Book Review: The Art of a Beautiful Game
For the thinking hoops fan.
by Matt Lawyue
It looks easy on TV. Ray Allen’s flawless jumpshot. Steve Nash’s one-handed skip pass. Shane Battier’s hand-in-your-face defense. All of it. Every three pointer, every rebound and every dunk. It appear’s so carefree, especially to the highly skilled. It’s almost like a Basketball God blessed Iverson with supreme handle and Kobe with the killer instinct of a lion stalking in the brush.
Only, it doesn’t work this way. Otherwise, we would read stories of would-be ballers sacrificing animals for a mid-range J. Yikes.
In Chris Ballard’s new book, The Art of A Beautiful Game: The Thinking Fan’s Tour of the NBA, which went on sale this week, the components of the game become deconstructed and analyzed, from Allen’s perfect form to Battier’s ridiculous game time preparation. Ballard, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, discusses all of the major aspects of the game in frightening detail: rebounding, shooting, conditioning, dunking, shot blocking, free throw shooting and defending. But he engages these facets in a way most fans wouldn’t.
Most of us see Dwight Howard simply owning the paint for the rebound. Ballard, on the other hand, explains why Superman hasn’t even reached his rebounding potential. And you believe him.
Most of us see Dwyane Wade flying around the court. Ballard exposes what really goes into a baller’s conditioning and training that allow them to run and gun for 48 minutes on end.
After you finish this book, you’re going to think differently about basketball. The first game you watch, you’ll be inclined to look for specific details Ballard talks about. Don’t be surprised if everything you read in this book is imitated by the players on the court.
In this respect, the book succeeds. It truly is a book for the thinking fan, yet appealing enough for the casual fan to get hooked. The journalism is solidly from the Sports Illustrated mold, as the interviews and details demonstrate. The format of the book is more or less a collection of magazine-length stories found under the same headline. The chronology doesn’t really flow from one basketball topic to the next, yet it doesn’t harm the overall message of the book.
My only qualm is at the beginning of the book, where Ballard attempts to pick apart the “Killer Instinct” of Kobe Bryant. Understandably, not the easiest thing to do. One of the top players in the game isn’t going to give up his secrets easily, even to a seasoned SI journalist. It also doesn’t seem possible to explain Kobe’s instincts until his career is over. Bryant’s basketball journey evolves too rapidly, making it impossible to tell accurately and efficiently. You can’t fault Ballard for trying, but this chapter of the book falls well short for a man of Kobe’s stature.
Luckily for Ballard, the proceeding 11 chapters make up for it. It’s a well crafted work of journalism that delivers on all basketball accounts.