- Sam Anderson
- "The wisdom, the blasphemy, the stripper anecdotes ..."
- 12/08/09 at 17:00
Last month, ESPN’s Bill “the Sports Guy” Simmons published his long-awaited magnum opus: The Book of Basketball, a 700-page epic that seeks to answer every question anyone could ever possibly ask about the NBA (Was Wilt better than Russell? Did Nash deserve his MVPs?) and then approximately 900 more (Who were the ugliest players of all time? How does the 1992 Dream Team lineup correspond to the different singers in “We Are the World”?).
Simmons recounts the history of the league from its birth in the ultrawhite forties, as well as the history of his own super-fandom (he grew up going to Celtics games with his dad in the seventies and eighties—as he puts it, “studying the game of basketball with Professor Bird”). He projects the hypothetical stats of seventies superstars if they’d never discovered cocaine. He brutalizes Vince Carter early and often: “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 wasn’t.” And he garnishes everything liberally with Simmons-isms: blanket statements, Vegas stories, baroque pop-culture analogies (Kobe Bryant as Teen Wolf), and novella-length footnotes.
The heart of the book (over 400 pages) is what Simmons calls “The Hall of Fame Pyramid”—his idiosyncratic ranking and analysis of the 96 greatest players in NBA history, from Tom Chambers to Michael Jordan. Each ranking is accompanied by an opinionated mini-essay about the player: David Thompson (No. 70) was “the Intellivision to Jordan’s PlayStation 2”; Reggie Miller (No. 62) was “the most overrated superstar of the past thirty years”; watching John Stockton (No. 25) “was like being trapped in the missionary position for two decades.”
Now that we’ve had a month to digest all of this—the wisdom, the blasphemy, the stripper anecdotes—we’re going to spend the next week or so arguing about it. Reading Room members are:
Sherman Alexie, poet, novelist, grieving Sonics fan
Tommy Craggs, writes for Deadspin
Jonathan Lethem, author of Motherless Brooklyn, The Fortress of Solitude, and Chronic City
Ben Mathis-Lilley, New York Magazine associate editor
Sam Anderson, New York Magazine book critic