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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.
Ben Mathis-Lilley
"Some thoughts on the book's horrible sexism."
12/10/09 at 14:15

First, some thoughts on the book's horrible sexism. In my notes on TBOB, I actually stopped bothering to copy down the most egregious comments and figured I'd just note when Simmons mentioned a woman for any reason other than evaluating her appeal as something to put a penis in. I'm open to correction on this, but I believe it was when he praised Meryl Streep's acting somewhere around page 500.

The annoying thing about Simmons’s sexism in this book is that it's not only abhorrent—we probably all look up to writers and artists and Shawn Kemps who have personal attitudes we don’t agree with—it's intrusively abhorrent. I'm not a Puritan. I don’t mind battle-of-the-sexes banter or bachelor-party anecdotes and I’m not, presently, wearing pants. But Simmons gets into weird, pathological territory. Here's a selection from one of his columns that the book prompted me to look up:

I flew to San Fran to hang out with my buddies Bish, Mikey and Hopper (the heart of the original Vegas crew) for a few days. The weekend started off with Mikey showing us a then-legendary porn scene--one where Rocco Siffredi randomly decided to dunk a co-star's head into a toilet--which we analyzed like it was the Zapruder film for a good two to 10 hours. Then we flew to Vegas and gambled for three straight days, and every time someone got killed by a blackjack hand we made a variation of a joke about someone getting their head rammed in the toilet by Rocco. Vegas is the place where you beat the same joke into the ground, but this went to another level--flushing sounds, gurgling, "No, no Rocco, not again!" and everything else. It just never got old.

Jeez, man. Jeez. I didn’t realize guys like this had friends; I assumed they were all rapey basement loners. We reviewers and commenters seem to be in agreement that it’s not cool—so who’s out there egging him on? Am I misjudging the sleaziness of the American male?

But, uh, besides all the parts that were gross, heartbreaking lessons about man’s inhumanity to man, I really liked this book! I didn't mind the erratic pacing or loose structure—to me, the lack of an outline just underlined the project's admirable ambition. I might have felt differently if Simmons hadn't obviously done such a massive amount of research. He probably could have written a bestseller off the top of his head, and in a shorter book it would’ve been easier to come up with a formally contained, less-arguable theory of basketball. And yeah, presented without context, The Secret sounds lame. But, again, the strength of the idea lies in the scope of its application. A lot of people have pointed out that unselfishness and interpersonal compatibility are important to basketball, but how many have taken that idea and applied it to Bob Lanier game tape and Oscar Robertson's autobiography?

I've read a lot of Bill Russell/Wilt Chamberlain comparisons, and the next time I hear that Wes Unseld threw a great outlet pass will be my one million-billionth, but nothing I've ever read about those things comes close to the knowledge and sophistication that Simmons brings to the subjects. That he concludes Russell was better is beside the point; whichever way he went, commenter Andtinez, you were going to have heard it before. But there's no way you heard it before in this much detail, after this much consideration. Don't hate, Andtinez, don't hate.