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Court of Opinion

Taking on Bill Simmons and The Book of Basketball.

  • 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 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

Bethlehem Shoals, founder of the blog Free Darko, writer of the Baseline on

Ben Mathis-Lilley, New York Magazine associate editor

Sam Anderson, New York Magazine book critic