Summer Reading from the New Guy

by Marcel Mutoni

As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I’m the new guy around these parts, and I’m absolutely delighted to be here. I’m still learning about the site and getting used to all of the bells and whistles, so it might be a bit of a bumpy ride at first, but bear with me, eventually I’ll figure things out. Hopefully.

With the downturn in NBA-related news during the offseason (thank goodness for the occasional stun gun arrest story–what up, Dale Davis!), it’s probably a good time to catch up on some reading. Below I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite basketball books of all-time (in no particular order). You guys can also make some recommendations in the comments section:

  • The Show: The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers In The Words of Those Who Lived It (Roland Lazenby)

For die-hard Laker fans, this is a must read. The best stuff is predictably on the Kobe/Shaq feud–you might even re-examine your take on the whole saga once you read this book–but dig a little deeper and you’ll find some gems on cantankerous former team owner Jack Kent Cooke (a true gangsta if there ever was one); great tales on those Showtime teams; and insightful profiles of iconic figures like Phil Jackson, Elgin Baylor and Jerry West (an incredibly tortured man during his playing days). Lazenby is a good info guy (he drops all kinds of knowledge in the LA Times blog comments section throughout the season), and this book is full of great anecdotes. For the basketball junkie–Laker fan or not–this is a can’t-miss.

  • Best Seat in the House: A Basketball Memoir (Spike Lee and Ralph Wiley)

Fun read from two extremely passionate basketball fans : You all know Spike from those famous Air Jordan ads (“Money, is it the shoes?”) and the movies, but mostly, he’s the guy sitting courtside at The Garden (and doing his best not to choke the sh*t out of Isiah). The late, great Ralph Wiley who co-wrote this book, also wrote for’s Page 2 for a number of years; Wiley also wrote for SI and for a couple of newspapers in the Bay Area before that, and he even managed to pump out some provocative books (Why Black People Tend to Shout) before passing away unexpectedly two years ago. Best Seat In The House is more or less the story of how Spike Lee grew up in Brooklyn, got his start in movies and became a life-long Knick fan; however, it also touches on the game’s premier figures and their effect on the game (legends like Jordan, Earl the Pearl, and also then-young stars like Penny and Iverson). The best chapter is probably the one on Reggie Miller and those infamous playoff battles between the Pacers and Knicks.

  • Playing For Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made (David Halberstam)

I just finished plowing through this puppy for the second time last month. Halberstam–one of the most respected journalists and authors of the last 40 years–writes not so much a basketball book, rather he examines the world MJ helped create; a world that saw the emergence of ESPN as the dominant sports-media force, shoe contracts that rival (and sometimes dwarf) NBA salaries, the meteoric rise in power of the sports agent, the power and influence of television and other media outlets in sports, and how one man was able to use his enormous physical talents, will and charisma to become perhaps the single most recognizable human being on the planet for 20 years. Demonstrating the journalistic chops that helped him win a Pulitzer in the mid-’60s for his coverage of the Vietnam War, Halberstam writes what is arguably the most encompassing and compelling profile of Jordan, and manages to do so without even speaking to the man. A tour de force.

Just making sure you’re still paying attention.

  • Operation Yao Ming: The Chinese Sports Empire, American Big Business, and the Making of an NBA Superstar (Brook Larmer)

The book reads somewhat like a work of fiction, as Brook Larmer paints an eye-popping and frightening picture of the sports world (and the startling role of eugenics) in Communist China. Larmer does have credibility, he is the former Shanghai bureau chief for Newsweek after all, so his claims–that the Chinese government practically created Yao Ming starting with an arranged marriage of his parents (two of the tallest and most athletically gifted people in the country), to his highly regimented development led by the PRC sports officials, and even more astounding claims that the Chinese government, for lack of a better word, breeds its world-class athletes–can’t be easily dismissed. Though an enjoyable and interesting read, I found it hard to accept everything the author claimed as rock-solid truth.

  • The Jordan Rules (Sam Smith)

You may find this list a bit Jordan-heavy, but there’s a simple enough reason for that: Much like Ali in his time, Jordan was the most magnetic and charismatic athlete of his era and as a result he brought out the best in the writers that covered him (just like Ali did with men like Dick Schaap and Mark Kram). The Jordan Rules is perhaps the most famous of all basketball books; it was the first time in MJ’s career that a writer (a guy who worked in Chicago, no less) painted him in a less than favorable light. Smith wrote the book in ’91, the year the Bulls won their first of six titles, and he exposed Mike for who he really was : a ruthless, pathologically competitive, and sometimes abusive teammate who couldn’t come to terms with the fact that his fellow Bulls (or anyone else) simply weren’t on the same level that he was. Not quite the image McDonald’s, Hanes and Nike were selling of #23.

(Honorable mentions: Sacred Hoops (Phil Jackson), The Last Shot (Darcy Frey))