Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ten Best Basketball Books of All-Time

Last weekend I finished the basketball book Unfinished Business. Putting the book back on the shelf I realize that, over the years, I've collected quite a library of basketball related books. While books on baseball and golf are ubiquitous, great writing on basketball is harder to find (someone once said that the smaller the ball the better the writing). So, without further adieu, based on my library of 50 or so books, here are the "Ten Best basketball Books of All-Time:"

1) The Golden Boys by Cameron Stauth. Stauth's account of the original 1992 Dream Team moves both forward in time through the Olympics and backward in time through the lives of each of the twelve players. Stauth finds loneliness, ego, talent, selfishness, teamwork, insecurity and, interestingly enough, unconditionally loving mothers. Particularly fascinating sections include: the selection process (Chuck Daly, the coach, ranked each of his Detroit Pistons highly); a thorough examination of "the zone," the fleeting basketball plane where a player cannot miss; and Charles Barkley's last year as a Philadelphia 76er, doing everything he can to force a trade. Stauth also gets to sit in on the greatest HORSE game of all-time. Long out of print the cheapest used copy on Amazon currently goes for $50. If you can find it it is a gem.

2) Play Their Hearts Out by George Dohrmann. Published in 2010, Dohrmann, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, embeds himself with an AAU team of twelve-year olds in California. He follows the coach, players, parents, shoe company execs, and "grassroot organizers" for seven years (until the kids finish their senior year of high school). The result is an in-depth examination of youth sports. Kids are reduced to investments in an unregulated market. It is an indictment of capitalism itself, as the greed of coaches, touts, advisers, family members, and shoe companies builds up and destroys twelve-year old children.

3) The Last Shot by Darcy Frey. Originally an article in Harper's this book is like the written cousin of the film "Hoop Dreams." While "Hoop Dreams" follows two high schoolers from Chicago, IL, "The Last Shot" follows four high school seniors from Coney Island, NY. The team has a good shot at winning a city championship, especially with precocious 8th grader Stephon Marbury on the varsity. Well-written account of how the odds are stacked against anyone making the NBA.

4) A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein. Coach Bob Knight gave Feinstein complete access to the Indiana program during the 1985-1986 season. This book was the result. By the end Knight was no longer speaking to Feinstein. However, a man of his word, Knight never revoked Feinstein's access.

5) The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam. My unofficial review of the blogosphere reveals this classic to be considered the best basketball book ever. Halberstam's account of the 1979-1980 Portland Trailblazers covering multiple angles: the players; the wives; the coaches; the management; and the owners.

6) Hang Time by Bob Greene. Two years with Michael Jordan at the height of his fame.

7) Sacred Hoops by Phil Jackson. Jackson explains the beauty of the game.

8) Venus to the Hoop by Sara Corbett. A companion of sorts to "The Golden Boys" this book follows the 1996 women's Dream Team through an entire year, from training camp through 51 straight wins in various exhibition games to Olympic gold.

9) When Nothing Else Matters by Michael Leahy. Account of Michael Jordan's two years playing for the Washington Wizards. "Like a general who found himself in deep snows with inexperienced troops..."

10) The Smart Take from the Strong by Pete Carril. Carril became famous for coaching overachieving teams at Princeton and beating, in his final year of coaching, the defending champion UCLA Bruins in the NCAA tournament. This is his basketball philosophy.

Honorable Mention:

Basketball According to Bob Knight and Pete Newell (Volume One and Two). The best books for any aspiring coach.

Forty-Eight Minutes by Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto. A minute by minute breakdown of a regular season game between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Basketball, Multiple Offense and Defense by Dean Smith. Another great book for the aspiring coach.

Wages of Wins by David Berri, Martin Schmidt and Stacey Brook. In my opinion, the best of all the statistical models of basketball. Dr. Berri also hosts my favorite basketball website: The Wages of Wins Journal.

Loose Balls by Jayson Williams. Williams has become notorious for (allegedly) accidentally shooting a limousine driver and then trying to cover it up. But his memoirs of his time in the NBA, written before the shooting, are hysterical.

The Winner Within by Pat Riley. The best of the various "business strategies" type books. Riley coins the phrase "the disease of me."

Finally, for about 16 years Zander Hollander published an annual book, titled "The Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball." The handbook contained short, well-written bios of every player in the league. The bios were always informative and, on occasion, hilarious. Here is an excerpt from the bio on Rasheed Wallace after his rookie year with the Washington Bullets: "Showed the emotional maturity of Hitler during the bunker days."


Anonymous said...

How about the book called The Franchise? Good book detailing the Pistons of early 90's?

basketball book said...

The Golden Boys by Cameron Stauth is one of the best sports books I have ever read.Stauth takes you inside the first Dream Team.His style of writing makes you have an inclination that you were right by Jordan and Pippen in 1992.He takes the reader on an in the background journey and demonstrates the contentions and different issues the Dream Team confronted before and amid their gold medal run.

@Kevin Smith.