In my first installment of Top 8s I went over my favorite basketball flicks. With Christmas right around the corner, I tossed together some gift list ideas by consulting my "Wish List" on Amazon.com. That got me thinking of my favorite basketball books ...
With any great list, and I'd like to think my lists are great, there are those that don't quite make the cut, but are still good enough to warrent your attention ... just ask undrafted players Wesley Matthews and Gary Forbes and draft picks that slipped for no reason like Roy Hibbert and Ty Lawson.
The three books that merit a read, but didn't make my list ...
Mitch Albom's 1993 book, Fab Five: A great read about the University of Michigan's historic freshman squad that featured Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, ESPN's Jalen Rose, TNT's Chris Webber, and current Miami Heat forward and former Nugget Juwan Howard.
Jack McCallum's 1992 book, Unfinished Business: Behind the scenes with the 1990-91 Boston Celtics. A great look at a team with unlimited access from McCallum. The book also features a great quote by Altitude TV's color-man Scott Hastings, "I always hear my name mentioned in connection with Larry Bird's. People are always saying, 'That Scott Hastings, he's sure no Larry Bird.' "
- Cameron Stauth's 1992 book, The Golden Boys: The Unauthorized Inside Look at the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team: This is a great book for the reader looking for some new information and background into the individual players for The Dream Team. I found the parts on Christian Laettner, Chris Mullen, Clyde Drexler, and David Robinson to be very informative because unlike the rest of the players, I knew the least about these guys.
Alright, now that the ones that didn't make the list are out of the way ... it's time for THE LIST. Let's get to it ...
8.) Filip Bondy's 2007 book, Tip Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever
The basis: Pretty self-explanatory by the subtitle, but this book delves into a bit of the front office decisions behind such picks like the famous Sam Bowie/Michael Jordan dilemma and the John Stockton and Charles Barkley quandaries.
Reason I liked it: Again, I loved knowing some of the thinking that went into the decisions behind the picks and getting a nice background behind some of the most famous basketball players to ever lace 'em up.
Hard to think Jordan didn't go No. 1.
7.) Terry Pluto's 1990 book, Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of The American Basketball Association
The basis: Just as the subtitle says, this book is all about the ABA and gives great background to tons of stuff I really knew nothing about. The funny part about this book ... it doesn't make Will Ferrell's Semi-Pro movie look so wacky or seem unbelievable.
Reason I liked it: The book is put together by Pluto ... not really written by him. The book is basically interviews by players, owners, and front office guys who were all a part of the ABA. There are a lot of stories in the book from former Nuggets coaches Doug Moe and Larry Brown and some excellent tidbits about the Denver Rockets/Nuggets as well.
6.) Paul Shirley's 2007 book, Can I Keep My Jersey? 11 Teams, 5 Countries, and 4 Years in My Life as a Basketball Vagabond
The basis: All you would ever want to know about the guy on the end of the bench for your favorite team. Also some great looks at basketball overseas, as well as some tales into how the end of the bench guys fit in with the rest of the team.
Reason I liked it: On the 0% chance that I ever made an NBA roster, I would most likely be a "Paul Shirley" and not a "Carmelo Anthony" ... except I'm not 6'10'' like Shirley. But reading about his experience really makes you wonder how the guys on the end of the bench keep their sanity and makes you appreciate how hard they have to work to taste their dream ... even though they spend most of their time on the bench like Renaldo Balkman.
The story of the bench warmers.
5.) Jack McCallum's 2006 book, :07 Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin' and Gunnin' Phoenix Suns
The basis: McCallum gets a sequal of sorts to his book I referenced above Unfinished Business, this time his with the Suns and you get all the great access, once again, to all the behind-the-scenes action surrounding an NBA team.
Reason I liked it: I think I enjoyed this book just a bit more than McCallum's book about the Celtics because I remember watching that Suns team a lot more than the Celtics one. Also, I just didn't understand why such a fun and exciting team split up and wanted some answers. While we don't get all the answers to why the Suns didn't work, we do get a good sense of some key players that are still playing in the NBA today.
Shawn Marion is a weird dude.
4.) Darcy Frey's 1994 book, The Last Shot: City Streets. Basketball Dreams
The basis: This book follows the careers of local Coney Island basketball stars Russell Thomas, Tchaka Shipp, Corey Johnson, and Stephon Marbury and the paperback includes a Afterword from 12 years since the book was written. This book wound up being more about disappointment than anything else, but it was a great read about four guys trying to figure it all out.
Reason I liked it: Gotta admit, got a little dusty at points in this book. Could easily be a movie and just a very well written look at kids before their dreams are realized, but they are already being treated, at times, like stars.
3.) David Halberstam's 1981 book, The Breaks of the Game: The world of professional basketball--the players, the coaches and the owners, the money, the media and the fans, the pain, pressure and sweetness of one long hard season with the Portland Trail Blazers
The basis: Just go head and read the subtitle again. This book focuses on the 1979-80 season with the Portland Trail Blazers, but jumps around in time when discussing individual players. Halberstam is a brilliant man and a great writer ... this book is a bit much for the average reader, but well worth it.
Reason I liked it: Halberstam, again, is just a fantastic writer and does a great job talking about basketball in a way that reads more like something of historical significance than just a book. A must read for any basketball fan ... if only to say that you've read it.
2.) David Halberstam's 1999 book, Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan & the World He Made
The basis: Everything you'd ever want to know about Michael Jordan, his Chicago Bulls teams and teammates ... up until 1998 that is. The book delves into Jordan's childhood, his college days, and his time of course with the Bulls. There are so many great interviews and great insight from Mr. Halberstam once again.
Reason I liked it: There are just so many great little Jordan stories in here. I grew up in the Jordan era and he was the biggest star around, so this book just gave me all I could want about a player that was just facinating and helped me fall in love with the game of basketball.
1.) Bill Simmons' 2009 book, The Book of Basketball
The basis: So much basketball information that your head might explode. The greatest player countdown, basketball "What Ifs", and just awesome insight (thanks to many sources) into the best game on the planet.
Reason I liked it: Like most of Simmons' stuff, just a book that reads like a conversation with your buddies. This book uses so many sources it can lead you to different books and movies, and with 697 pages (hard cover) you get a great overall look at the NBA.
Just as I encouraged you all to do with my movies list ... feel free to argue, add your own books or lists, and maybe go out and pick up a new book. I look forward to a couple suggestions from you all and hope I can get at least one of you to pick up something new to read yourselves or to give to someone for the upcoming holidays.
Let's see what you think ...
Photos courtesy of Amazon.com