By Paul Knepper
Last week a friend of mine asked if I could recommend a good basketball book. That’s not a simple question for a hoops junkie like me. It gave me the idea to come up with a list of my favorite basketball books. Let me know what you think and if you have any recommendations for books I may have missed.
10) Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and off the Court by John Wooden and Steve Jamison
Ten championships in twelve years. Enough said. Coach Wooden was an American treasure and his insights into the game he loved are simple, yet incredibly profound.
9) The City Game: Basketball from the Garden to the Playgrounds by Pete Axthelm
Axthelm waxes poetic about two different basketball scenes in New York City during the 69-70 season; the majestic atmosphere and personalities at the Garden during the Knicks championship run and the superb talent and pitfalls of playground legends on the streets of Harlem like Earl “The Goat” Manigault.
8) Fab Five: Basketball, Trash Talk, the American Dream by Mitch Album
An inside look at the iconic team that changed the game by introducing Hip-Hop culture into the sport and winning their way. The book provides describes their individual personalities and addresses their polarizing affect on the media and fans.
7) Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto
This book’s quirky, disjointed style embodies the league it portrays. Some of the stories about characters like Marvin Barnes will have you laughing out loud. However, Pluto makes it clear that the ABA had plenty of talent and developed many of the innovations which are now staples of the NBA.
6) The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy by Bill Simmons
This book suffers from an identity crisis, caught between a serious chronicle of the history of the NBA and the Sports Guy’s typical schtick. That being said, it’s the most comprehensive history of the league out there. Simmons’ Hall of Fame pyramid is particularly creative and entertaining.
5) A Season on the Brink by John Feinstein
What could be more dramatic than a season-long behind-the-scenes look at Robert Montgomery Knight? Feinstein captures the General’s soft side, in addition to his often calculated outbursts. All in all it’s not a very flattering portrayal of Knight, and supposedly, he hasn’t spoken to Feinstein since.
4) Life on the Run by Bill Bradley
Dollar Bill took his journal entries from a three week period towards the end of the 1973-74 season and spun them into this masterpiece. His brilliance is evident as he breaks down the game of basketball and it’s role in his life and society in a way that nobody else could.
3) The Last Shot: City Street, Basketball Dreams by Darcey Frey
Frey chronicles the lives of four high school kids from Coney Island, Brooklyn (including a young Stephon Marbury) who view a basketball scholarship as their “last shot” to escape the projects. He pulls you into these kids’ dreams and brings you along for the ride as the system fails them.
2) The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam
Halberstam uses the 1979-1980 Portland Trailblazers as a lens through which to view the growth of the NBA and the various factors which motivate and distract players, affecting the quality of play in the process. This is a must read for anybody interested in the history of the league.
1) Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander
Telander hung out at Foster Court in Brooklyn for two summers and chronicled the personalities of the talented, comical and sometimes sad characters who passed through. The result is a fascinating account of the role basketball plays in ghetto life and the effect the ghetto has on basketball.
Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game by John Feinstein and Red Auerbach
Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel
Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson
Seven Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin’ and Gunnin” Phoenix Suns by Jack McCallum
The Jordan Rules by Stan Smith
The Jump: Sebastian Telfair and the High Stakes Business of High School Ball by Ian O’Connor
The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball by John Taylor
When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird, Earvin Johnson Jr. and Jackie MacMullan