John Chidley A blog about reading, writing, pop culture and sports.


Book Review – The Book of Basketball

The Book of Basketball seemed like the perfect book for me, a natural fit.

But Bill Simmons’ magnum opus, although entertaining and somewhat informative, fell short of my expectations.

You see, like most Canadians, I don’t know a lot about basketball. Sure, I watch maybe a game per week, I know the big name players and I certainly respect their athleticism and the skill necessary to play in the National Basketball Association.

But that level of interest pales in comparison to my obsession with hockey. That’s just the sad truth: In Canada, basketball always plays second fiddle to hockey. From an early age we’re all ingrained with an understanding of hockey that fuels our fascination.

It’s hard for any sport, especially one that runs at roughly the same time as the National Hockey League, to gain any kind of popular traction amongst Canadians.

What it boils down to for me is this: if you gave me a TV with only two channels, one broadcasting the classic 1986 NBA Finals with Magic Johnson’s Los Angeles Lakers facing Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics and the other showing a pre-2004 lockout game between the New Jersey Devils and Minnesota Wild, I’d probably end up watching the hockey.

However, I’m always trying to broaden my horizons, especially when it comes to sports and writing, and so I want to expand my basketball knowledge base.

Further, Simmons has always impressed me as an imaginative writer who can inform and amuse. Anyone who’s read his blog or followed him on Twitter knows he has a deep and abiding passion for basketball, so it seemed like reading his tome would be the perfect way to familiarize myself with the game.

There’s no denying that I learned a lot from Simmons’ 736 page treatise on every imaginable detail of professional basketball. His meticulously researched book does a lot to explain the evolving styles of play as well as the different personalities that have made up the NBA and American Basketball Association.

His lengthy footnotes and parenthetical asides made me laugh out loud and his pop-culture references are always on point. He’s got a gift for keeping sections that would otherwise be deathly boring fun and fresh. Unfortunately, they also add about an extra 100 pages to an already lengthy book.

That’s just one symptom of this book’s fatal flaw: it is poorly edited. Simmons should’ve been reined in to try and keep the book and more manageable length.

Further, a more consistent naming protocol should have been used. Player’s first names, last names and nicknames are used interchangeably from paragraph to paragraph, sometimes sentence to sentence. Although it can lead to some echoes in the writing, sticking to a standard would have lowered the word count - and in a book this big that could end up cutting some pages – and would have made the book more accessible.

This is where the book ultimately failed me.

As a survey of the history and players of professional basketball, the Book of Basketball seemed like the ideal entryway for a novice fan trying to learn about the sport. But it seems as though Simmons never really decided who his target audience was going to be, and so his narrative swings from being explanatory and appropriate for the new fan, to detailed and filled with in jokes only a long-time NBA fan would get.

Writing a book for the sophisticated fan is fine, but it should be advertised as such and be consistent in its level of accessibility. Unfortunately, the Book of Basketball is all over the map in comprehension, making it a frustrating read.

Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball is funny and smart, but could’ve used a more firm editorial hand to rein in some of the author’s lengthier footnotes and asides to make a slightly more concise book that is accessible for all readers.


Come playoff time, the LeBracle doesn’t change much

The Three Amigos in Miami won't be able to change the competitive balance in the NBA.It’s been weeks and the National Basketball Association is still reeling from LeBron James’ hour-long ESPN special called the Decision where he announced that he was joining Dwyane Wade and former-Toronto Raptor Chris Bosh on the Miami Heat.

The fans of James’ former team, his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, went crazy. Pure guano. Owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter calling the former Ohio hero a coward and compared him to reviled American traitor Benedict Arnold.

Commentators around the Association thought that Gilbert had maybe gone too far, but they understood his position. No one could understand LeBron’s thinking.

Many basketball experts bemoaned the fact that Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would have never done something like this. That era of superstars wanted to beat each other, not join forces. The competitive balance of the league had presumably been ruined with Wade, Bosh and James conspiring to move to South Beach.

I agree to an extent. James’ decision to announce on a nationally televised infomercial that he was leaving his hometown team – without first warning the Cavaliers – was a disaster. It was ham-handed and poorly considered. Although Gilbert’s rhetoric was over-the-top, I totally understand why he’s upset.

But this noise about the competitive balance of the league being ruined is ridiculous. Simply put, the NBA doesn’t nearly have the parity of other leagues.

The NBA is not like the National Football League where any team can stun the world and win the Super Bowl. It’s not like the National Hockey League where teams can fall prey to tougher, more determined clubs in the postseason.

A scenario like the 2010 Eastern Conference playoffs where the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins – arguably the two best teams in the East – were knocked off by the opportunistic Montreal Canadiens just would never happen in the NBA.

