Skip to content, or skip to search.

Skip to content, or skip to search.

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.
Tommy Craggs
"The Secret: A hopelessly banal point about chemistry and sacrifice."
12/10/09 at 12:00

I'm glad Jonathan brought up the sexism, because, well, it's pretty astounding (this from a guy writing next to the stripper pole at Deadspin HQ). Let's just pass over the story about the "mediocre Asian with fake cans" and head straight to this little pearl, provided by Simmons's buddy Bug: "Every time I watch Jason Kidd play, initially it's like seeing a girl walk into a bar who's just drop-dead gorgeous, but then when he throws up one of those bricks, it's like the gorgeous girl taking off her jacket and you see she has tiny mosquito bites for tits."

Yeesh. Somewhere, Valerie Solanas is polishing her Glock.

I should say here that I liked the book a great deal. I'm a sucker for other people's enthusiasms (Simmons on Walton or McHale's low-post game isn't quite Lester Bangs on Astral Weeks, but, as Simmons might say, it's in the pantheon), and I love that he has written an enormously popular bestseller about basketball in the face of allegedly widespread public indifference to our greatest game. But can we talk a moment about The Secret? For the two or three Americans who've yet to read the book, The Secret is a little sliver of fortune-cookie wisdom passed on to Bill by Isiah Thomas one sunny day in Vegas—Vegas, incidentally, has a hold on Simmons in much the same way that California did for the Joads, or Wally World for the Griswolds—and it's more or less the foundation of the book. A little background is in order: Simmons had long made a sport of busting on Isiah in his column, to the point that Isiah finally responded by threatening "trouble." Then, one day, the two of them find themselves poolside in Vegas. They decide they are both, at heart, entertainers; armistice is declared; and Zeke thereupon drops some Zen (spoiler alert!):

"The secret of basketball is that it's not about basketball."

That's it. That's The Secret. A hopelessly banal point about chemistry and sacrifice and folks getting along. Basketball is ... people. This is not a secret. John Wooden, our national Father's Day card, has been boring us with this shit for years. Pat Riley and Rick Pitino will tell you all about The Secret in their books if you rummage through the remainder bin long enough. Matt Christopher knows The Secret. Robby Benson knows The Secret. Gil Thorp knows The Secret, and he's a freaking comic strip. Bill's on shaky ground here. Lord knows the world has seen more than its share of treacly crap about fate and muscles and human whim conspiring miraculously to take sports somewhere beyond sports. This phenomenon is known as Every Damn Golf Book Ever, and we'd be better off without it.

I bring this up only because Simmons's affection for The Secret in part explains the thin Puritanical streak that runs through the book. He has an annoying habit of grafting a moral arc onto basketball careers. He does it in the Wilt chapter (and subsequently backs the argument over his foot in his excellent tribute to Iverson). David Thompson, he writes, was headed for historic greatness, but he made too much money too soon (a pet refrain for Simmons), snorted half the gross domestic product of Colombia, lost touch with his humble roots, and as a result never lived up to his considerable potential. (This warrants further discussion. As Shoals noted, coke is the book's leitmotif, its home chord. The league's drug "problem" was wildly overstated at the time, and evidently still is. To read Simmons, you might get the impression that basketball in the seventies was played in a stall at Studio 54. I wonder if this is the curse of being a Celtics fan of Simmons's generation: That whole era is seen through the prism of poor Lenny Bias, whom Celtics Nation should really leave in peace.) Maybe he's right about Thompson, but are we to believe that he only began to really party after netting his first big NBA contract? You're telling me that the best, most vividly electric player in college basketball wasn't scoring blow during his days in Raleigh, North Carolina? Basketball careers ebb and flow for a thousand reasons—injuries, personnel, coaching styles, rule changes—and very few of those reasons have anything to do with someone's human failings. But what do I know? I've never kicked it poolside with Zeke.