Unusual Prologue to “The Book of Basketball”

NOTE: I received Bill Simmons The Book of Basketball and Jackie MacMullen’s When the Game was Ours for Christmas, and since there is no possible way to write a cogent review of Simmons book in one post, and since it will probably take me about 5,000 trips to the “Library” to finish both, I will be posting running reviews of each book, Chapter by Chapter, on this blog.

SIDEBAR: I’ve been leafing through some of the chapters in Simmons book in advance, and I notice the book is filled with unsubstantiated claims (for instance, he claims the NBA was “diluted” when the Bucks won their World Championship, yet offers no proof for said claim other than the existence of the ABA).  To the extent possible, I plan to test his claims.  Some may be right, some wrong; I want to find out.

The Book of Basketball

The Prologue

Reading The Book of Basketball is like watching a season of The Wire on DVD.  You know in advance it could be enjoyable, but you also know in advance that it will require a huge investment of your time.  The book’s unusual prologue did ABSOLUTELY nothing to dissuade me from that notion.

I’ve read many books in my lifetime.  Most all of them have contained a prologue.  Almost every one of those prologues has, in one form or another, been an overview of the material covered in the particular book or the argument made by the author of the particular book.  Until The Book of Basketball.

Simmons’ prologue is not a prologue at all.  It is an extra chapter he snuck by his editor.  Proof of this are the multiple footnotes contained on nearly every single page.  I have never once seen a single footnote in a prologue.

OVERVIEW:   Simmons became a hardcore Boston Celtic fan at an early age mostly because of his father’s decision to spend one of the family’s tax returns on mid-level season tickets at the Boston Garden.  Simmons father purchased  the seats just prior to the Celtics 1974 championship season and maintained the seats throughout the glory days of the 1980s (and I assume to this day).  Thus Simmons was able to be on hand for some of the more memorable games of the 1980s, games he believes endowed him with a “PhD in basketball”.

REVIEW STYLE: Since the book is rather disjointed, instead of commenting on it in a linear fashion, I will simply pick out the most provocative issues/stories contained in each chapter and comment on them.  Here is what I picked out of the book’s prologue:

The Funny Factoids

Simmons is at his worst when he presents his various untested theories on objective sports issues as though they are rock solid and then offers no evidence or misleading evidence to support them.  (For instance, he claims the 1972 Los Angeles Lakers winning a championship after the loss of Elgin Baylor supports his “Ewing Theory” that teams often get better after they lose their best player.  He fails to mention that by 1972 Elgin Baylor was rendered ineffective by knee injuries and was probably the Lakers 10th best player when he retired in the middle of the season).

Simmons is at his best when he offers up little factoids that no one  else would mention and that you probably couldn’t find anywhere else.  For instance, I just started reading his book and I’ve already learned: (1) Dave Cowens quit the Celtics in 1977 and drove cab, only to return to the team just after the New Year; (2) Rick Barry wore a wig during the 1976 season; (3) the NBA originally agreed to a nearly full merger with the ABA in 1973 which would have expanded the association to 28 teams.  If it hadn’t been blocked by the NBA Player’s Association’s lawsuit, the merger would have made NBA franchises out of the likes of the “Memphis Tams” and the “Kentucky Colonels”; (4) Red Auerbach was so disgusted with some of the meddling of Celtic owner John Y. Brown he almost left for the Knicks… how history might have changed.

Simmons Interesting Father

The person in the prologue that stood out to me as someone I’d like to know was Bill Simmons’ father.  Simmons doesn’t talk about him much, except to mention some of his early struggles and that he and Simmons mother split up five years after his father decided to purchase Celtics tickets.  From what I gather, he is a smart guy who has gone through some hard times and through it all has maintained a hardcore interest in the NBA.  My kind of guy.

Simmons Kareem crisis

There’s something weird going on in the prologue.  In one of the footnotes, Simmons warns that he will be bashing Kareem throughout the book because “he is a ninny” whatever that is.  All right.  But then he writes about how in the first grade he went through a “racial crisis” due to his love of the black sport of basketball and insisted he be referred to by his Muslim name of “Jabbal Abdul-Simmons”.  Um, that’s basically the name “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar” in different form.  Moreover, changing to a Muslim name was not a general “black basketball player” thing, it was specifically a Lew Alcindor thing.  So clearly at some point in his life Simmons deeply admired Kareem, enough to want to go through the same life transformation Kareem went through.  Why the hatred now?  I hope he explains.

You Remember All That?

I went to a lot of significant Bucks games in the 1980s.  Here’s what I can tell you about them.  Most of the best were playoff games against the Larry Bird Celtics.  My last Milwaukee Arena game was against the Detroit Pistons when the Pistons were just getting good in the late 80s.  And my first Bradley Center playoff game was against the rising Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls.  I know the Bucks lost that Bulls game badly, and I remember they lost at least one of those Celtics games on a last second miss by John Lucas.  But even that one predominant memory, of Lucas attempting a twisting shot at the buzzer, turned out to be false. (Lucas never took the kind of twisting shot my memory told me he took).  Also, after one Bucks game I was able to go down to the Cleveland Cavaliers locker room to meet their coach Tom Nissalke.  I don’t remember anything about the conversation.  All I remember is Nissalke had  a moustache and he gave me some paraphernalia that had the cool 80s Cavs logo on it.

I bring all that up because, unlike me, Bill Simmons seems to maintain unusually vivid and detailed memories of events that happened 20 to 30 years ago.   He remembers that Dave Cowens wore dangerously tight shorts.  He remembers exactly who Collins shouldered blocked in some random 1970s game and exactly what he said afterward.  He remembers a conversation he had with Marvin Bad News Barnes.  He remembers exactly what he was thinking during the famous Game Six of the 1976 Finals (which he of course was at).  And he remembers that he and his father watched Charlie’s Angels afterward.

The point is, he almost certainly either refreshed or embellished his memories.  Which is cool, I do it all the time, but I wish he would explain that before he bears witness.

The $4.00 ticket

That is the name of the prologue and it raises a profound issue about the future of the NBA I wish Simmons would have dealt with directly.

In 1974 Bill Simmons father was able to buy a near court side Celtic season ticket for $4.00.  In real 2008 dollars, that ticket cost $17.28.  The NBA  once priced itself for the middle class market.  It sure doesn’t anymore.

And while the 1974 NBA didn’t bring in nearly as much revenue from that seat as it brings in from a comparable seat under its 21st century corporate pricing structure, one must ask “what has it lost?’.  As a direct consequence of the 1974 pricing structure, the NBA not only sold a seat, it bought a lifelong hardcore fan who would go on to write a popular book celebrating his fandom and essentially promoting the NBA to a wide audience.

The NBA has made a TON of revenue in the last decade, but I believe it has done so at the cost of an entire generation of Bill Simmonses.  When will that bill come due?

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One Response to “Unusual Prologue to “The Book of Basketball””

  1. Sara Miller Says:

    I know this might not be the most appropriate place to post this but for other readers living in the USA are you concerned about the debt? It just seems like it is getting to the point where the country is going to go bankrupt and my husband and I are just a little concerned that our kids and grandkids are going to have some big problems in a few years. Thanks for letting me vent, Sara

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