A basketball book that is pure bliss

Bill Simmons is the beloved sports columnist on ESPN.com. From lowly beginnings as a struggling sports blogger in Boston, Massachusetts, Simmons became the first and last word on almost all things sporting in his hometown and more recently, North America. With 1.1 million followers on Twitter and one of the most popular podcasts in the world, Simmons has become an institution and is closing in on becoming the king of all sports media.

He brings humour and irreverence to NBA and NFL coverage as well. In between, Simmons finds ways to incorporate his voluminous knowledge of American pop culture into his writing. First and foremost, though, he is an NBA columnist. His recent book, The Book of Basketball, is more than 700 pages of bliss for fans of the game. I could not put it down. The author managed to cover most every component of NBA history. If you want a crash course in the NBA, this book is enough to make you an expert.

Perhaps its greatest strength is that it is unlike any other sports book you will ever read. Normally they are either reverential or iconoclastic. This book is as much about the game and its stars as it is about the fans and their shared experiences. The author is the consummate sports fan. He is not an insider but rather someone who has invested a great deal of time analysing the game. At its best moments, the book reads like a compilation of all the basketball arguments ever conceived.

Spanning comparisons of the best teams and players of all time, Simmons puts forth convincing arguments that come close to being definitive. For example, he has an entirely personal way of ranking players. He proposes a demolition of basketball's Hall of Fame for a pyramid system dividing greatness into various levels. Rather curiously, and in keeping with his general wackiness, there are 96 players in the pyramid.

While Michael Jordan is No 1, most other players and their rankings within the pyramid do not follow any traditional ratings yardstick. It all makes for great reading. The most significant contribution to basketball writing might be Simmons's exploration of The Secret. Not the new age secret of the Australian author Rhonda Byrne, but rather the sanctified key to success in basketball that is espoused by many of the greats.

Simmons discovered the story of The Secret in a Las Vegas swimming pool where he found himself chatting with Isiah Thomas, the former Detroit Pistons player and New York Knicks general manager. It was Thomas who had first discussed The Secret with reporters during the Pistons' 1989 NBA championship run. Simmons had remembered reading about that and, like a good reporter, cornered Thomas and got to the heart of the matter.

The chapter on The Secret is brilliant, delving into a subject matter not normally found in sports books. In essence, Thomas's secret is that success comes from placing a higher value on the collective rather than the individual. This book is also a story of friendship between father and son, and is littered with references to Simmons's childhood attending Boston Celtics' games at the old Boston Garden with Simmons Sr. The two share an inspiring bond.

Make no mistake, this is not literature. Simmons's style is loose and informal, but his prose is often too wordy. As Simmons matures as a writer, he will learn that less is often more. But this criticism misses the point. The Book of Basketball is a must read for every basketball fan. Period. @Email:sports@thenational.ae

The essentials

What: Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

When: Friday until March 9

Where: All main sessions are held in the InterContinental Dubai Festival City

Price: Sessions range from free entry to Dh125 tickets, with the exception of special events.

Hot Tip: If waiting for your book to be signed looks like it will be timeconsuming, ask the festival’s bookstore if they have pre-signed copies of the book you’re looking for. They should have a bunch from some of the festival’s biggest guest authors.

Information: www.emirateslitfest.com


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