A blow-by-blow account of the 2010-2011 NBA season, which reshaped the face of pro basketball in a flurry of big money.
There was no end to the talent assembled when the teams lined up to play out that season, but it had opened on a note that was sour to many ears when LeBron James aired a “curious vanity show” meant to promote his brand and “extend his reach further into the entertainment mainstream.” He did that, taking his free agency option to leave his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers and sign on with the Miami Heat. As fans will remember, and as NBA.com contributor Thomsen (Flutie!, 1985) painstakingly reminds us, James was but one of an extraordinary group of free agent players whose movements shook up long-settled lineups. There were Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Bosh, and Amar’e Stoudemire, among many others, joining contract-bound players like Kobe Bryant, who had lately emerged as the league’s chief bad guy: “Instead of emulating the likability of [Michael] Jordan, Kobe appeared to be following the controversial path of Jordan’s adversary Isaiah Thomas.” Everyone wanted to be Jordan, and by moving to Miami, aside from raking in a fat paycheck, James would find himself on a squad whose combined talent was guaranteed to crush all comers. It didn’t quite work out like that. Thomsen goes deep behind the scenes into locker rooms, conference rooms, and boardrooms to follow what often amounts to a nonstop clash of egos—and a few friendships, too. Notable was the rancor between old-school owners like Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson and arrivistes like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “Whereas his rivals tended to see pro sports as a secretive society of sacred traditions,” writes the author, “Cuban viewed the NBA as an entertainment industry that needed to evolve.” Evolve it did, and with sometimes unintended consequences.
Perhaps not the soul of basketball but certainly the wallet. A fine work of sports journalism and a must for every bookish roundball fan.