A Book Review: The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History

As promised, we’re doing a review of the FreeDarko book, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History. If you missed the review on their other project, “Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, you can read that post here.

In 2010, this collective, self described as a movement that “crawled out of the muck of a fantasy league message board”, returned with an illustrated encyclopedia that will satisfy any and all basketball nerds.

A few fun facts that I learned from reading TUGTPBH:

  • We all know that a Canadian named Dr. James Naismith invented the game of basketball while living in Springfield, Massachusetts.What I did not know is that basketball developed from a Canadian schoolyard game called “duck on the rock.” The premise of the game was to use a ball to knock a small rock (the duck) off of a larger rock. A person would guard the “duck” and apparently the best way to get the ball past the guard was to arc it. inaismi001p1
  • Up until 1937, teams would perform a jump ball after every basket was scored. Can you imagine how slow the tempos of those early games were? People complain about the constant starts and stops inherent in American football games, and that baseball is too slow, but my guess is if they hadn’t adjusted the jump ball rule, there’d be no NBA today. You’d probably be watching a bunch of black athletes dominating on the soccer pitch.
  • Josh Smith’s mother was an R & B singer named Paulette Reaves (I’m telling you these guys are thorough), who was famous for songs like “Do It Again” and “Flesh”, and Ralph Sampson had a daughter who grew up to be neo-soul singer India Arie.

What is also cool, is learning about the fringe novelty teams that barnstormed America which helped popularize the game. In addition to the Harlem Globetrotters (akin to seeing the circus in many people’s opinion), there were the Rens, the first All Black team to win a world title in any sport.

The All-American Red Heads was a group of red headed women (some natural, some dyed) who played up 200 exhibition (six on six but with men’s rules)games during a seven month season. They started by driving around in a station wagon, but eventually moved up to limousine status. Their popularity waned by 1973, which was when the colleges were finally forced to implement sports teams for women.

In addition to learning how the NBA was created (a merger of the NBL and BAA), the book breaks down milieu of each NBA decade, starting with the early Celtics dominance, and finishing with the dynasties of the Lakers and Spurs.

This book was published six years ago–right before Lebron James made the infamous “decision” that would help him achieve full “Lebron” status. I wonder if in four years, Bethlehem Shoals and company will add an extra chapter to account for this current decade.

We haven’t seen an  NBA Finals without LBJ since the 2010 Lakers-Celtics 7 game extravaganza. Even then, FreeDarko wrote about James, that “amazing is a continuous state.” This observation hinted at what the future held in store for Lebron and the game of basketball.

The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History is the kind of thing that it is to be absorbed rather than consumed. The density of the material forced me into a chapter per sitting regiment (in which I finished over the course of a month). This book isn’t for everyone. If you’re the kind of person who would rather read a book written by a Swedish guy obsessed with spies, then this isn’t the book for you–in fact what are you even doing on this site?

I’m not saying that this book is a must read, but it is a must own. Just put it on your coffee table, and within a few days your life will become infinitely better. Trust me on this one.

BM

 

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 Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to thisagoodassgame@gmail.com. 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Boys Among Men

Don’t sleep on this guy just because he looks like Eli the Rapper’s older brother. Jonathan Abrams is one of the best NBA writers in the game right now. He asks the questions that somehow escape other writers; creating story angles that provide different player narratives than the ones most mainstream outlets whiff on. Also, did I mention that he is thorough?

Jonathan Abrams is a USC graduate (boo!) who worked at both the L.A. and New York Times. When he wrote for the now defunct Grantland, he would pop up with a feature on players like Harrison Barnes, Andre Miller, Zach Randolph, J.R. Smith, and Greg Oden, or write about random journeymen like former Jayhawk great Thomas Robinson, Paul Milsap, and other players who find a way to fly under the radar of the national media.

It was always exciting to see his columns pop up on the Grantland homepage because you were guaranteed a quality piece (not always a guarantee on that site) on a player that would make you reexamine the way you originally thought about them. Abrams even had me halfway considering not hating on Austin Rivers, a guy who was a perennial “Buster of the Week” nominee the past 2 NBA seasons. That’s how good of a writer Jonathan Abrams  is.

At least once a month I’d hit someone with the “Abrams has done it again” text after reading one of his “Oral History” columns; the most notable ones being the “Malice at the Palace” and Lakers-Kings Western Conference Finals. Word on the street is that he is currently  working on an oral history of famed television show, The Wire.

“Abrams is the rare reporter who unearths new details about the most famous prep-to-pro stars, like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, and tells the complex stories of those who didn’t make it in the NBA. A must read for any basketball fan.

Earlier this year, Abrams blessed the game with his book, Boys Among Men, an examination about the “Prep-to-Pro” phenomenon that started in the 70’s and hit its apex  in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.

