Know Thy Mirrors

New Shoals Unlimited, on the subject of the NBA Financial Apocalypse in its form most pure. Oh, and as I try to figure out this new revenue streams thing, I may go a little heavy-handed at times. Like reminding you that it's decidedly un-weird to own the FreeDarko tote bag, or linking to commercial pages from out of posts. . . remember, I want to admit all this up-front so we trust each other.

In the latest ESPN mag, Bill Simmons eats breakfast with Baron Davis and tries to get to the heart of what's eating the former pride of the Warriors. For one, it's Simmons giving a fuck, which is to say, reminding us why he's so beloved and feared as a basketball writer [insert Freudian father figure, anxiety of influence tangent here]. But there's one truly unprecedented moment where, to paraphrase, Bill and Baron discuss Davis's lack of vitality on the court, conclude that it has to do with a lack of inspiration, and decide he needs to channel the "Boom-Dizzle" demi-god that rose out of the 2006-07 Warriors campaign.

Let's rewind that one, in case you missed how many fourth walls got violated therein: Davis opens up to a member of the media as if Simmons were there to help, a valued consultant instead of a thorn in his side. Then, he welcomes advice about his attitude on the court, even though the Sports Guy is not one of those wise ex-jocks who occasionally—and with great public fanfare—send messages to current players. To top it all off, or come full-circle, Simmons drifts over to the realm of fandom, drawing on his non-expert expertise to offer up a solution. Journalist and athlete meet in the middle, only to retreat to their respective sides of a gulf exactly because it's the source of the power, the mystique, that allowed Davis to thrive in the Bay. In short, it's Davis admitting that some of his swagger comes from a larger-than-life self that's both reinforced and reinvented by adoring fans. You can also imagine a more cynical version that involves sneaker companies and marketing entities.

In a way, this makes me understand why some people think Simmons is the only person alive who could realistically write another Breaks of the Game, likely the finest basketball book ever written. But this being a very different era, this new Breaks wouldn't just be expert reportage with an ear for the novelistic. Instead, it would go deep into one of Halberstam's recurring themes: what players mean to fans, or cities as a whole, and what impact this has on the actual person inside the jersey. Except, in a turn so benignly postmodern that I am contractually bound to type "postmodern," Simmons's authority comes from his willingness to intelligently embrace this fan-tastic aspect of the athlete. That, above all else, is how he's influenced FD.

However, instead of the players in Breaks of the Game, who come off as either staunch professionals troubled by this unpredictable realm of meaning, or egomaniacs who refuse to acknowledge what really fuels their stardom, you get today's NBA players. Davis may be exceptionally self-aware, but it's worth noting that popular players drowning in love feel it, feed off of it, and reflect it in their play. The concern isn't over why the public can't see them for who they are—either they could care less about everyone seeing "the real me", or such a thing no longer exists—it's about getting back to that place where they felt best and played like it. That's got everything to do with a version of themselves that has everything to do with perception, or consulting an expert on attitudes in the stands. Simmons remains the foremost chronicler of these voices, and if you want to understand why blogs matter, it's because—no matter how crappy they're treated by the league—fans matter like never before.

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At 3/04/2009 4:05 PM, Blogger Ben said...

I'd leapfrog Michael Lewis, Kelly Dwyer and John Krolik ahead of Simmons.

Hell, the FD book makes me slot all of you guys ahead of him. God, I love that thing. Sometimes, I'll sit in my room and just look at the pictures or focus only on the text to appreciate the quality of both.

At 3/04/2009 4:12 PM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

In fairness, we did say Kelly Dwyer would be the best suited to write the next great basketball book that brought the statistical revolution to the masses.

But if you're talking about a book about basketball that has a chance to go mainstream, and bring the same love for the game that we have to people who lost it/haven't found it yet, Simmons is the right candidate.

At 3/04/2009 4:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I remember the KD part, but that's once the discussion had shifted to its being stats-related. Earlier on, isn't there a "great like Breaks of the Game. . . maybe Simmons's book will be that" part?

