Don't take things personally. Or at least try not to. These are things I learned early on in my career. I remember co-hosting a radio show a while back and while discussing the shelf life of professional football players, I get blindsided with, "You just like them for the tight pants, don't you?" Seriously? Let's just say the mic fell silent and we went to commercial. That was a while ago but apparently, the belief still exists that only men can be serious fans about professional sports. Which brings us to today's discussion on The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy by author Bill Simmons. This book was written with the bar stools and cigar-smoking, I just left my wife at home type of sports debate. On page 2 of the forward, it very boldly I might add, defines who this book was meant for: "The difference, of course, is that ordinary fans like you or me have limits to our obsession. We have jobs. We have girlfriends and wives" (Malcolm Gladwell). If you are female, black or both, you need to ignore the mentality of the audience this book had in mind to really see the amount of time and effort it took to craft a book with this much information in it. (Bill Simmons compares the talents of white players and black players and argues the early NBA needed more "black guys" to make it more successful). You may be offended by some of his arguments and you will also see the genius of this book. It is not for the faint of heart but for the serious fan (man or woman, black or white). Bill Simmons took the time to make some serious, passionate and honest arguments about the game he loves and whether you agree with him or not, you will be glad you read this book. Since it is 702 pages long, let's discuss the key points or the ones that most grabbed our attention (there are so many points that not all can be properly addressed so...just read the book!)
The Player Pyramid
I agree with Bill Simmons in that the way we induct players into the Basketball Hall of Fame needs an overhaul. But I am not sure I totally agree with the way he ranks players in stages and pyramids. Raptors fans will love that Vince Carter was ranked on the low end in the "so talented, should've been so much better group". He even goes on to say the reason he wanted to write this book was born from how much he hates Vince Carter: "...fifty years from now, we wouldn't want an NBA fan to flip through some NBA guide and decide that Vince Carter was a worthy basketball star". He is brutally honest and some of his comments are meant to be taken as a joke (like how he thinks Cartmen and his crew from South Park should own the Clippers) but he has a true disdain for the sort of whiny bore he feels Raptors fans had to endure with Carter in the line-up. His solution is both hilarious and fantastic: "You know what? Screw you. You signed a contract to become our franchise player and now you don't want to live up to that obligation? Fine. You're sitting on the bench. Don't worry, we'll pay you...We're making an example out of you. You will never play for us again. And you won't play anywhere else either." This is until he says Carter shaped up and stopped complaining about playing for Toronto. A little extreme but interesting to watch if it ever came to fruition.
It's safe to assume if you are a Toronto Raptors fan, you believe the Raptors still have a future even after the emotional roller coaster you've been riding. According to Bill Simmons, the Raptors damaged their future in 2005 when he says Vince Carter "tanked" and lowered Toronto's trade value, by not clearing enough cap space or getting any quality youngsters or picks back that year. An interesting argument, but like you, I tend to believe mistakes are made to be learned from not to be held back by.
Comparing Apples to Oranges
"Barring a Penny-like swoon or a Vick-like fall from grace, LeBron will become one of the twenty best players who ever lived. We can say that safely" (Bill Simmons). This part is interesting since the book was written before LeBron made the jump to Miami. He hints at writing 'The Second Book of Basketball' and I hope if he does, he comments on the drama surrounding the 'big three' playing for the Heat. Bill Simmons compares LeBron to Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy and Chevy Chase and their respective peaks on Saturday Night Live. He argues that at some point these comedic stars outgrew the show and it became obvious that they would eventually leave. According to Simmons, for LeBron this meant leaving Cleveland to join the New York Knicks or Los Angeles Lakers. Off in his prediction, but close. In a 2004 column, he wrote "when LeBron hits his prime and finally gets surrounded by quality shooters and big guys who run the floor, he'll toss up a triple double for an entire season". So one would think this means Simmons would like the Miami heat move since in a 2007 column, he describes in LeBron's time with the Cavs, he was subject to "crummy coaching and mediocre supporting cast". Not so fast. While he is not confident LeBron would stay in Cleveland, he believed at the time of writing this book that LeBron would stay: "The more I watch him, the more I wonder if such an intensely loyal guy would ever say, "Thanks for the memories everybody", dump his teammates, dump his hometown and start a fresh life elsewhere". Hmmmmmmmmmmm.
A Flag on the Play
Bill Simmons is intelligent and takes the time to make an argument and back it up with brutal honesty and real research. This is why you can read this book knowing you are filling your brain with quality material. However, the argument he makes against sideline reporters in the NBA is a little misdirected. His real beef should be with the lack of imagination in the questions asked, not the role of sideline reporter itself. With his argument, you could say there is no need for color commentators or play-by-play announcers because they too, have been guilty of the "what does your team need to do in the second half" type of questions. It is just speculation and debate fodder for the fan at home to chew on while cheering on there favourite team. But I would argue against Bill Simmons in that being a sideline reporter is a serious gig. I do play-by-play and color commentary for the PWHL (Provincial Women's Hockey League). During the Final Four Tournament in March, we had no sideline reporter and a referee got mixed up in a play and was crushed against the boards. A sideline reporter could have updated the audience on the status of that referee, got comments from the line refs and given a more immediate update on the story. The same is true in basketball. A sideline reporter is more mobile and is able to get updates on player injuries, comments from players, coaches and get the fan closer to the game they are watching than their stationary commentator colleagues.
Flick Pick of the Week
This weekend I want you to watch Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman. But chances are you are a huge basketball fan and as such, have already watched this movie. Watch it again! What I love about this movie it not so much that it was set in the early 50s and showed that small fries can compete but because of Dennis Hopper's 'town drunk' character, Shooter. It has been voted by many in the business as the best sports movie ever made. The fact it's subject has a basketball theme, makes it even better.
Next week, in honour of Kid Raptor, we will be discussing some children's books dealing with the basketball theme: Queen of the Scene by Queen Latifah; Long Shot: Never too Small to Dream Big By NBA talent Chris Paul; And the Winner Is... By LL Cool J. There are a ton of basketball books out there for children but I thought we would start with these. Happy reading and visit me on Tuesday for another serving of "Jiggly Bits".