Friday, February 22, 2019

15. Basketball a Love Story by Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew, Dan Klores

This was a very nice xmas gift from my basketball fan buddy (a smart guy though with some questionable life choices such as being a Utah Jazz fan).  This is like reading candy for me.  It's an oral history of basketball.  There have been several really good oral history articles on specific events, such as the big brawl in Detroit, and it has become a standard form in recent years.  They are very easy to read and quite enjoyable.  This is an entire book of that.

I have really grown to love basketball and to some this title might seem a bit fanciful.  It really rang true to me.  It begins and ends with people just talking about how basketball took a hold of them at a young age and just never let go, all the reasons they love it and how it makes them feel.  My route took a little longer (I played in high school but didn't really feel it; it wasn't until college in the States when I was at a party and some dudes invited me to play late night hoops and the whole "fun" part of it revealed itself to me and then playground ball in the Bay Area, Portland and New York where just so much shit went down) but at the age of 50 I am still playing every week and still desperately and pathetically trying to improve my game. 

So I was hooked by the book, but it really gets much more interesting and impactful.  I knew that racism played a big role in the early days of the NBA but when you read about it from the people involved and here the details of what they went through, it's really upsetting.  Most of those dudes are still alive today and they went through some fucked up shit.  America likes to gloss that over, so I have to use again the word important about this book simply in that it reminds us directly how fucking bad it was.  This is probably the still most infamous incident, though you don't hear about it enough, but Celtics fans broke into Bill Russel's home, vandalized it and shit on his bed.  This is the possibly the best player in the history of the game, all class, who was the reason Boston dominated.  And that was the nadir of the crap he had to endure.  You read this book and it makes you crazy to see this way of thinking coming back to the mainstream, but you also understand it wasn't that far back in time. 

It also goes into the history of the women's game, of which I was quite ignorant.  They too suffered discriminatory nonsense.  Basketball in general for women has improved, as have sports, but the WNBA is still treated with little respect and you still see mainstream journalists and online shitbags talking about their game with a lack of respect.  Women do better to play professionally overseas, which is a gigantic dis to America.  I want to be a WNBA fan (partly to suck my daughter in) but none of the teams are in a city I can attach myself to.  Maybe a college team?

Finally, they go into the gradual entrance of international players to the NBA.  Surprisingly, I enjoyed this part the most.  I actually got a bit teary-eyed reading the recollection of Šarūnas Marčiulionis, the Lithuanian bulldog on the Warriors back in the day.  That guy was fucking awesome.  And I learned something and changed my attitude.  I too shared the common prejudice that European players were softer.  What they talk about in this book is how they were softer in the sense that their game focused more on ball movement and team spacing and they did not go hard in the paint.  On the other hand, many of them came from extremely tough environments even from war-torn countries.  And the coaching culture in Europe is way harsher, so they would spend hours in unheated gyms just shooting the same shot over and over again, their coaches would scream at them.  So there are different kinds of toughness.  What they didn't have is the kind of intense individual toughness that you get playing in the street in the United States, but it doesn't necessarily make them less tough.  Still, I do remember taking advantage of much taller euros who would not come into the paint and didn't box out.  That's all changed today.  Everybody is good. I got eurostepped on badly last summer by this Chinese dude in Richmond who not only didn't speak english, he spoke a dialect of Chinese that most of the other Chinese dudes in the gym didn't speak so well.  He looked really country.  But he could ball.

Great book.  Now I have to go work on my footwork.

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