2011-12 Basketball Books Overview
While we still don't know when or if we will get NBA basketball in 2011-12, basketball books are certainly not being locked out of the marketplace. We've unearthed more than a couple dozen books across NBA, NCAA, international and women's basketball in our admittedly exhaustive annual survey. It shapes up to be a pretty good season of hoop books overall, with solid depth and diversity in both the pro and college ranks. Let's get right to it, with the books broken up into subcategories to make things somewhat digestible.
The Dream Team: How Basketball's Greatest Team Came Together, Conquered the World, and Changed the Game Forever, by Jack McCallum (release date: July 10, 2012)
While there are several intriguing titles right here at the top, the combination of author and subject matter here makes The Dream Team my no-brainer choice for most anticipated basketball book of the season. McCallum has published great reads with Seven Seconds or Less, which followed the '05-06 Suns, and Unfinished Business, which followed the '90-91 Celtics. And of course, from the mid-'80s through the mid-'90s, McCallum was the definitive chronicler of the league as Sports Illustrated's national NBA writer. This one's right in his wheelhouse. Coming out with the team's 20th anniversary, just in time for the London Olympics. I can't wait.
Shaq Uncut: My Story, by Shaquille O'Neal and Jackie MacMullan (Nov. 15)
It's hard to imagine this one won't be an entertaining ride. Hall-of-Famer MacMullan has a gift for drawing out her subjects, as she did with Magic and Larry in their joint book When The Game Was Ours. And Shaq has no shortage of stories, such as the early one from the book unearthed by SLAM in which the Big Shakespeare claimed that President Obama was to blame for Rajon Rondo's late-season shooting slump.
West by West: My Charmed, Tormented Life, by Jerry West and Jonathan Coleman (released Oct. 19)
This is the third straight year this one has appeared in our basketball books preview, and it's finally been released. The delay appears to be due to West apparently pouring his entire soul into the book. It certainly appears to be an uncommon athlete bio - the LA Times calls it "brutally candid" - as West reveals a history of physical abuse as a child and clinical depression as an adult, in addition to his many experiences as the definitive Laker, both on the court and in the front office. Looks like a riveting read.
• Jerry West: The Powells.com Interview
• A searing, searching autobiography (San Jose Mercury-News)
Brave Dragons: A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing, by Jim Yardley (Feb. 14)
This one is probably my sleeper hoop book of the year. Yardley is a Pulitzer Prize winner who was formerly the Beijing bureau chief for the New York Times. In this book, he follows the Shanxi Brave Dragons (the team which signed Stephon Marbury) and its American coach, longtime NBA vet Bob Weiss. Yardley already contributed a fascinating account of the Chinese public's ambivalent relationship with the Bayi Rockets, the team which brawled with the Georgetown Hoyas this summer, for Grantland.com. I'm particularly interested to learn how Weiss's signature magic tricks translated to a Chinese audience. Seriously, I'm hopeful that Brave Dragons can provide as fulfilling of a window into Chinese basketball culture as Pacific Rims did for Filipino hoops culture.
When the Garden Was Eden: Clyde, the Captain, Dollar Bill, and the Glory Days of the New York Knicks, by Harvey Araton (released Oct. 18)
As a longtime columnist for the New York Times, Araton is a proven commodity, so I'm expecting When The Garden Was Eden to be a professional work. The main question I'd ask is, Does the world really need yet another book about the early-'70s Knicks? Frazier, Reed, Bradley, DeBusschere, Jackson and Holzman all wrote at least one, in many cases multiple, books about their glory years in New York, and the glorious 1969-70 season has been well-covered in the likes of The City Game or Miracle on 33rd Street. I suppose enough time has passed that it's fair to get a fresh look at the entire era, but really, no other NBA champion has a higher ratio of books to rings than the early-'70s Knicks, and it's likely not close.
• Excerpt: The Parable of the Pearl (ESPN.com)
The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James, by Scott Raab (Nov. 15)
Raab, a jilted Cavs fan, brings the vitriol in his anti-LeBron screeds. Raab's crossed the line a little too far for my taste, but that's just one man's opinion, as he's tapped into a vein of post-Decision anger and hatred of LeBron which certainly exists, and is possibly even prevalent in Cleveland.