No, every year there are a maximum of four basketball teams that stand a realistic shot at winning the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy. Look at this breakdown of picks from’s experts for the 2009-10 season.

All 12 experts believed that the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers would win their divisions. Only Vince Thomas picked the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks to win their divisions. Otherwise, it was unanimous that the Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs would win the Southeast and Southwest.

The Northwest division was the only group to create any kind of controversy with three commentators picking the Denver Nuggets.

When it came to conference champions, the East was perfectly split between Boston and Cleveland, while the Lakers got 10 votes to San Antonio’s two in the West.

I’m a pretty casual basketball fan, and even I would have guessed at the Celtics or Cavaliers facing Los Angeles in the NBA Finals. The Spurs are a bit of a curveball, but they were still a pretty obvious pick.

Not surprisingly, the experts were right. The Lakers did play Boston, after the Celtics had eliminated Cleveland.

So for 2010, we have to assume that the Lakers and Boston are still going to be competitive clubs. Cleveland will be adrift without LeBron, but they will be easily replaced by the Heat as one of the new favourites in the East.  

In other words, there are still three teams – and only three teams – that really have any kind of chance to win the championship.

You can say a lot about LeBron James’ move to the Miami Heat. In fact, a lot of people have. But it can’t be argued that it’s ruined the parity of the league.

Ultimately, the competitive balance will stay the same in the NBA, with only a few teams having any kind of legitimate chance at winning the title. It just so happens that now one of those teams are based in Miami and not in Cleveland.


Athletes and coaches need to step up to prevent violence towards women

University of Virginia President John T. Casteen III spoke at a vigil held in memory of Yeardley Love.

Field lacrosse is supposed to be a gentleman's game. Referees can hand out penalties for swearing or, if they’re particularly strict, if anyone other than a team captain speaks to them.

In fact, one of the senior lacrosse referees in Ontario regularly admonishes athletes for swearing on the field by saying “Watch your language, I’m carrying a picture of my mother in my pocket.” He’s not afraid to hand out fouls for anything he deems to hurt the image of the game.

Sportsmanship toward opponents, officials and teammates is considered a prized characteristic in lacrosse players.

Unfortunately, this respect for the game doesn’t always translate to respectful or even legal behaviour off the field.

On Monday University of Virginia senior lacrosse player George Huguely was arrested and charged with first degree murder of Yeardley Love, a member of the school’s women’s lacrosse team.

According to news reports, the two had a relationship that recently ended. Huguely admitted in a search warrant affidavitissued to Charlottesville, Va., police that he and Love had an altercation and that he “shook Love and her head repeatedly hit the wall.”

It’s a shocking tragedy that has upset the community surrounding UVA. A young life has been snuffed out before it even really began.

This isn’t the first time that NCAA lacrosse has been rocked by controversy. In 2006 three members of Duke University’s team were accused of raping a black student from North Carolina Central University who was hired as a stripper at a party held at the house of one of the captains of the Blue Devils.

Although all charges were dropped against the three athletes, the messy affair created a firestorm around Duke’s campus and ignited racial tensions in North Carolina. The lives and reputations of many of the parties involved were ruined.

Obviously, the Duke scandal and the murder in Virginia are unrelated crimes that took place years apart and involve independent parties.

Still, they offer a sad commentary on the behaviour of varsity lacrosse players. Both incidents underscore the fact that many young men involved in athletics are violent, often towards women.

It’s not limited to lacrosse at the university level either. There have been many famous professional athletes accused of sexual assault including NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and, more recently, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Coaches, captains, athletic directors and anyone else in a position of authority on these teams have to start stepping up and teaching their athletes the importance of respect and discipline on and off the field.

The emphasis placed on sportsmanship and good conduct when playing lacrosse should also be applied to real life beyond the confines of competition. Yes, winning is important. Drive and determination are too. But being able to succeed on the field is even sweeter if it’s accomplished by a classy, respectful person off the field.

I’m not saying that coaches can control their athletes or single-handedly stop domestic abuse. Everyone involved with sports, at all levels, should re-double their efforts to breed a healthier attitude toward women.

That Ontario Lacrosse Association referee has the right idea - banning swearing may seem quaint, but encouraging a gentlemanly attitude in all facets of life is a worthwhile pursuit.

Sadly, there will likely always be violence in society. It will never be completely eradicated. But in an atmosphere like a varsity team where young athletes are being shaped into men, role models like coaches or senior players should still do their best to encourage healthy and respectful interactions.

None of this can reverse the tragic fate of Yeardley Love, but her memory can be honoured by the athletic community as it addresses this issue.