Summer Reading: Top 10 Basketball Books

May 29th, 2008
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Jon Teitel’s summer reding list of the 10 best basketball books..

1. A Season on the Brink, by John Feinstein (member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame)

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Feinstein follows Bob Knight and his Hoosiers through the 1985 86 season.  The inside access allows the reader to see how Knight, one of the most fascinating coaches in college basketball history, works his magic both at practice and during a game.

2. The Breaks of the Game, by David Halberstam (Pulitzer Prize winner)

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Halberstam follows the Portland Trail Blazers through the 1978-79 season.  The inside access allows the reader to see the interactions between the front office, players, coaches, and the entire city of Portland (brimming with issues about race, money, and even hippies).  

3. Life on the Run, by Bill Bradley
(former U.S. Senator and current member of the Basketball Hall of Fame)

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Bradley’s Ivy League education is clearly evident in his erudite look at his life in professional sports.  Unlike Feinstein and Halberstam, Bradley’s dual roles as author/player allow an even more intimate look at life on and off the court, complete with ups (how it feels to win a championship and work as a team) and downs (the physical haul of an entire season and dealing with the fans on the road).

4. Loose Balls: the Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association, by Terry Pluto (2-time Pulitzer Prize nominee)

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: The ABA is largely unknown by most people born after 1980, but Pluto reminds the reader about the origins of the Slam Dunk contest, the three point basket, and some of the most colorful characters in professional basketball history.  Combining the marketing efforts of a Single-A baseball team and the star power of Julius Erving, it eventually helped the NBA become the global entertainment machine it is today.

5. Heaven Is a Playground, by Rick Telander (a 4-time contributor to The Best American Sports Writing anthology)

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: The transformation from a focus on playground legend Fly Williams to an overview of  inner city basketball in Brooklyn and its role in the lives of the people who play there was a good choice by Telander.  The reader also gets in on the ground floor of the career of Albert King (brother of Bernard), who went from a then-14-year-old to ACC player of the year at Maryland to a 9-year NBA career.

6. The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams, by Darcy Frey (National Magazine Award winner for the story upon which this book is based)

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: With the current controversy about how long high school basketball players should have to wait until entering the NBA draft, Frey follows around the Abraham Lincoln High School basketball team, which happens to include a young phenom named Stephon Marbury.  Like Albert King, Marbury honed his game on the city streets, but he is surrounded by a number of people who care about him (his teammates and family) and his talent (agents and recruiters).  

7. Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story, by David Wolf  

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Like King and Marbury, Hawkins was a New York playground legend who later played in the NBA, but only after being banned from the NBA after falling prey to unsavory college recruiters and allegations of corruption.  His naivete and poverty contributed to his fall from grace, but the ABA came to rescue and allowed him to show his high-flying skills before later gaining entry into the NBA.

8. The City Game: Basketball from the Garden to the Playgrounds, by Pete Axthelm (former Newsweek editor and ESPN commentator)

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Axthelm’s focus on the 1969 70 championship season of the New York Knicks is matched shot for shot by the action on the playgrounds of New York City.  Walt Frazier and Earl Monroe shine in front of the cameras, but it is Earl "The Goat" Manigault and Herman "the Helicopter" Knowings who jump higher and cause jaws to drop lower due to their amazing athleticism.

9. They Call Me Coach, by John Wooden (member of the Basketball Hall of Fame) with Jack Tobin

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Wooden won more championships than anyone else in college basketball history, but Tobin’s spotlight on his philosophy of life shows that Wooden is a champion person as well as a champion coach.  From the “pyramid for success” to the love of his life (wife Nell) to his thoughts on Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor, Wooden has a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to share with others.

10. Big Game, Small World, by Alexander Wolff
(member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame)

WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT: Rather than focus on a narrow segment of basketball like many of the above authors, Wolff expands outward to discover how basketball is viewed/played/lived across the country and around the globe.  It takes a second place to soccer in many nations, but his awareness of basketball as a worldwide phenomenon seems to have foreshadowed the recent NBA success of foreigners like Steve Nash/Dirk Nowitzki/Tony Parker.