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Bill Simmons and the basketball Bible…

This site is called Sports on the Brain, because I spend a disproportionate amount of my time reading and thinking about sports. As the title suggests, when others are day dreaming about an afternoon on their boat, the blonde in the next cubicle, or world domination, I’m thinking things like ‘if Steve Nash had re-signed with Dallas in 2004, would they have won a title, or three?’

Yet, few things have ever gotten that infirm, one legged chipmunk hopping around the wheel in my head like Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball. Now, Simmons is probably the most read sports writer in the world and he needs my plug like Tiger Woods needs a wing man, but… If you are a fan of basketball and you don’t already own this book, well… Click on that link, now, Now ,NOW. If you aren’t a fan of basketball, well you should be, so go buy Simmons’ book and by page 214 we’ll have you.

If, as Simmons has said for years, Larry Bird is the basketball Jesus (I think owing to the fact that he once turned water into light beer at a party or something, I’m not really sure), then Simmons’ book is definitely the Basketball Bible. Seriously, Simmons is a Bird disciple, and this book extols the greatness that is Bird’s religion. At some point Simmons addressed the Bible as a potential name, along with fifty or so others he considered, but for publishing reasons it wasn’t meant to be. However, that wont stop me from calling it by its proper name…

The book has its flaws, not the least of which is about 200 pages worth of porn references, but it’s also a seminal piece of work, filled with stunning insight, obsessive research, and an all time deconstruction of Wilt Chamberlain. The Bible instantly enters the cannon of essential sports books, along with Lords of the Realm, the Soul of Baseball, Breaks of the Game, and Bad as I Wanna Be, by Dennis Rodman.

At the center of the Bible is a discussion with Isaiah Thomas in which the beleaguered (then) Knicks GM shares with Bill “the Secret.” I’d tell you what the secret is, but the book’s 700 pages long and I’d hate to ruin the ending for you…

Let me repeat part of that last sentence, because it’s an important piece of this puzzle: ‘but the book is 700 pages long.’ Well, technically 697, but who’s counting. So, starting this book is something of a commitment. Personally, I chose to read it in parts, picking it up and reading wherever it fell. Sometimes I would find a specific section and read that, but I did not read it from North to South. Now, shortly after I finished the Bible, my friend Punshon bought the book and several days later sent me this email:

Subject: Sportsonthebrain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar…

Body: ….are both ninny’s!

I absolutely cannot believe that you did not read this book from start to finish. Reading ahead, picking your spots. You’re like all the “superstars” of the nineties, with their $100 million dollar contracts and everything too soon. No appreciation of the process. No savoring of a hard earned victory. Like a kid who cannot help but peek at their presents.

Now, Punshon has a point and he might be right, on the other hand he’s a ginger, so who knows. What I do know is that in his introduction Malcolm Gladwell wrote:

If this were a novel, you would be under some obligation to read it all at once or otherwise you’d lose track of the plot . (Wait. Was Celeste married to Ambrose, or were they the ones who had the affair at the Holiday Inn?) But it isn’t a novel. It is, rather, a series of loosely connected arguments and riffs and lists and stories that you can pick up and put down at any time.

So, if Gladwell says I can pick it apart like MJ attacking the Cavs defense, well, it works for me. Besides, what the Bible really is, is an excuse to think about hoops. To think about, to debate, to articulate about why Steve Nash’s MVP in 2005 was deserved, or why Bill Russell, despite 11 rings, is not the second best player in NBA history, or why my all time wine cellar team wouldn’t include Kobe Bryant.

Simmons’ hoops knowledge is both deep and nuanced and through most of the book he had me nodding along like a long necked bird on an accountant’s desk, but there are times when I disagreed. And that’s really the beauty of the whole book. Not the moments when you think Bill’s right, but the moments you think he’s wrong, or if not wrong, then the points when you would cut right, while he drives left.

The Bible is a masterpiece and over the next few months, when I’ve nothing else to write about, I will pursue a one-sided dialog with Simmons…

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