Abrams opens this examination with a chapter that reflects on players like Bill Willoughby, Darryl Dawkins, and Moses Malone; players from the 70’s who made the jump when the NBA was operating under a different financial landscape. Rookie contracts weren’t the financial windfall that the 90’s players landed (indirectly leading to an NBA lockout in 1999) and the risk was much greater for these prep pioneers who made the jump for various reasons.

Abrams goes into great detail about the situations that each Prep-to-Pro player faced when making their decision. Whereas Kobe Bryant (who people forget was a late lottery pick who had to prove himself) came from a privileged upbringing, guys like Amare Stoudemire and Lebron James came from impoverished backgrounds.

Abrams interviews general managers and other front office heads who were behind the scenes of these historic drafts. They detail the reasons why players like Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, and Kobe Bryant succeeded in contrast to players like Korleone Young, Kwame Brown, Leon Smith, and Lenny Cooke, who didn’t quite pan out. There are no what if’s in these books, because the why’s are all laid out for the reader.

One of the biggest questions that gets raised (but isn’t quite answered) is if the rules the NBA implemented to keep high school seniors from declaring for the draft are fair. For players experiencing economic hardships, these rules seem harsh–especially for those players who are equipped to handle the process as mature adults. Despite the cautionary tales of the players who should have gone to college (or overseas like Brandon Jennings), it seems to me like the rules were implemented to save the NBA owners from themselves.

After the success of Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, the pressure to not miss again on young, but high level prospects,  was just as immense as taking a flyer on a high school player and blowing a year’s worth of draft picks. On the surface it seems like an unconstitutional rule that could be fought by the NBA players union (especially considering the league instituted a rookie cap after the first lockout in 1999).

Jonathan Abrams does extensive interviews throughout, with players’ family members, AAU coaches, friends, and agents and gives a behind the scenes look at what happens on draft day for these franchises and the young players they are taking. The book lends a better understanding of the various factors that go into a player’s successes and failures, and sometimes the only thing separating this outcome is a little bit of luck.

Sometimes it is a matter of landing on the right team and getting a support system that isn’t there for some players; whether that be coaches, other players, or “sponsors” who happen to work within the organization. While sometimes it is matter of performing in front of the right people at the right time.

If you’ve ever wondered why a guy like Tyson Chandler is still in the league as a veteran while Eddy Curry was not able to live up to his “potential” then this is the book  for you. Boys Among Men gets an A + . Hiring Jonathan Abrams was a HUGE get for The Bleacher Report .

BM

 

 

A Review of FreeDarko’s Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac

I did not realize how late  I was to the work of the FreeDarko crew until recently, when I saw a tweet lamenting the fifth anniversary of the site’s final post. My NBA hoops fandom shut down in the early 2000’s when I was convinced the game was rigged. The Kobe-Shaq era Lakers were laying waste to the rest of the NBA, and it felt like the refs were helping.

2003 was a great year for basketball. The NCAA gave us one of the best tournaments in its history, and the Spurs finally knocked off Los Angeles and gave me one of the most satisfying visuals of all time–Kobe’s tears.

2003 also gave us what is arguably the second best draft of all time. It is a draft full of really solid role players, and four of the biggest impact players of this era in Lebron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony. Darko Milicic was a player not in either group. Homie was a bust at the number 2 pick (ahead of Anthony, Bosh, and Wade), and Joe Dumars insistence on picking Darko was the difference between them being a pretty dominant Eastern Conference team, and a mid-aughts’ dynasty.

But not all was lost, a collective of like-minded hoops heads got together and created a forum that continues to influence the way that basketball is discussed on the internet within blogs, articles, and even twitter. There are a Who’s Who of current sports journalists spawned from this generation of writers. You may know them from ESPN (Ethan Sherwood Strauss), Grantland (Rafe Bartholomew, Chris Ryan, Brian Phillips) D Magazine (Zac Crain),  Vice (Eric Nusbaum), and even Deadspin (Will Leitch).

In a way, Bethlehem Shoals and company may have provided a blueprint for DIY thinkers, writers, and junior analysts to get their voices heard, and at the same time be taken seriously. What started as a fringe project became a phenomenon, and this book was one of the results of their work.

I discovered The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac when I was living in Oregon. A good friend of mine had it on his bookshelf, and I pored through it for the next hour and a half of that evening. It was unlike anything I’d come across, and the illustrations by Jacob Weinstein were enough to give pause.

free-darko1

 

Jacob-Weinstein-Shop-Print-FreeDarko-Style-Guide-Rasheed-Detail

The foreword is written by Gilbert Arenas; a man who lives in NBA infamy for a number of things, including the penchant  for yelling “Hibachi!” after taking shots when he suspected he was heating up. arenas-hands-up1

 

The book begins with a “FreeDarko Manifesto”, and a “Periodic Table of Style” to help readers with the descriptive icons for player ratings. There are six chapters, divided into Master Builders, Uncanny Peacocks, Lost Souls, Phenomenal Tumors, People’s Champs, Destiny’s Kids. At the end of each chapter is a special sub section that highlights different topics using charts, illustrations, and diagrams.

Published in 2008, the books reads almost as a dated reference. The majority of the featured players are long past their peak. Players like Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter, Ron Artest (Metta World Peace) Rasheed Wallace, Tim Duncan, Kobe Bryant, and Tim Duncan have retired, while players like Lebron James, Chris Paul, and Amare Stoudemire are seasoned veterans.

It is extremely interesting to read and examine the ratings, and bios of these players, and analyze where their career went afterwards. I often wondered if the FD boys would want a Mulligan on any predictions that may have seemed reasonable back then (in particularly Josh Smith and Gerald Wallace).

The smart and witty design provides a primer for some of the heady and lofty ideas spouted in the text. This period of basketball rides the first wave of the analytics movement, ushering in new ways to consider talking about and watching the game. Funny, at times sober, and always thought-provoking, the Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac is a must own for lovers of NBA basketball.

BM

“Shoot baskets, not people.”

#bucketsnotbullets #fullsass #thisagoodassgame

thisagoodassgame@gmail.com

Crazy Basketball : A Book Review

dog-jackson2-master675

 

I first discovered Charley Rosen in the summer of 2004, when I went from being a mild basketball fan, to developing a full-blown love for the sport. Growing up, I gravitated towards baseball and football because both sports were relatively easy to pick up. The basketball players at  school were from a different physical mold altogether.

I always loved playing in P.E. and in friend’s driveways, but it wasn’t until I was about 21 that I started playing pickup ball on the regular. This was when I got my first inkling of the many nuances to playing hoops. I only knew to dribble ball, shoot the ball, and sometimes (if I wasn’t double teamed) pass the ball. The concept of rolling towards the basket after a screen was foreign. I thought rebounding was about outjumping the other people in the paint (What? Me? boxout? Why?).

I had found a summer job, at my university, working as a clerk in the biology stockroom. When I wasn’t running errands across campus, I was on ESPN’s Page 2 (think Grantland but without all the cursing) and FoxSports.com. FoxSports was more football heavy, but they had some decent basketball writers on their roster. Mark Kriegel (wrote a biography on Pistol Pete Maravich), and Jeff Goodman usually had something interesting to say, but Charley Rosen’s articles always had a nugget of basketball insight that I could think about on the court during those late night runs at the school recreation center.

For example, it had never occurred to me that at best, a non superstar player would get to touch the ball 20 percent of the time, and that the other 80 percent of the time spent on the court is how a player should be judged. From that point on, I started to pay attention to watching off the ball activity just as much as the ballhandler.

It was through Rosen’s column that I discovered that he’d help Phil Jackson write  More Than a Game, and Maverick. I spent the summer reading those books in an attempt to absorb anything I could to help me understand the game better. All of this happened to coincide with the 2004 Pistons-Lakers NBA Finals, and it was fascinating to take what I was reading and apply it to what I was seeing on television.

Charley Rosen was also the first person I’d ever seen write in print that Kevin Love was overrated. This was around 2010-2011, and he said something to the effect of “look at that roster (in Minnesota) someone has to get those points and rebounds.” Keep in mind that he’d also once said Lebron James would be an average NBA player at best.

There was also one column that Rosen had written about a trip he’d taken to Amsterdam with his wife and another couple, where he and his friend ditched their wives on the way to the Van Gogh museum to play pickup ball at a park. That’s the kind of madness I can  get down with (I personally enjoyed the Pablo Picasso “Blue Years Series” exhibit more than the Van Gogh stuff on my visit there. He probably didn’t miss much).

You may have also heard about the famous “Phil Files” he wrote for ESPN a year ago, after Phil Jackson’s first year as Knicks Team President. I still have yet to read all the installments, but its been highly discussed (at times ridiculed) on various blog and media sites.

His book, Crazy Basketball resonates with me because Rosen wasn’t the most skilled individual to play the game. His best offer for a scholarship was at Hunter College in New York City. He was a 6’9 bruising big man whose game was predicated on strength and will. He played in the Eastern Basketball League before taking on various jobs as a free-lance writer, college professor, summer camp counselor,  and basketball coach.

