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As the video above shows, this is a cinder block of a book--700 some-odd pages and over a thousand footnotes. As the sheer size suggests, it is an obsessive endeavor, an attempt by the popular ESPN columnist Bill Simmons to say everything he ever wanted to say about the NBA in one book. Well, not just the NBA, but more or less everything he ever wanted to say about most things. And that's the problem.

Last year, Jonathan Wilson came out with a book, Inverting the Pyramid, that obsessively detailed the entire history of soccer strategy and tactics. It was a biblical performance. As confusing and obscure as the book inevitably was in places--who but the author, after all, could really follow his references to games played in Uruguay in the 50s?--the thoroughness with which he dealt with his topic left you feeling that you did not need to read any other book on the subject. And always, always the game was the focus of the book.

Mr. Simmons book, by comparison, deals with players, teams, and a game with which we're all more familiar, but his take on it is so personal and particular that it would more appropriately be called The Book of Bill. Sure, it can be fun to watch him attack Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone and others, and some of his pop culture references definitely click, but after awhile the continual references to genuine cultural garbage means he's just showing off all the trivial knowledge he's stored up, not actually trying to explain what he's observed. And because all the porn he references and the bad movies and the awful tv shows are so inherently transient the descriptions will mean nothing to anyone who isn't a middle class white boy who grew up in the 80s. Read Red Smith's Miracle at Coogan's Bluff or John Updike's Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu and you are reading authors who wrote so that fifty and sixty years later you'd be able to recreate the scene for yourself. Mr. Simmons writes for himself. If you happen to share his enthusiasms, you may follow along, but much will otherwise be meaningless and should your son or grandson take the book off your shelf twenty years from now it will be mostly meaningless. The book is ultimately one big piece of performance art, rather than a sustained and serious history of the game. Even worse, readers more versed in the history of the NBA than I have had a field day pointing out all the factual errors in the text, even basic ones like which two teams played in certain playoff series, what schools players attended, and the like. If you're trying to write the be-all-and-end-all of basketball books you really ought to keep the focus on the game, not yourself, and you for dang sure ought to have the facts down pat. After all, are we really supposed to trust you to give us the definitive opinion on who the best team or player ever was if the stats and results you're offering in support of that assertion are error-ridden?

The sad thing is that these two problems--inaccuracies, on the one hand, and too much Bill, on the other--are both a function of the same unfortunate phenomenon of modern publishing: no one edits a best-selling author. Once upon a time, an editor would have reined the author in and weeded out a few hu8ndred pages of this book. And fact checkers would have combed out the misstatements. No more. The fact is that the book became a #1 best-seller, so how would you convince a publisher that they'd failed in their responsibility to the author or the author that he'd failed his readers? The truth is, if their objective is to sell a lot of copies of a book rather than to produce the best book possible, then they succeeded admirably. But it just seems hard to believe that many folks are reading the whole book, especially not in one fell swoop. The act just gets too wearing. It seems like a book that would be enjoyed more in discrete bits, once a week or so, like the author's column. It's not that there's not plenty here that's entertaining and informative, just that there's too much--too much undisciplined rambling, too much score-settling, too much scatology, too much treating reality tv stars as cultural touchstones, too much Simmonsism.


Grade: (C+)


See also:

Sports (General)
Bill Simmons Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Bill Simmons
    -BOOK SITE: The Book of Basketball (Random House)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: The Book of Basketball
    -COLUMN ARCHIVES: Bill Simmons (ESPN)
    -EXCERPT: Why Patrick Ewing Was the 39th Best Player Ever from The Book of Basketball
    -EXCERPT: Meeting Isiah Thomas at a Topless Pool In Vegas
    -EXCERPT: Summer of 1976: The Merger
    -EXCERPT: What If the ABA had Landed Kareem?
    -EXCERPT: Should Bill Walton Have Won the 1978 MVP?
    -EXCERPT: from Now I Can Die in Peace: The Manny Signing
    -ESSAY: Choosing my EPL Team (Bill Simmons, ESPN)
    -ESSAY: The 13 Levels of Losing (Bill Simmons, ESPN)
    -ESSAY: Ewing Theory 101 (Bill Simmons, July 21, 2009, ESPN)
    -ESSAY: Now I Can Die in Peace (Bill Simmons, ESPN)
-INTERVIEW: Q&A: Bill Simmons (Interview by Patrick Berkery, 12/01/05, City Paper)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Bill Simmons NPR: Only a Game, 11/07/09)
    -INTERVIEW: Sports Guy Bill Simmons talks '30 for 30,' his book, TV and more (Alan Sepinwall, 10/01/09, The Star-Ledger)
    -INTERVIEW: Hoop Memes: Bill Simmon (Will Leitch, Oct 25, 2009, New York)
    -INTERVIEW: Studying The Finals (Avi Zenilman, 6/11/09, The New Yorker)
    -INTERVIEW: Simmons on the evil box, The Book and the secret of hoops (Adena Andrews, 11/05/09,
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Bill Simmons, Author of The Book of Basketball (Jason Pinter, 10/21/09, HuffingtonPost)
    -PROFILE: Bill Simmons, Establishment (Will Leitch, 11/10/09, Deadspin)
    -PROFILE: Bill Simmons '92 is "Boston's Sports Guy" (Holy Cross, June 2001)
    -PROFILE: The Boston Sports Guy: Revisited, Reinvented and Revealed (David Scott, Sep 30 2005, Boston Sports Media Watch)
    -PROFILE: That Sports Guy Thrives Online (WARREN ST. JOHN, November 20, 2005, NY Times)
    -PROFILE: The Enthusiast: Bill Simmons has set a new and unbeatable standard by writing like a fan—just far better. (Isaac Chotiner, April 2010, The Atlantic)
    -PROFILE: Bill Simmons: Bard of the Red Sox (Bryan Curtis, Oct. 5, 2005, Slate)
    -PROFILE: Bill Simmons and the New Sports Journalism (Alex Gallo-Brown, 19 October 2007, PopMatters)
-REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy by Bill Simmons ()
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Josh Levin, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (JASON ZENGERLE, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Richard Sandomir, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Dan McGowan, Mediaite)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Rob Harvilla, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Charles P. Pierce, Deadspin)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Adam Thompson, WSJ)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Robert Liss, Broad Street Review)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Ed Guzman, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Kevin Pelton, Basketball Prospectus)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Daniel Alvarez, SF Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Rand Miranda, Florida Times-Union)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Loren Jorgensen, Deseret News)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Joseph Wright, Our Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball (Brian Summerfield, Real Estator)
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball ()
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball ()
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball ()
    -REVIEW: of The Book of Basketball ()
    -REVIEW: of Now I Can Die In Peace by Bill Simmons (Tim Dierkes, RotoAuthority)
    -REVIEW: of Now I Can Die (Deadspin)
    -REVIEW: of Now I Can Die (Corey Kempf, Lakeland College Mirror

Book-related and General Links: