If you’ve read Sports Illustrated or stumbled across the book Unfinished Business, then you are familiar with the work of Jack McCallum. Mccallum has been a notable figure in the sports journalism circles for decades as a basketball writer for SI, and his various paperback books about both basketball and non-basketball related topics. He is currently in the basketball Hall of Fame as a writer, and for any older school Celtics fans of the Parish,Bird, and McHale era should get their hands on Unfinished Business.
Much like Unfinished Business, McCallum follows around the ’05-06 Phoenix Suns during their entire season like he did with the 1990-91 Boston Celtics. The biggest difference is that McCallum gets an incredibly rare glimpse into NBA minutiae as an unofficial “assistant coach” of the team; sitting in on meetings and going on road trips with the other team assistants. This access pays off as McCallum gives readers an intimate (but sometimes unfair) snapshot of the pivotal and inane moments of the Suns unexpected run to the Western Conference Finals.
Some of these moments include:
- Boris Diaw making a name for himself in the wake of the Amare Stoudemire season ending knee injury, and become the lynch pin to seeing Head Coach Mike D’Antoni’s philosophy come to fruition. It is hard to believe today, but Boris Diaw came into the league as a 6’8 guard.
- Raja Bell at the peak of his NBA career, and laboring to keep a spot in the NBA, he finally finds a place where he can thrive.
- Eddie House (yes that one) and his hilarious locker room quips.
- Pre-game, mid-game, and post game conversations among assistant coaches ranging from what adjustments need to be made from game to game, to the best places to eat in certain cities after NBA games.
- The Suns coming back from a *cough* 3-1 series deficit against the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
- The Suns-Clipper second series that turned when Mike Dunleavy Sr. decided to put a green Daniel Ewing in the game to guard (and subsequently lose) Raja Bell in the waning seconds of the 4th quarter.
- Tim Thomas. Remember that guy?
- The strained relationship between the Colangelos and Robert Sarver, and why the Phoenix experiment ultimately failed. I’ll give you one hint. It wasn’t because of the Colangelo family (I never realized that Joe Johnson was traded. I’d always was under the impression he left as a free agent).
- Steve Nash yelling out the time remaining on the “Clickety” before each tip-off.
- Dirk Nowitzki’s epic 50 point game in a pivotal game 5 of the Western Conference Finals.
- Alvin Gentry’s humorous anecdotes about players and coaches, including the time Jerry Stackhouse beat up Kirk Snyder.
- NBA pre-game routines of players, coaches and staff.
- Then NBA commissioner David Stern issuing a racially coded league wide dress policy.
The book is a real Who’s Who of names from that time period, and I found myself reminiscing on how good Corey Maggette and Elton Brand were back in the day. If you ever listen to the Truehoop podcast (and I highly recommend you do so if you haven’t yet), you may hear Amin El Hassan refer to his time in Phoenix during the SSOL era, and how he went from having some of the most fun he’d ever had on a job, to hating to even come to work.
McCallum captures the sweet period of that blip in franchise’s history before it went sour and all the front office guys went on to do bigger and better things (people like Steve Kerr, David Griffin). My only criticism is that there are a few times that McCallum comes off as an out of touch, old, white guy who has trouble relating to this new generation of stars. The Phoenix staff, although welcoming, does not take it easy on him, and Jack occasionally is the butt of joke just by being there as a writer.
I also wonder if he could do it again, would McCallum leave out some of the more unflattering passages of Shawn Marion and/or Amare Stoudemire. It is these instances where I often considered if he understood the weight of the perceptions he was giving; as sometimes Marion and Stoudemire were unfairly portrayed as dumb, lazy, or selfish.
I personally felt that McCallum could have still moved the story along without including these superficial broad strokes of their characters. Both Marion and Stoudemire overcame seriously adverse circumstances to become the people they were, and McCallum failed to give readers this balanced look at their lives.
All that being said, it is a really fun read, and quite funny. It moves along with the same pace as those high-octane D’Antoni offenses, moving from one place to another with ease. If you’ve read some of Jack McCallum’s other works, it isn’t an unfair criticism to call some of his writings stale and out of touch. This book is only slightly out of touch.
I give it an A minus.
Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at FullsassStudios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org.