By now you've surely read this Oregonlive.com interview with Bill Simmons, ESPN's Sports Guy and author of The Book of Basketball, in advance of his book tour stop in Beaverton on Thursday.
There are many, many reasons to buy this book and, having finished it last week, a full review is coming soon. To summarize: It's funny, it's thorough, it's thought- and argument-provoking, it's imaginative and it's one of the best books ever written about basketball. If you like the sport, the sport's history, books about the sport and arguing about the sport, you will almost certainly like The Book of Basketball.
However, I must vehemently disagree with one statement from that Simmons interview. And that would be...
If anybody's going to like this book it's somebody from Portland.
That's simply not true. If ANYBODY is going to like this book it's going to be someone who, like Simmons, is from Boston and/or its surrounding area. The Book of Basketball spends most of its time talking about the Celtics and major portions discussing their many rivals: the Lakers, (Philadelphia) Warriors, Knicks and Pistons.
More accurately, if anybody is going to feel like their team and franchise got snubbed or is being attacked for no reason in this book, it's somebody from Portland. Although Simmons speaks very highly of the great teamwork displayed by the 1977 and 1978 Blazers on multiple occasions, here's a partial list of things that might irk you as a Portlander or Blazers fan...
- Simmons spends nearly as much time (probably more) dissecting the 1984 NBA draft than he does the rest of the franchise's history put together.
- Only 2 Blazers -- Clyde Drexler and... Arvydas Sabonis (?) -- make his Hall of Fame Pyramid.
- Clyde Drexler is painted as a second fiddle who was destroyed by Jordan in the NBA Finals and Dream Team practices and who needed a player like Hakeem Olajuwon to give his career meaning. But that career still didn't mean much: according to Simmons, Drexler only earned his ring because Jordan went to play baseball and didn't come back in time to destroy him again.
- Arvydas Sabonis the international player is idealized while Arvydas Sabonis the Blazer is described as "lumbering up and down the court in what looked to be concrete Nikes" and ranking "just behind Artis Gilmore on the Moving Like a Mummy Scale." If you thought there wouldn't be room for a mention of his wife's DUI in a short two page profile, you'd be wrong.
- And that's about it for Blazers. It's difficult to count Bill Walton as a Blazer because Simmons leans so heavily on his personal memories of Walton's Celtics day and because he ignores -- and in some cases discounts -- every other member of the 1977 championship team. One gets the feeling that if Walton had never been a Celtic, Simmons would interpret and rate his importance to the history of the NBA much, much differently.
- Maurice Lucas is discussed as a Laker more than he is as a Blazer.
- Scottie Pippen's time in Portland earned one sentence in a profile that stretches over six pages.
- Lenny Wilkins' time in Portland as a player (or as a coach for that matter) isn't mentioned at all by Simmons in his profile.
- The Rip City era never happened. Porter is mentioned in passing, Jerome Kersey is mentioned once, Kevin Duckworth is only mentioned as a major reason why Clyde Drexler didn't win a title as a Blazer.
- Brandon Roy's knee ligaments are compared to sheets of paper.
- As you probably expected, Simmons meets his full quota of Greg Oden cheap shots.
- His big epilogue feature with Bill Walton barely touches on Walton's time with the Blazers. Instead, Simmons embarks on a self-indulgent Tupac Shakur fantasy and describes petting Walton's black cat. If you're looking for real insight into Bill Walton and his time with the Blazers, you're far better off reading this transcript of Walton's own words.
- Simmons lists Dwight Jaynes' book with Rick Adelman in the "Not Particularly Helpful" section of his bibliography and doesn't even have the decency to get the book's title right. Simmons calls it "The Long Season" when in fact the book is titled, "The Long, Hot Winter." This New York Times profile was nice enough to make the correction for him.
If that list isn't enough, Simmons makes one particularly egregious typo that is sure to induce cringes. Here's a screenshot of a paragraph from page 609, a section that describes Jordan's greatness.
Let's get a little closer, I don't quite believe my eyes.
OK, full zoom time, I am dumbfounded.
Wow. Just.... wow.
Typos happen. All. The. Time. But, man, that's a tough one to swallow. Brutal. Anyone remember those great Larry Bird-led Lakers teams? What about Bill Russell's Warriors? My favorite teams of all time had to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Celtics.
In a cruel, perfect twist of fate, Simmons is planning to attend tomorrow night's game at the Rose Garden, as Portland plays host to Detroit. No doubt he is extremely excited to see Brandon Roy's Pistons host Ben Gordon's Blazers. This could turn out to be the single most confusing night of his life (crazier than Vegas, baby!). Hopefully the Blazers or Nike or someone will be there to serve as a tour guide, translating the disorienting action on the fly.
To put this all together, should we -- as Portlanders and/or rabid followers of the city's only major professional sports team -- be surprised that The Book of Basketball is lacking in Blazers information? Not really. In writing it, Simmons drew heavily on his own personal experiences growing up watching games in the Boston Garden. During his formative years, the 1980s, the Blazers were only making one trip a year to Boston and they weren't a true league power. The franchises have never met in the playoffs and crunch time matters a lot to Simmons and to his book. Also, Simmons carefully traces the NBA's early days and honors the league's first stars; the Blazers didn't exist until 40 years ago. He can't be blamed for that.
Ultimately, should we forgive Simmons for his oversight, for his incorrect statement about Portlanders loving his book more than anyone and for potentially the worst typo of all time? Yeah, probably. But if you do go to his book signing, I suggest asking him to correct and autograph page 609.
Or, you could protest loudly as he seems to fear you will. That would be funny too.
-- Ben Golliver | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter