rod Benson
I think that all of us in this here blog game are rooting for Yahoo! blogger Benson to make it in the league, and I'm certainly a card-carrying member of the Boom Tho! movement.

But that said, from a selfish standpoint, I wouldn't mind if Benson did a stint in Spain or Italy before sticking in the league. He has a great sense of his surroundings, and I think a Boom Tho! book on living and hooping around the world would be a fun ride -- dude just has so much more joie de vivre than sulky smarter-than-thou Paul Shirley.

The 1993 Playoffs
The absolute pinnacle of an NBA golden era, with Jordan, Barkley, Ewing, Olajuwon, Pippen all near their primes and competing in quite possibly the greatest NBA Playoffs ever.

Here are some of the things that happened in the 1993 playoffs:
- Barkley and the Suns, with the best record in the league, lose their first two games at home, before rallying to hold off the 8-seed Lakers, with their valiant championship veterans, in OT in a decisive Game 5.
- Reggie Lewis collapses on court in the Celtics-Hornets series, his last moments as a player, and a scary precursor to tragedy in the summer.
- Alonzo Mourning closes out that series with a wild buzzer-beater.
- Three other first-round series go the full five games.
- In the second round, MJ torments the Cavs anew by finishing off a sweep with The Shot II, and Charles ends the Suns-Spurs series with a buzzer-beater of his own. Meanwhile, the Sonics-Rockets series goes to a Game 7 OT.
- In the conference finals, the Bulls beat the Knicks 4-2 in one of the most compelling series ever played, and the Suns beat the Sonics in seven as, um, the Chuckster shoots a LOT of free throws in Game 7.
- The whole thing culminates with one of the most appealing NBA Finals ever: Air Jordan vs the Round Mound of Rebound, a very good series that ends on John Paxson's championship-winning three.

At the heart of this whole thing is Money. Black Cat. MJ. 1993 is my favorite time in the Jordan narrative because it's the one time in the championship era when he had to rally after being counted out. Barkley had won the MVP over him and the consensus at the start of the postseason was that New York and Phoenix would meet in the Finals.

When the Knicks took a 2-0 lead, most thought Chicago was done, esp. after the story about MJ's all-night Atlantic City journey broke. Of course, he rallied and answered the call, with Game 5 in the Garden - the "Charles Smith game" - being the decisive contest in the series.

A whole book could probably be written on that Bulls-Knicks series -- I don't know that any series has ever had that many storylines: the teams were bitter rivals meeting the playoffs for the third straight series; coaching titans Riley and Jackson were sniping in the press; there was the Starks dunk, the Charles Smith sequence, Pippen fighting back from the brutish play against him to close out the series in Game 6. And again, most of all there was Michael Jordan, in one of the great moments of his career, leading his team back before the craziness of it all drove him to a brief exile.

The Dream Team
This one seemed like as much of a no-brainer as the Larry/Magic/David book: a look back at the greatest basketball team that's ever been assembled, the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, with behind-the-scenes insight into the squad from conception to fulfillment in Barcelona.

However, after a little search... well, I'll be damned as I didn't realize that one already exists -- an out-of-print book called Golden Boys, by Cameron Stauth, who also wrote an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at the Bad Boy Pistons called The Franchise.

I need to work the out-of-print wires to check out Golden Boys, as I wonder if Stauth's Pistons connections gave him a direct or indirect pipeline to coach Chuck Daly. Anyone out there read this one?

Still doesn't mean this topic couldn't use a fresh take -- seems like it's right in Jack McCallum's wheelhouse, as that era was his prime as SI's NBA ace.

The UCLA Dynasty
Here's another one that I think could stand for a fresh take. Just seems like tremendous subject matter, with the sweep of time of UCLA's championship era from 1964-75, anchored by three utterly compelling, contrasting characters: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the intellectual giant who dominated the college game from 1967-69 as Lew Alcindor; Bill Walton, the crazy-ass Deadhead who led UCLA to 88 straight wins in the 70s; and of course, John Wooden, the pious Midwestern wizard at the heart of it all.

The definitive take so far is The Wizard of Westwood, a 1973 book by Dwight Chapin and Jeff Prugh. Obviously, that doesn't quite cover the entire UCLA era, and it's been 35 years, but I would satisfied simply with a re-release of the out-of-print Chapin/Prugh book.

1985 in the Big East
Again I'm culling from HBO documentaries of recent years, but the 1984-85 college basketball season in the Big East is just tailor-made for a book, focusing on the three teams which made the Final Four: Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova.

Of course, the whole thing builds up to one of the classic stories in American sports: the Cinderella run of the Villanova Wildcats, and the perfect game they pitched in the national championship game, with the heavily favored Georgetown Hoyas in the villain's role.

So many compelling characters, with John Thompson, the dictatorial Georgetown father figure who was one of the most polarizing sports figures of the 80s; Gary McLain, the 'Nova floor leader who played the national semifinal while high on cocaine; and a whole fleet of oddballs on that lovable band of Johnnies: Louie Carnesecca, with his garish sweaters and recruiting budget comprised of subway tokens; Chris Mullin, the Brooklyn gym rat who seemed an unlikely All-American; streetwise Mark Jackson; Walter Berry, with his unorthodox array of lefty moves in the post. There's a good tale to be spun here.

Hollinger and Harvey
This one is more of a format plea than a content request. Two of my favorite NBA annuals are John Hollinger's player-and-team preview compendium, the artist formerly known as Pro Basketball Forecast, and Harvey Pollack's NBA Statistical Yearbook, that exhaustive and slightly bizarre annual chock full of fascinating NBA numbers and tidbits.

Still love Hollinger's work as part of ESPN's preview coverage. I wish it were ideally still available as a book, but that's unlikely, so I'd settle for a PDF -- I just want to be able to access all the material in one place.

Harvey's book *is* available as a downloadable PDF through the Sixers site, but I'm sorry, I want it all. I really miss having that damn thing in convenient book form, as an eternal record. It's just not the same to call it up on my laptop.


At 1:47 PM, Anonymous JG said...

Are you suggesting that those 64 Suns free throw attempts weren't deserved?

The '93 Playoffs were tremendous--there were just so many improbable comebacks and unbelievable moments. And don't forget that Marvelous was still in his prime as well.

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At 11:35 PM, Blogger rsn said...

Coming from the 518, you should be ashamed to not have a Sam Perkins book on this list.

"The Big Smooth -- How one large black man and 11 short white dudes from Latham brought the NYS hoops championship to the Shaker High School Blue Bison (my alma mater)"

That's the stuff Pulitzers are made of.

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