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Court of Opinion

  • The Book of Basketball
  • By Bill Simmons, October 27, 2009
  1. 1.Sam Anderson:The wisdom, the blasphemy, the stripper anecdotes ...
  2. 2.Sam Anderson:The inconsistency drives me crazy.
  3. 3.Sherman Alexie:The genius of Simmons: He is an obsessive-compulsive basketball populist.
  4. 4.Bethlehem Shoals:Simmons mistakes going too far, and wallowing in excess, for taking risks.
  5. 5.Jonathan Lethem:I felt starved for something booklike in this book-resembling object.
  6. 6.Tommy Craggs:The Secret: A hopelessly banal point about chemistry and sacrifice.
  7. 7.Ben Mathis-Lilley:Some thoughts on the book's horrible sexism.
  8. 8.Sam Anderson:I think Bill Simmons is a very good writer.
  9. 9.Bethlehem Shoals:I'm reluctantly raising an issue that could swallow up this discussion whole.
  10. 10.Sherman Alexie:The Last Great White American Player Syndrome?
  11. 11.Jonathan Lethem:Let me try a small stunt here.
  12. 12.Tommy Craggs:Placing the NBA in the heart of a certain kind of white-bread Americana.
  13. 13.Ben Mathis-Lilley:We can’t knock Simmons as an overcompensating tourist in hip-hop culture.
  14. 14.Sam Anderson:Good-bye to the soul-searching, the Vonnegut references, the Iverson jokes.
Sam Anderson
"The inconsistency drives me crazy."
12/09/09 at 10:50

I want to apologize if this is totally incoherent. I’m writing in a semiconscious trauma-fog, with various foreign substances in my bloodstream, and should probably be seeing a grief counselor instead of talking to you guys. I’m from Oregon, and am a pretty intense Blazers fan, and let’s just say that this decade has not been kind to me, basketball-wise: It started with the famous Game 7 fourth-quarter collapse in 2000, then the whole JailBlazers era — and now, after a couple of magical years of hope and joy, it’s all ending with Greg Oden (just as he was beginning to snowball into some reasonable facsimile of potential awesomeness) blowing out his kneecap. That cracking sound you just heard was the left patella breaking in my heart.

This is going to make it very hard for me to discuss Bill Simmons and his new book in any kind of rational way. I’ve been a giant Simmons fan for a long time now. I think he’s a genius, that he saw and exploited the medium of web writing faster and better than almost anyone else, that he’s talented and knowledgeable and hardworking and fully deserving of his empire, blah blah blah. I’ve read him happily and eagerly for many years and found his book to be totally addictive.

But Simmons has also been kind of gratuitously mean about Oden from the very beginning — saying that he walks like an old man, that he doesn’t have the heart to play in the NBA, that he’s just not very good. If he didn’t start the “Oden is a bust” meme rolling, he gave it some serious momentum. He even sprinkled a handful of mean Oden jokes into The Book of Basketball. This despite the fact that Oden is exactly the kind of player Simmons should theoretically love: A chemistry guy, a good unselfish passer, an elite rebounder and shotblocker who, e.g., immediately apologizes to teammates when he spikes an opponent’s shot out of bounds instead of just tipping it to one of them to start a fast break. A guy, in other words, who seems to get The Secret.

But Simmons is a provocateur, so he tends to minimize all of that because he also happens to irrationally love Kevin Durant — an elite scorer who (many argue) plays horrific defense and has no court vision, and who by certain not-really-controversial metrics actually makes his team worse.

This inconsistency drives me crazy, and it crops up throughout The Book of Basketball. Simmons’s favorite players who never win a championship are heroic martyrs struck down by fate. His least-favorite players who never win a championship are whiny baby losers who never won because of some flaw deep in their soul. He unfairly rags on people like Ewing and Malone, then somehow manages to adore Allen Iverson beyond all reason. The book’s entry on Iverson is a real piece of work: Four solid pages of gushing and excuses, with all of his many obvious faults (ballhog, gunner, turnover machine) actually stuck into a footnote. “And yeah,” Simmons writes at one point, “his field goal percentage wasn’t that good and he took too many shots. Whatever.” No, not whatever! His field-goal percentage wasn’t that good and he took too many shots! Those things tend to matter in basketball.

The knowledge that Simmons is going to publish a second edition of this book in ten years containing 30 solid pages of cheap-shot Oden jokes — mocking Portland for drafting him over Durant, reducing his career entirely to the injuries, invoking the poor overworked ghost of Sam Bowie — makes me preemptively furious. I hate imaginary 2019 Bill Simmons the same way that Patrick Ewing fans hate actual 2009 Simmons.

But that’s probably just because I’m borderline hysterical right now. Someone else step in here and talk me down.