ESPN columnist and pop-culture maven Simmons (Now I Can Die in Peace: How ESPN’s Sports Guy Found Salvation, with a Little Help from Nomar, Pedro, Shawshank, and the 2004 Red Sox, 2005) strives to write the definitive NBA retrospective.
Longtime fans of the wildly popular, sometimes controversial Sports Guy will find a new wrinkle in his magnum opus—an overutilized freedom to indiscriminately use expletives. Otherwise, this doorstop of a book functions as an (extremely) extended version of the author’s column: a hodgepodge of basketball minutiae, brazen but insightful and occasionally contentious declarations and 1980s movies references. Passion drips off the page like beads of sweat as the author presents topics ranging from a breakdown of why 11-time champ Bill Russell was superior to stat machine Wilt Chamberlain (his 20,000 bedroom conquests notwithstanding), to a proposal for a pyramid-shaped NBA Hall of Fame. Throughout the 700 pages, Simmons displays an impressive acuity for cogent analysis and proves himself the undisputed champion of killing jokes so many times over that they ultimately become funny again. The HOF pitch constitutes the book’s centerpiece, with stars past and present meticulously assigned to echelons of increasing prestige based on their talent and achievements. By judging players on whether or not, in his estimation, they understood “The Secret”—a desire to sacrifice personal statistics for the sake of team success and championships—Simmons sets himself up for a round of backlash from fans and players alike. However, even if readers take umbrage with his rankings or irreverence, there’s no denying that he has achieved exactly what his hypothetical HOF would set out to do—honor the league’s colorful history and pay homage to the players (some pioneers, some selfish and self-destructive, some transcendent icons) who made professional basketball a global phenomenon.
Like stumbling across Roadhouse on late-night cable: It may induce the occasional wince, but it’s nearly impossible not to get sucked in and keep coming back for more.