Statistical Analysis. Humor. Knicks.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Basketball Authors Wanted

Recently I had plenty of free time due to a solo business trip. In case you’ve never been on one, a solo business trip is akin to being put in jail. Without your wife, your friends, and the comforts of home, you just try to find ways of killing time.

I never knew that going to the book store can be an activity on it’s own. Near to where I was staying was a large book store. On the two nights I visited, the place was jumping. Seriously for a book store, I couldn’t believe how many people were there. There were solo book readers, friends sharing passages in their respective magazines, and groups meeting in the cafe. It was a disco for the literate and sober.

With nothing to do other than browse their large selection, I spent a good amount of time in the sports section. There were about 10 baseball books I would have happily purchased. The selection was large and diverse when it came to baseball. You could get books on baseball statistical analysis, books on the history of baseball, books on the physics of baseball, and biographical books ranging from players, to managers, to umpires. I could name about 5 more categories, but I’ll spare you from the Benjamin Buford Blue impersonation.

On the other hand, almost all the books in the basketball section fell into one of three categories:

  • Books by college coaches
  • Books by outrageous players (Barkley, Rodman, Dawkins)
  • Books on coaching basketball

I’m not too keen on college basketball. Certainly I like watching March Madness, but given the option I would rather read a book on the pros. Books written by outlandish attention-craving players don’t really do it for me either. For those that are ready to point out that statistical books about basketball exist, I already own Basketball on Paper and all the Prospectii. There was a single book on the history of the NBA, which I purchased but is more of a businessman’s book than fan’s. There just aren’t many basketball books that interest me.

The last book on basketball that I’ve read is The Jordan Rules, by Sam Smith. Despite of what you think of Smith, the book is an interesting read. It was published more than a decade ago, so it was fascinating to see what things were like back then. I wonder how many kids today are unaware that there was a time when Jordan’s leadership was questioned. Years ago Michael had spent 6 seasons as one of the best players in the league, but without a lot of playoff success. His inability to win a championship had columnists labeling him as a selfish player. Six championship rings later, no one would dare question his Airness in such a matter. However the book is about the Bulls’ first championship run, before his greatness was bronzed.

Unless you were a member of the 90-91 Bulls, you won’t be able to verify the book’s authenticity. Whether or not the stories are true, it’s certainly an entertaining page turner, as Sam is good at creating the mood of the team. Often times we don’t know anything about a player other than what they do on the court. In my experiences, I’ve seen that often a person’s on court demeanor is different from his off court one. Nice guys can step onto the floor and become the meanest SOBs you’ve ever met. Quiet guys turn into field generals. Funny guys loose their sunny disposition. Guys that would cross town to give you the shirt off their back won’t bother to chase a loose ball.

Sam Smith goes into the locker room to let you know what everyone is like off the court. It’s just like any work place, with conflicts left and right. The bench guys want more time. Pippen wants more money. Phil Jackson uses Bill Cartwright as the team’s pincushion in a complicated psychological ploy to motivate the team. Grant is fighting off losing his job to a younger player. Everybody wants the ball more. Everyone is jealous of Krause’s obsession with the unknown Toni Kukoc.

Jordan is the central figure in the book, but he’s a solitary mysterious figure. Michael is the genius that suffers no fools. He criticizes the GM frequently. He blames his teammates when the team looses. Seemingly his only concerns are his golf game, playing poker, the scoring title and winning a championship. The Jordan Rules refer not to the Pistons’ defensive rules that kept Jordan in check, but rather how the rules are changed for Michael off the court due to his fantastic ability on the court. It’s these Jordan Rules that help separate him from the rest of the team.

Unfortunately Smith’s book is the only one I’ve been able to find that illustrates the NBA in such an entertaining manner. I can’t even begin to count how many baseball books that I’ve read in my lifetime (25? 50? maybe 100?). Unfortunately the hoops section of any bookstore is far behind their hardball bretheren. There is no basketball version of the American classic Ball Four. Nothing as indepth as the Bill James’ Hoops Historical Abstracts would be. No Physics of Basketball to tell me why some shots go around the world before dropping. No Big Book Of Basketball Lineups to pass the time with franchise tidbits. Nothing as funny for hardwood lovers as Nice Guys Finish Last. The NBA is still 75 years behind MLB, so maybe this generation of youngsters that fill the playground courts will be tomorrow’s authors of great basketball literature.