• Excerpt: Jew Over Miami (Esquire)
Joe Tait: It's Been a Real Ball, by Terry Pluto and Joe Tait (Nov. 4)
On a friendlier Cavs-related note, legendary NBA writer Pluto (Loose Balls, 48 Minutes, The Franchise) joins forces with Hall of Fame broadcaster Tait, whose distinctive voice called games on the radio for 39 of the Cavs' 41 seasons, before retiring this past April.
The Greatest NBA Teams, by Roland Lazenby (Nov. 15)
Veteran writer Lazenby - author of Blood on the Horns, The Show, and Jerry West, among many, many other NBA books - offers his take on the best teams of all time.
Pro Basketball Prospectus 2011-12, by Kevin Pelton and Bradford Doolittle (TBD)
Let's be optimistic and say that when the NBA lockout ends, Pelton and Doolittle will be two of the hardest-working men in NBA writing, in trying to turn around a season-preview book ASAP while trying to stay on top of what promises to be a frantic barrage of transactions. A new College Basketball Prospectus is right around the corner, as well. Both the NBA and NCAA versions of the Prospectus have quickly established themselves as essential season previews.
The Last Great Game: Duke vs. Kentucky and the 2.1 Seconds That Changed Basketball, by Gene Wojciechowski (Jan. 5)
I distinctly remember watching the legendary Duke-Kentucky 1992 East Regional Final and thinking that it was the greatest college game I'd ever seen before Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater. I'm not sure if it was the last great game, though I do think that the early-'90s were the end of college basketball's golden era. Players entering the draft early en masse was the turning point for me. Wojciechowski has a tough chore to surpass the bar set by Alexander Wolff's epic piece, "The Shot Heard Round The World", published in Sports Illustrated in 1992.
Beyond the Phog: Untold Stories from Kansas Basketball's Most Dominant Decade, by Jason King with Jesse Newell (released Oct. 17)
Yahoo!'s King tells Jayhawks tales from the years bridging the Roy Williams and Bill Self eras at one of college basketball's most storied programs.
• Multiple excerpts (KUSports.com)
Color Him Orange: The Jim Boeheim Story, by Scott Pitoniak (Nov. 1)
Pitoniak, a longtime columnist for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, pens the bio of a man who bleeds orange, Hall-of-Famer Jim Boeheim, who starred for Syracuse in the '60s and has been the school's hugely successful head coach since 1976.
Don't Put Me In, Coach: My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench, by Mark Titus (Mar. 6)
Titus made his name with his blog Club Trillion, and now delivers a book-length version of his life & times as an Ohio State benchwarmer. Titus can also currently be found writing for Grantland.
The Big Dance: The Story of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, by Barry Wilner & Ken Rappoport (Feb. 16)
Two veteran AP sportswriters offer a history of March Madness.
COLLEGE COFFEE TABLES
The College Basketball Book, by the Editors of Sports Illustrated (released Oct. 11)
Yet another in the series of handsome, richly illustrated sport-by-sport volumes from the editors of SI. Worthy of a spot in the library of any serious college hoops fan.
Wooden: Basketball & Beyond: The Official UCLA Retrospective, by Richard Hoffer (Nov. 1)
I got an opportunity to take a sneak peek at this one, and it's a beautiful collection of on- and off-court photographs spanning the entire dynastic John Wooden era at UCLA.
• John Wooden: Up close and personal in pictures (UCLA Today)
An Illustrated History of Duke Basketball: A Legacy of Achievement, by Bill Brill (Feb. 8)
An updated edition of this official Duke basketball history is the last work by Duke alum Brill, a longtime journalist who passed away in April.
COLLEGE OLD-SCHOOL HISTORY
ACC Basketball: The Story of the Rivalries, Traditions, and Scandals of the First Two Decades of the Atlantic Coast Conference, by J. Samuel Walker (Nov. 15)
Gotta love the passion of ACC hoops fans: J. Samuel Walker is a historian who normally writes about nuclear weapons/energy, but the man has enough love of the game to knock out a book on how the ACC cemented itself as a leading basketball conference from 1953 to 1972.
The Classic: How Everett Case and His Tournament Brought Big-Time Basketball to the South, by Bethany Bradsher (Nov. 11)
Speaking of Tobacco Road-related hoops history, Bradsher offers a history of The Dixie Classic, a prominent holiday tournament held in Raleigh from 1949 to 1960 which showcased the four big North Carolina schools (North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State, Wake Forest) and which was the brainchild of legendary N.C. State coach Everett Case.
