COMMENTARY BOOK REVIEWS
These basketball books will satisfy your hoops dreams
Sentinel Staff Writer
May 8, 2007
With the NBA playoffs into the second round, it's appropriate that we delve into basketball books today. There are six, from biographies of Pete Maravich and John Wooden to John Amaechi's groundbreaker to the ruminations of a player agent and, finally, the weighty subjects of philosphy and physics.
The Maravich legend
The cream of the hoops crop is Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich (Free Press, 381 pages, $27). The author is Mark Kriegel, who did the outstanding biography of Joe Namath two years ago.
Kriegel is a master at research and finding people who will talk to him. Namath wouldn't, but that book was still excellent. Pete and his father, Press Maravich, have been dead for about 20 years. But they are nonetheless the stars of Pistol, which is superb, up there on a short list with such greats as David Halberstam's The Breaks of the Game.
Kriegel provides a real sense of how Press made Pete into one of the flashiest ballhandlers and shooters in the game's history at LSU and in 10 NBA seasons. There is great detail on Pete's life that ended at 40.
Talking with The Wizard
Orange County Register sports columnist Steve Bisheff brings us a well-done biography of a college basketball icon in John Wooden: An American Treasure (Cumberland House, 269 pages, $25). Bill Walton did the foreword in which he admits "I know better, but he [Wooden] knows best.''
Wooden has had some health problems, but he still gets around at age 96. Bisheff, 64, has known the Wizard of Westwood for 38 years, so he is well qualified to chronicle his life and does an exemplary job of it.
Bisheff attempted to get Wooden to reveal his all-time UCLA team, but Wooden would not do it because he didn't want anyone to think he is partial to one Bruin over the others. But he did pick an All-Time Non-UCLA Team. Check it out sometime.
Taking on the NBA
Keith Glass is a former high school and college coach who became an agent for NBA players. He has a few bones to pick with the league in his Taking Shots (HarperCollins, 274 pages, $25).
Glass is deliciously passionate about things. His take on The Malice at the Palace, the Indiana Pacers-Detroit Pistons brawl in 2004: "I think most of the animosity that evening came from a disconnect. It all comes down to money. There is a lot of frustration about [Pacers star] Jermaine O'Neal's $110 million contract and what the fans have to pay to watch a product that is not worth the admission price. I know it's all out of whack. But what I saw directed at O'Neal scared me. And what I saw directed at the fans by the players scared me, too." Strong opinions make for good reading.
Thinking about things
Basketball and Philosophy (University Press of Kentucky, 286 pages, $28) is a compilation of treatises, edited by college professors Jerry L. Walls and Gregory Bassham. This book is a bit deep but fun to try to figure out.
Inside are such essays as Dirk Dunbar's "The Tao of Hoops,'' which explores the value of oneness in a team game: "The secret is to surrender to an inner force that can be trained but not controlled and to a way of being that embraces a Self beyond the self. In other words, there is more to a good hook shot than meets the eye."
Surely open to debate is Walls' "The Wizard Versus the General: Why Bob Knight is a Greater Coach than John Wooden." Walls maintains that Knight has done more with less talent.
How the ball works
The Physics of Basketball (Johns Hopkins, 151 pages, $25) could easily be a required science textbook in college. It was written by John J. Fontanella, a physics professor at the U.S. Naval Academy.
There are just six chapters here. But a reader will learn why a basketball bounces the way it does and how some good shots go in the basket and some good shots don't. Many charts and graphs illustrate things.
Fontanella played basketball at Slippery Rock University, so he knows the game. Magic fans will enjoy his mention of J.J. Redick's stunning ability at the free-throw line -- and how it is based on "superior use of experimental and theoretical paths of gravity and air resistance."
Read about Meech
Not many people announce they are gay in a book. John Amaechi, the former Orlando Magic player, did just that in Man in the Middle (ESPN Books, 290 pages, $25). Chris Bull, co-founder of QueerCity.com, is the co-author.
Amaechi, now a practicing psychologist, immediately went on ESPN. Then former Miami Heat star Tim Hardaway bashed Amaechi and homosexuals in general. The book received incredible free publicity through the media. It is a solid autobiography, beyond its sensationalism.
Born in England, educated at Penn State and the first undrafted free agent to make an opening-day starting lineup (Cleveland Cavaliers, 1995), Amaechi was always known as an erudite guy. Check out Chapter 17, "Heart and Hustle." That was the over-achieving 2000 Magic team.