Regardless, I wasn't trying to paint you as the lunatic fringe. It's a claim I happen to agree with, whether you made it or not. An entire book of stuff like that Baron Davis piece would be huge.

At 3/04/2009 4:20 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

And by huge, i mean significant, which as several writing teachers have told me, means nothing by itself.

At 3/04/2009 4:30 PM, Blogger Dan Filowitz said...

Oh, we definitely said that Simmons' book could be the next great NBA book.

And it can. Or it could be massively disappointing. I hope not - our main point was that the next great mainstream NBA book is overdue.

At 3/04/2009 5:48 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

To make a nerdy parallel, the new BS, er, Bill Simmons book reminds me of how I thought of the Simpsons while they were making their film: I take the lack of much umph in the recently-disseminated products with a grain of salt, hoping that the good material is being saved for the bigger release. For the Simpsons, it was just that they had lost their spark, and the film reflected that (although there are good moments).

I really hope that Simmons has not gone the same route. He is the closest thing to a YOUNG institutional (i.e. connected in the system and published in print sometimes) sports writer with some personality and intelligence. He needs to be writing for thirty years and he cannot lose steam so soon.

At 3/04/2009 5:52 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

PS, apologies in advance if I defined "institutional" too widely or narrowly. With blogs and freelancing, the line dividing those who are truly in and out of the system has definitely become a grey area.

At 3/04/2009 7:43 PM, Blogger Kaifa said...

I came here thinking I had to start my comment with "off topic", but now I can just joyfully say that I visited the Basketball Hall of Fame a few hours ago and that one of your cherished little almanacs is sitting a mere three feet away from a handful of Halberstams on the museum shop's basketball book shelves.

Plus I hit my first shot on that peach basket replica and a half court shot to top it off. Strangely enough, the peach basket shot felt more important to me. Like I could have been the 1910's Dirk Nowitzki.

At 3/04/2009 10:14 PM, Blogger Alan DeNiro said...

1. Yeah but what about just a normal case of "Clippers ennui"? Occam's razor and everything.

2. Have Jump Shot, Will Travel by Charles Rosen ... perhaps not the greatest basketball book ever written (it doesn't aspire to greatness...but it's surely the most entertaining)

At 3/04/2009 10:33 PM, Blogger Alan DeNiro said...

Oh and in regards to the potential financial apocalypse...last night I was at the Wolves-Warriors (brutal, btw...Kevin Ollie started, does anything more need to be said) and it happened to be the day Glen Taylor announced his ticket-pricing slashing, buyer assurance program, etc. Obviously during any professional sporting event these days there is going to be waves and waves of sponsorship and hucksterism any fan has to wade through. But the launch of this program had an extra air of desperation to it--by the time Glen Taylor was making his appeal on the jumbotron, the half-empty Target Center had the feel of an ambient Shamwow infomercial.

None of which AT ALL is to cast any aspersions on Mr. Taylor--far from it. But I think it captured the times and the mood well. The bottom of this economy hasn't fallen out yet, not by a long shot, and when it does, I think it's possible as you describe that the sports landscape will be radically altered, because the current model of corporate subsidy isn't going to be nearly as sustainable.

At 3/05/2009 12:39 AM, Blogger Willie Jean said...

Shoals, is Simmons really feared as a basketball writer?

At 3/05/2009 7:46 AM, Blogger Vankov said...

Speaking of great basketball books:
Could someone perhaps give me a list of recommendations? All I`ve read is the Freedarko Almanac (which I really enjoyed) and I`d like to expand what I know of the game of basketball. I`m not from the US, so forgive my lack of knowledge. Thanks, guys!

At 3/05/2009 8:27 AM, Blogger lux said...

Heaven is a Playground - Rick Telander
The City Game - Pete Axthelm
The Last Shot - Darcy Frey

are three that i rate, though none are specifically about the pro game

At 3/05/2009 10:21 AM, Blogger Ben said...

Seven Seconds or Less by Jack McCallum should be on that list too.

