By: Andrew Bank (Syracuse University)
The feeling of finishing the last page of a great book is hard to match. Like a powerful film or song, an outstanding read can leave you deeply affected, and often changed. Sometimes, unique content (audio, video, or written) can touch you most by sparking new interests, but the majority of the time we are moved by how a work develops our old ones.
While I practically grew up in a Blockbuster video store, I will always regard Sam Jackson and Tim Roth’s memorable exchange at the end of Pulp Fiction as the scene that really got me “into” movies. I’ll always remember “Blowin’ in the Wind” as the song that taught me exceptional music doesn’t simply require a catchy beat (the lyrics somehow resonated with me even before I understood them).
I’ll remember Bill Simmons’s “The Book of Basketball” for helping me keep sports in perspective. “Keep sports in perspective.” These four words are frequently used to downplay the importance of competitive athletics. When we refer to a football game as a “war,” or to an athlete playing through an injury as a “hero,” there’s always someone there to remind us that we need to reflect on the true nature of these labels, and consequently “keep sports in perspective.”
After completing “The Book of Basketball,” I’m going to assert the opposite. This book re-enforces just how important sports are to countless others and myself (my athletic prime was in 8th grade, but my love for watching professional sports will never fade). This 700-page basketball manifesto (it feels longer because of the can’t-miss footnotes Simmons incorporates on almost every page) helps justify why it’s okay to idolize our favorite teams and players, and why sports history isn’t so trivial in comparison to what we learn in social studies class. If we study American history to comprehensively connect the past to the present, how can we possibly minimize the role of a significant and transcendent cultural force like professional sports?
Simmons clearly went all out when doing research for his magnum opus. The beloved, Bostonian ESPN.com columnist (A.K.A. “The Sports Guy”) includes many detailed and humorous arguments, statistics, and stories which at many times made me (a pretty serious basketball fan) feel ignorant. Still, learning about the game’s history from a writer like Simmons (a pop-culture fanatic who was probably the chief inspiration for this site) helped keep such a lengthy reading experience enlightening, without being overwhelming.
Whether discussing “The Secret” of basketball or his plan for a new pyramid-themed Hall of Fame, Simmons always keeps his work personal, constantly sharing his own basketball memories. The Sports Guy also takes shots at several prominent NBA figures, including former Pistons star and Knick front-office goat Isiah Thomas, but still respects the individual accomplishments of those he grew up rooting against (he’s a die hard Celtics fan). Regardless of whether or not you agree with all of his controversial rankings and remarks, one can never question Simmons’s amazing fanhood. This is why the book strikes a chord.
The love Bill Simmons has for this sport is obvious, but more importantly… it’s contagious. I have never felt more connected to the NBA’s history and present as I do after reading this Basketball Bible.
If you love something as much as Simmons loves basketball, NEVER let anyone tell you it needs to be “put in perspective.” Compromising one’s love in the name of political or social correctness can deprive you from celebrating, exploring, and enjoying your interests to the fullest. That’s the primary lesson I took away from “The Book of Basketball” (and that Rick Barry was a real jerk).
(Another discovery I made is that it would be a terrible mistake not to include NBA legend Bill Walton in your “Top Five People I Most Want to Drink a Beer With Before I Die List.” Walton is arguably the most quotable and colorful NBA personality out there, and his presence makes the book’s epilogue especially memorable. Hanging out with the Giant Ginger would surely be a blast.)
In honor of Bill Simmons’s love for this kind of thing, I will actually include the remainder of my original list below.
“Top Five People I Most Want to Drink a Beer With Before I Die List.”
1. Quentin Tarantino (I love his movies and could listen to the guy talk for hours)
2. Paul McCartney (A beer with a Beatle? Come on. Sorry, Ringo)
3. Jeff Bridges (“The Dude.” We’d probably have to drink White Russians, though)
4. Bill Walton (See above)
5. George W. Bush (He got elected twice for being someone you’d want on this kind of list. Plus he’s always due for some great quotes)
*** Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton was once on this list. Miraculously, I was able to cross him off (it’s a long story, so don’t bother asking). ****