He was a free-lance basketball writer living in New York City, when he met Phil Jackson–then a player for the Knicks, and they became good friends (both really big fans of Grateful Dead apparently). The joint collaboration on Maverick cemented their friendship, and during Jackson’s coaching days in the now defunct Continental Basketball Association, Rosen served as his assistant, on the Albany Patroons. When Phil took an assistant coaching job in Chicago, Rosen went on to serve as a head coach in Rockford, Illinois, Savannah, Georgia, and Oklahoma City.

There are some great stories culled from these experiences, as the CBA had a roll call of NBA names who stopped through on their way to the league. It is easy to forget that it hasn’t even been 10 years since the CBA went belly up. Rosen brings the league back to life with his anecdotes of players like John Starks (Rosen says he wasn’t shocked when Starks choked in game 6 of the ’94 Finals), Steve Javie, and Dick Bavetta (something tells me Rosen doesn’t have him on his  Hanukkah list).

Things were not always easy for Rosen (the salaries he made as a head coach seem laughable at best compared to what NBA coaches get), he battled health problems, anger issues, and endured 3 divorces to still make the life he wanted to create. I find Crazy Basketball such an inspiring read because Rosen admittedly wasn’t the best player, and wasn’t the best X’s and O’s coach, but his passion for the game is contagious. Charley Rosen proves that you don’t have to be a genius coach, or an elite level athlete to find a way to honor the game and become an ambassador for the sport.

Phil Jackson credits Rosen for coining the phrase, “Basketball isn’t just a metaphor for life–it’s more important that!” and writes a very eloquent foreword that illustrates the deep bond between the two men. For anyone interested in more than the flashier aspects of today’s NBA–the dunks, memes, and highlight reels, then I recommend that you at least skim through it–even it is just for the Dick Bavetta anecdotes.

BM

Giving the People What They want: A Book Review

jalen_rose_40

Back when (the now defunct) Grantland announced they were giving Jalen Rose a podcast, I knew I was going to do whatever it took to check it out. Hearing that he would have his own platform excited me, because he was always one of the more quotable players in the NBA.

From the very first podcast he has not disappointed. His co-host David Jacoby can be a little much sometimes, but on balance, the podcast was on point. Jalen has a unique insight to being both a professional athlete in the NBA, but also to be member of the media. His honesty and perspective have provided a refreshing listen to some of the other options out there in the sports talk world.

His first book, recently put out last year, “Got to Give the People What They Want”is a continuation of this refreshing insight. This is the stuff he can’t talk about on air, in an effort to “not get fired.”

The foreword, written by Bill Simmons, is one of the goofier ones written by and for someone. It sort of reads like one of his old columns on his old website (with even the obligatory Shawshank Redemption reference–by the way can we all agree that the short story is way better than the movie?) talking about a famous friend he met while in Hollywood. Nevertheless Simmons gets his point across about Rose, which is that Jalen is super famous because of his ability to always have a foot in different social circles, and being comfortable in all of them.

This is one of the easier autobiographies you’ll ever read. The stories while not hilarious, are interesting. I feel like this is the PG-13 version of anything he would put out, simply because he doesn’t want to burn any bridges. I imagine he has some really  good stories “off the record” that will never see the light of day.

If you are reading this to find some NBA gossip about groupies, and late night parties, then you will be disappointed. It is a book good for family consumption. Don’t get me wrong, Jalen keeps it real, but it’s not a juicy tell all about NBA life.

It is more like an exploration of the road he has taken to succeed, and an homage to all the people along the way who helped make success a reality. Now that he has successfully become an NBA player and a person with a media platform, he is trying to help others–especially those from his native Detroit. Rose talks about the charter school he started, after many public schools in his old neighborhood have failed, or been shut down (they just had their first class graduation last spring). I get the feeling that he is more proud of that than anything he ever did on the court.

All that being said, the book is still about basketball. There is a brief history on the many players to come out of the state of Michigan, and specifically the Detroit area. Rose throws names like George Gervin, Magic Johnson, and Anderson Hunt at you, but it is also crazy to think that he played high school ball with Voshon Leonard, and Howard Eisley (No wonder they won back to back state titles).

Rose also gives some strong opinions on the hypocrisy of the NCAA, as well as his feelings about childhood friend Chris Webber. Growing up a Chris Webber fan, it saddens to hear some of the questionable behavior noted by Jalen Rose. It will be hard to look at Webber the same after reading this.

jalen_rose-main-pic

All in all, it is a good read. The whole book reads like a long podcast conversation with Jalen, and it is hard to put down once you’ve begun reading it. Rose allows you to take the journey with him from neighborhood slacker, to stud athlete having a good time, to a professional, to now a productive member of his community, and role model to many. This isn’t a book just for the hardcore hoop nerds, I think anyone can read this and enjoy it. Much like Rose himself, this book appeals to many people from all walks of life.

 

BM

#fullsass #thisagoodassgame

thisagoodassgame@gmail.com