As we all anxiously wait for the basketball season to begin I thought it might be a good time to recommend some important basketball centered books to pass the time. Many will focus on the non-technical side of the game as I’ve always been interested in the world of basketball and the human side as much as X and O side. Some of these are classics; some are sleepers. Many are old-school and out of print and difficult to find, but will be worth the effort if one is successful-especially for the book oriented. Used bookstores, on-line used booksellers and eBay are likely sources. All are interesting for one reason or another and all can be worthwhile sources of outside the box basketball knowledge and wisdom.
“The City Game: Basketball in New York from the World Champion Knicks to the World of the Playgrounds” by Pete Axthelm” This 1970 classic ‘s book jacket summarizes, “It is the saga of Willis Reed and Walt Frazier and Bill Bradley; but it is also the tragedy of potential giants such as Earl Manigault, who achieved eminence in playground competition only to be dragged to the streets and to prison by drugs.”
“Forty Eight Minutes: A Night In the Life of the NBA” by Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto. Two distinguished then NBA beat writers, Bob Ryan, covering the Celtics and Terry Pluto, covering the Cavs, wrote a 356 page account of the January 16, 1987 game between the two teams. The human and technical detail makes for an interesting format
“Heaven Is A Playground: A Season on the Inner City Basketball Courts” by Rick Telander. The book jacket summarizes, “Inner city playground basketball is a world apart. Rick Telander intended to spend only a few days doing a magazine piece on the court wizards of Brooklyn’s Bedford Stuyvesant but he ended up staying the entire summer and writing this book.” This 1976 classic is easily one of the ten best hoops books of all time.
“Season on the Brink: A Year With Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers” by John Feinstein. John Feinstein has written many books since he penned this blockbuster in 1986 but none is more popular and controversial. The chronicle of Bob Knight and the 1985-86 season is the best selling sports book of all time.
“The Breaks Of The Game” by David Halberstam. The Pulitzer Prize winning author for non-sports books, Halberstam writes an NBA version of a season long chronicle-this time of the 1979-80 Portland Trail Blazers coached by the legendary Dr. Jack Ramsay. Basketball has never been treated to better writing.
“Tip Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever” by Filip Bondy. Any time an NBA Draft is scrutinized in detail, there will certainly be interesting twists and turns but none more so than the famous 1984 Draft. Michael Jordan’s being drafted third after Hakeem Olajuwon and Sam Bowie is the centerpiece of the narrative, but that draft also included Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Sam Perkins and Michael Cage- among others. The behind the scenes glimpses are intriguing in this 2007 retrospect.
“Basketball On Paper: Rules and Tools for Performance Analysis” by Dean Oliver.
This 2004 treatise on basketball analytics by Dean Oliver is often credited at being at the forefront of the movement in our sport. Of course, we know that baseball, led by Bill James’ Baseball Abstract, was decades ahead in looking at their game with math influenced eyes. For the true analytics aficionado, this book is a must; for everyone else, there are many useful nuggets if one just reads the prose and doesn’t get too caught up in the tables and formulas.