Saturday, March 12, 2011

More Thoughts on The B.S. Book of Basketball

"Vast, I allow: but vile. Cloacae: sewers."
- Ulysses, pg. 131

I am not the type of person to trash someone's work. I've never given a book one or two stars on Amazon because, quite honestly, if a book sucks then I won't read it. I've always loved Bill Simmons' basketball writing. As I said in my post reviewing the first half of his book, I've always been eager to read his latest NBA columns because the thoroughly expressed passion and knowledge serves to spring up my interest in the game. In short, for many years Bill Simmons' writing always precipitated my basketball interest.

And yet, given the opportunity to write a full-fledged epic treatise on the game, he gave a sloppy effort and stuffed in so much self-praise, dirty jokes, and rambling bullshit that the book was often insufferable. Never in my life have I actually thrown a book in a fit of disgust until this one. And, after slogging through every last bit of it, the final lines made me want to rip the book in half. There's a part when he's talking about Kobe Bryant, and he uses an analogy that I think accurately describes how I felt about the book:
[It] was like having a friend purchase a beautiful $10 million mansion...then paint it a weird color, refuse to hire a housekeeper, decorate it with goofy modern furniture and basically ruin the house. Buddy, what the fuck are you doing? Don't you realize what you have here? (pg 578)
The book is certainly not all bad. I mostly enjoyed the first half (though the silly footnotes and jokes were irritating) and there is some great stuff in the enormous Pyramid section covering his list of the top 96 players of all time. That section takes up the bulk of the book (about 400 pages) and there are some bad stretches that made me question whether he just threw some paragraphs together and submitted a first draft, but I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the writing for Bob Cousy, Elgin Baylor, and especially Dr. J. His thorough breakdown of Hakeem Olajuwon's uniqueness was also very good.

But most of the time his writing style sinks down to that of a frat boy or some other numb-minded "bro." That might be why he's so popular but it's just brutal to read. In my first review, I complained about his incessant dick jokes. Once I made it around page 600 I realized the man is thoroughly obsessed with penises and can't keep his mind off them for more than a page or two (a Freudian would have a field day with this, I thought). He also frequently feels the need to homophobically insist that he's not gay. Yet, the book also wreaks of misogyny; as one of the New York Magazine reviewers put it: "In my notes on TBOB, I actually stopped bothering to copy down the most egregious comments and figured I'd just note when Simmons mentioned a woman for any reason other than evaluating her appeal as something to put a penis in."

In the abstract, that stuff doesn't bother me so much. I'm obsessed with Joyce's books and during his life he was lambasted and his books burned because they were so "obscene" plus I listen to some of the grimiest hip hop music ever made. The main problem for me: this is a book about basketball! It's titled "THE Book of Basketball" and has the word BASKETBALL in huge letters along the spine. Yet, it's filled with the author's idiotic Vegas adventures, shitty pop culture references, and a ridiculous amount of the dirty stuff, while providing often sloppy basketball analysis. He constantly decries the use of stats to evaluate a player's true value and yet---just like the ignorant baseball writers who diss sabermetrics and then make arguments with RBIs and batting average---he always refers to the basic stats (points, rebounds, assists) and often jumbles them together in convoluted ways that support his argument. His arguments, of course, are always presented in an overly proud, assertive manner (basically, "what I say is right, fuck you if you don't like it") as he frequently alludes to a player as top-5, top-10 or whatever and never explains what these rankings are determined by.

Early in the book when he's using a bunch of Bill Russell quotes to proclaim the power of basketball's nebulous "Secret," he follows the Celtic legend's words with this comment: "I didn't see the word 'stats' or 'numbers' in there. It's all about winning." There are a few times he says stuff like that and so I laughed when reading the last chapter where he presents us with Kobe's entire playoff stat line to dismiss the possibility of Bryant "getting it" and becoming a team player when the Lakers won the 2009 championship.

If all of that weren't enough to deter me from enjoying the book, there's the sad fact that Simmons has embraced his popularity so much that he frequently feels the need to tell us how great he is or share lame celebrity anecdotes. Because, after all, he's a celebrity living in Los Angeles. An internet writer who gained his fame because of his "regular opinionated sports fan" character, he's now been bloated into a D-list celebrity sycophant. Name-dropping, shouting out famous friends, and the book's laughably conceited conclusion (driving up the Pacific coast in a convertible) serve to get in the way of hoops talk and confront the reader with the image of a corny mid-40s white guy in a sports jacket, standing at a bar scoping out the joint. That image, combined with Simmons' frequent allusions to his favorite show Miami Vice, make the author a perfect fit for Ben Stiller's character in that old ridiculous SNL short "The H is O".

I wanted to keep this brief but I'm going to Simmons-esque length already. I'll concede that the book is probably better if taken in small bites or as a reference guide. Reading it page-by-page, front-to-back was not pleasant and there were many times where I'd flip back to the praising reviews quoted at the front of the book and wonder if they were really talking about this book. There is so much more I can say about it but I'll leave it at that because I've spilled too much hate already plus there are other writers saying the same things more articulately than I can. In the end, I'm just so goddamn thankful for FreeDarko.

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