And throw in The Blind Side by Michael Lewis (even though it's about football, it deals somewhat with race and other socio-economic issues that the Lig holds in common too)

At 3/05/2009 10:52 AM, Blogger Shawn said...

Some book recommendations, not necessarily just related to the NBA:

Season on the Brink-John Feinstein
Loose Balls-Terry Pluto
Big Game, Small World-Alexander Wolff (it's about basketball around the world, so might be of particular interest to someone outside the U.S.)
Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story-David Wolf
My Losing Season-Pat Conroy
To Hate Like This is to be happy forever-Will Blythe
Jordan Rules-Sam Smith and When Nothing Else Matters by Michael Leahy. Pair of non-hagiographies on Jordan, one about him at his peak, one about him at the end.
Forty-Eight Minutes: A Night in the Life of the NBA-Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto.

At 3/05/2009 10:59 AM, Blogger Shawn said...

As for Simmons's book, I have high hopes, but fear it will devolve into a series of rants about why Bird was better than Magic and why the '80s Celtics were actually superior to the Showtime Lakers.

I'd love to see Klosterman write a book on hoops. I actually enjoy his basketball writing more than Simmons' whenever he does write about it, one reason being he's just as big of a fan of the game, but doesn't have the the blind spots that come with blind allegiance to a particular team.

At 3/05/2009 11:24 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

As I've mentioned in the past, I'm a fan of "Wizard of Odds.

(And remember, please seek out these recommendations at Barnes&Noble, so I get paid!)

At 3/05/2009 11:36 AM, Blogger Vankov said...

That`s great, guys, anything else? Some interesting autobiographies, perhaps? Really appreciate what you`re doing, you know, I hope to get a `serious` basketball community going myself, but it`s not a small feat to accomplish where I come from. Thanks for the heads up and, by all means, keep recommending!

@Shoals: No worries, I`ve thought of that already.

At 3/05/2009 12:37 PM, Blogger no j mayo said...

Breaks of the Game is far superior to "The Last Shot", "Loose Balls" or "Jordan Rules."
The part of the book where Halberstam writes about Kermit Washington is honestly some of the finest writing I've ever read on any topic by any author.
Couple of recommendations, Halberstam's strangely underrated "Playing for Keeps" (the finest Michael Jordan book ever written, imho and I've read damn near all of them) and Mark Kriegel's "Pistol" which is really explores Maravich from the tortured genius angle...

At 3/05/2009 12:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Cosign on "Playing for Keeps." I also enjoyed Filip Bondy's "Tip-Off," which has some of the same "this actually changed the entire universe" vibe to it.

The Kermit Washington stuff in "Breaks of the Game" nearly brought me to tears. I tried once to read "The Punch," and no offense to its author, but I felt like I was reading a book report about Halberstam.

At 3/05/2009 1:14 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...


At 3/05/2009 1:15 PM, Blogger The Other Van Gundy said...

Might want to keep quiet about Breaks of the Game. I heard a similar round of hyperbole awhile ago, so I picked it up. I found 200 great pages of material -- unfortunately, the book is 400 pages long.

Yes, it's an excellent and serious look at pro hoops, but temper your expectations if you're going to read it. Halberstam's a frequently careless writer, and he flogs his half dozen topics (big money destroying NBA, the lack of purity we had in the 60s, drugs, big money again, race) to death. And the five page discursions on, say, Dr. J's hands are interesting but poorly placed within the text; by the time he returns to the ostensible subject, the Blazers, you forgot where the hell you are.

Playing for Keeps struck me as a much better book, since the focus is so much tighter and his barrage of anecdotes works better when detailing the life of Michael Jordan.

At 3/05/2009 1:26 PM, Blogger Shawn said...

When Feinstein started writing a book a year, they all started reading like book reports, unfortunately. I actually enjoyed the other Maravich more than Kriegel's, though I did like his a lot.

Some other ones that come to mind: The Rivalry, about Wilt and Russell, which is also a great look at that early period in the NBA. Counting Coup, about hoops in the Crow Indian Community.