• Sample: Introduction (Whitecaps Media)
• A Look Back at the Dixie Classic (Technician Online)
Blitz Kids: The Cinderella Story of the 1944 University of Utah National Championship Basketball Team, by Josh Ferrin and Tres Ferrin (Feb. 2)
Earlier this year, Alex Wolff and Michael Atchison wrote a story in Sports Illustrated which called this Utah team "The First Cinderella". Arnie Ferrin was the star of this team, and his son and grandson have teamed up to write a book celebrating these Utes.
Cowboy Up: Kenny Sailors, The Jump Shot and Wyoming's Championship Basketball History, by Ryan Thorburn (Sept. 5)
If we're getting a book on the 1944 NCAA champions, then why not the 1943 champs as well? Sailors was one of pioneers of the jump shot. A photo of him shooting in midair became iconic after appearing in LIFE magazine. The picture can be seen on the book's cover art, or at a web site called KennySailorsJumpShot.com.
• Kenny Sailors: Father of Basketball's Jump Shot
You Let Some Girl Beat You?: The Story of Ann Meyers Drysdale, by Ann Meyers Drysdale with Joni Ravenna (June 12)
The autobiography of one of the greatest female basketball players who's ever lived, one of the pioneers of the women's game, Ann Meyers Drysdale, who starred for UCLA, once tried out with the Indiana Pacers, and is now the president and general manager of the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury.
Inevitably, a few basketball books fall through the cracks of our previews written at the start of each season, as a handful that we weren't anticipating pop up on shelves both real and virtual. Here are a few additions to last year's list:
Basketball Junkie: A Memoir, by Chris Herren and Bill Reynolds (released May 10)
In 1994, Reynolds wrote the memorable Fall River Dreams, about a Massachusetts high-school team whose star was Herren, a McDonald's All-American guard. Almost two decades later, Herren, who never panned out in the NBA, has collaborated with Reynolds on a memoir detailing his struggles with drug addiction and recovery. Herren's story will also be told as an ESPN Films documentary called Unguarded, which airs next Tuesday.
• Excerpt (SLAM)
Dr Jack on Winning Basketball, by Dr. Jack Ramsay and Neal Vahle (released March 1)
The product description says, "Dr. Jack on Winning Basketball will take fans on a 55-year journey as Jack recounts an endless array of basketall tales, legends and lore." Don't need much more than that to sell me on a product by the Hall-of-Fame coach and first-rate broadcast analyst.
• Excerpt: How Basketball Saved My Life (ESPN.com)
Mavericks Stampede: Dirk Leads Dallas to the 2011 NBA Championship, by Rob Mahoney (released June 17)
A little TrueHoop Network love, as Rob Mahoney of the Mavericks blog The Two Man Game knocked out a book on the Mavs' title run. Mahoney is one of the best and sharpest young basketball writers out there; his work can also be found on NYTimes.com, NBCSports.com, and about 47 other outlets.
Perfect: Bob Knight and Indiana's 2-Year Quest, by Bob Hammel (released March 24)
This is an e-book-only release which reprinted the books Knight with the Hoosiers (1975) and All The Way (1976) in one electronic volume. Perfect tracks the heyday of Indiana basketball, as the Hoosiers went 31-1 in '74-75, followed up by the last undefeated season in college basketball, a 32-0 run in '75-76. Hammel has been close to Knight for many years (he was the ghostwriter of the coach's autobiography), so expect good access, but a party-line view of The General.
• Sneak preview (AuthorHouse Books)
The Defender: Manute Bol's Journey from Sudan to the NBA and Back, by Jordan Conn (released July 8)
Another e-book release, and a mini-book at that, but I wanted to include it after TrueHoop called it a "must-read account" and "the real story of Manute Bol." Henry Abbott went on to say that "Conn's painstaking work, based on extensive time in the Sudan, tells of a far more fascinating, important, likable and fallible human than NBA fans ever got a chance to know."
• Excerpt: Manute Bol: The Ultimate Defender (SI.com)
Sarah Palin and the Wasilla Warriors: The True Story of the Improbable 1982 Alaska State Basketball Championship, by Mike Shropshire (Feb. 28)
She was the point guard known as Sarah Barracuda in those days, before she went rogue.
PREVIOUS BASKETBALL BOOKS COVERAGE
• 2010-11 Basketball Books Preview
• 2009-10 Basketball Books Preview
• Basketball Books 2008-09
• New Golden Age: 26 Intriguing Basketball Books from 2004-07