Let’s Make A Reading List, Part 2: The Highly Recommended

September 17th, 2009 by John Krolik

Alright. Sorry I’ve been out the past few days; my life is insane, and I was also avoiding you guys after the most awkward-situation creating game ever on Saturday. Fun times. So anyways, in lieu of actual news or analysis, here are more books that I like.

The Blind Side, Michael Lewis

I left this off my first list because Moneyball was an absolute must-include, and for some reason I didn’t want to put two books by the same author on the first list. But rest assured, this is an absolute masterpiece-in a lot of ways, it’s even better than Moneyball.

There’s not much about this book that isn’t absolutely stunning. (Disclaimer-it is about football, and this is a basketball-centric list.) Even still, it’s a masterful description on the evolution of the modern game from a vantage point that hasn’t gotten much play-the importance of the offensive line, in particular the left tackle position, in the adaptation of football from a running/deep passing-type game to the “West-coast offense,” passing-centric offensive model that almost every current offense operates under. And the anecdotes in that regard are amazing-the Lawrence Taylor intro alone would be one of the best sportswriting pieces of the decade.

And then, past that, The Blind Side goes past football into an absolutely amazing case study of Michael Oher, the ridiculously talented young tackle who really hadn’t had any sort of actual education whatsoever until he reached high school. It’s an amazing case study not just of the modern athlete, but of nature/nurture developmental psych issues. I lent this book to my psych teacher in high school, who has never watched a football game in her life, and she was absolutely floored by it. This book is a masterpiece. Plain and simple. And the fact that Oher was just a 1st-round pick in the NFL draft makes the continuing story that much more interesting.

The Rivalry, by John Taylor

The Breaks of the Game, by David Halberstam

Seven Seconds or Less…, by Jack McCallum

Three absolutely amazing descriptions of specific eras in pro basketball, from when it was a fledgling niche sport struggling to find a foothold behind a dominant star and a dominant franchise, to just before it broke out behind Bird and Magic, to the modern era. Playing for Keeps is my favorite of these types of books, but all of these books are fantastic in their own right.

The Rivalry is particularly fascinating for its character study of Wilt Chamberlain, both one of the most dominant athletes of all time and somehow the most disappointing. Like MJ just proved yet again with his Hall of Fame acceptance speech, Wilt is one of the first examples of greatness as a disease.

Breaks of the Game and Seven Seconds or Less are interesting because of how similar many of the characters are: The disgruntled second-tier star (Maurice Lucas and Shawn Marion), the flashy gunner (Eddie House and Billy Ray Bates), the injured superstar who loomed over the team (Bill Walton and Amare Stoudemire), and the brilliant architects of the whole endeavor. (Brian Coangelo/Mike D’Antoni and Stu Inman/Jack Ramsay)

Another layer added to both books is how close both franchises were to ruining themselves: The Suns gave Eddie House and Rajon Rondo’s money to Marcus Banks after the season described by SSOL, which spelled the beginning of the end for that franchise. Even more¬†catastrophically, Breaks of the Game features Stu Inman describing his reasons for picking Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. Even Playing For Keeps offers a profile of Jerry Krause, who destroyed the Bulls shortly after Jordan left. All three books, and maybe even Moneyball as well, describe the magic of a perfectly run franchise while unintentionally describing the impossibility of sustaining that success.

Pistol, by Mark Kreigel

Another beautiful portrait of basketball’s early era, as well as the best straight athlete bio I’ve ever read. Pistol Pete, if not one of the best to ever play the game, was certainly one of the most important, and fascinating.

God Save the Fan, by Will Leitch

Technically not blackballed by ESPN anymore! I like Deadspin. I love Will Leitch as an essayist. He details the perversities and hypocrisies of modern sports mythology perfectly, while giving ample reason to stick with these silly games anyways. His footnoted interview of John Rocker, his essay on steroids, and his brilliant and side-splitting essay on homosexuality in professional sports are highlights.

FreeDarko Presents… The Macrophenominal Basketball Almanac, by Bethlehem Shoals, Silverbird5000, Dr. Lawyer IndianChief, Brown Recluse, Esq., and Big Baby Belafonte

Yes, I claim some conflict of interest here-I got my big break getting brought in to provide content for FreeDarko’s website while those guys were busy with the book. But it’s still an exceptional piece of work-in the stats, content, essays, theories, and illustrations, it represents a level of thought put into sport that just wasn’t seen in modern sportswriting before the internet era.

Now I Can Die In Peace, by Bill Simmons

Again, a bit of a conflict of interest here, but this is the most influential sportswriter of the last decade. Period. And the “collection of essays” format, normally a cop-out, actually helps this book. You get to see the game change in real-time, from Simmons’ early non-affiliated¬†work, handing out Godfather quotes, dropping F-bombs, and live-journaling a wedding, to trying to bring the voice of the fan to the mainstream. To ignore Simmons’ impact and deny his talent is to be a step behind.

Alright, that’s all for tonight. I’m still going to do one more of these, but I’m sure I plum forgot a bunch, so sound off in the comments. Until next time, campers.