For autobiographies, love Kareem's Giant Steps, written in the early 80s. The chip was still residing pretty prominently on his shoulder, and I still remember a line, whether it was text or in a caption that was, "The night I kicked Kent Benson's ass," which describes when he punched the old Hoosier but broke his hand. Simmons gets off on calling Kareem a ninny, but read about his early life and career - the section on his indoctrination into Islam by Abdul-Khaalis, and the subsequent murder of Khaalis' family is incredible - and you start to see why the Captain might have had some issues.

At 3/05/2009 1:40 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

OVG-Some of Halberstam's opinions about the league, or middle-aged biases, do ring hollow. Or at least conflict with my own. But it's a testament to the book that these surface periodically and then recede, often replaced by stuff that fits firmly into the FD world view.

Also, I like the book exactly because it's using the Blazers as a vehicle to talk about so many other things. In a much more organic, and digressive, way than "Playing for Keeps" or "Tip-Off." It dwells on a bunch of topics on the ground, seeing where they lead, and never seems in too much of a hurry to invoke the larger themes or justify their inclusion in what's ostensibly a chronicle of a hard luck Blazers season. Basically, it's more pastoral, less causal.

At 3/05/2009 3:11 PM, Blogger O said...

let me guess...FD gets commission if we buy the book from that link?

At 3/05/2009 3:16 PM, Blogger Brett said...

shout out for the book from pitchfork


At 3/05/2009 4:10 PM, Blogger avery said...

For some reason I thought FreeDarko didn't like Simmons, but I was surprised at the B.Davis article b/c Simmons big mantra is NOT having access.

Feinstein stuff is not so good, though that one book on IU hoops tremendously impacted me as a 12 yr. old.

Also enjoyed that one on Sebastian Telfair recruitment--can't remember the author.

At 3/05/2009 5:03 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

O, I said that already. I take it you have a problem with that?

WV: derboxol, the first name I'd come up with if I got my real dream job, pharmaceutical namer.

At 3/05/2009 6:04 PM, Blogger mark said...

under the boards by jeffery lane is worth a look, and unfinished business by Jack McCallum hasn't been mentioned here yet, something of a 7 seconds or less treatment of the 92 Celtics..

At 3/05/2009 6:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite hoop books:

John Feinstein's "A Season Inside"- I liked that a lot more than the book about Indiana, but then I really dislike Bobby Knight.

"Personal Fouls" by Peter Golenbock- what happened after NC State's championship season. I particularly liked the scene with the player trying to pass a piss test by spraying cologne in it.

There was also a Spud Webb bio I remember reading as kid, "Flying High", good times.

If anyone ever wrote a book about Gathers/Kimble-era Loyola Marymount, I'd love to check that out.

At 3/05/2009 8:59 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...

I want a book with access.

Kind of like "Seven Seconds or Less," but with more opinions from the writer. "Almost Famous" about the NBA.


Get access.

Speaking of access... when is Spike doc about Kobe coming out?

At 3/05/2009 9:05 PM, Blogger oliver said...

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At 3/05/2009 9:45 PM, Blogger O said...

must have missed it...and not necessarily, im just busting your chops. Although I am waiting for that Don Nelson post once it materializes, until then i'll continue with the cynicism

At 3/06/2009 8:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Back to the Baron sit for a minute...Nellie comes out and says he wants Jamal Crawford to opt out. The benching stuff is an obvious message. We are not doing anything this year, we have intergalactic travlers Jax, Monta, Randolph, and Co. pack your bags and take Cory with you.

Now...if you are Baron Davis, given the unique approach to reality that Nellie embodies, would you ask for a do over? Is the Dunleavy Nightmare Factory better or worse than Nellie's Whiskey Whims?

I haven't read the article by Simmons (who I think is great in small doses). Does it touch on regret at all?

I hope BD puts on his roller skates, grabs the boom box and gets his ass back in gear.

At 3/06/2009 2:03 PM, Blogger Bhel Atlantic said...

In the Simmons article, B.Davis is remarkably candid about the Elton Brand situation, admitting that their friendship is now in the past tense. If only there were a "court of real life" that would hear "promissory estoppel" claims.


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