Basketball books reviews with a Bulls fan bias

Hooray August!   The only month of the year where there’s absolutely nothing going on in the NBA which makes it the perfect time to address one of the questions I frequently get in my mailbox.   What basketball books would you recommend?    Before getting to the list, let me also post this request.   I’m constantly looking for good basketball books, so leave a comment with your recommendations as well.
These books aren’t all about the Bulls, in fact most of them
aren’t, the list is biased because I’m a Bulls fan first, so it has a
Bulls slant, but it includes all types of basketball books.  They’re
rated on a scale of 1/10 from how much I personally enjoyed them.  
Bare in mind, to me 5 is an average book.  I use the whole scale, I’m not one
of those people who rates things on a scale of 1 to 10 and then throws
out 1-6 because he doesn’t want to be mean.

Taking Shots by Keith Glass
Score: 9. There are plenty of books written about the league and players, but this is the first one written from an agent’s perspective and raises some great points about that side of the business and is eye opening for how much of the business works.   Glass manages not to sound to magnanimous in his description of himself as well.   I was worried it would come off as a recruiting tool, but it really doesn’t.

The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith

Score: 9.  The Jordan Rules is the first Bulls book that every Bulls fan
should read.  It details the first championship season and dishes out
all of the inside dirt.   The championship caliber Bulls were a fairly
dysfunctional looking group from this book, and it’s interesting to
read about the dynamics and personalities.  

Inside Game: Race, Power, and Politics inside the NBA by Wayne Embry
Score 8. This is the story of Wayne Embry’s life.   I didn’t know much about Embry prior to reading the book, though the name was familiar.  He was the first black general manager and an all-star player prior to that.   The idea of getting a book written from a GM’s perspective was most appealing to me, but the saga of his life was extremely interesting from his high school days up through his retirement.   He did a nice job discussing much of the overt racism out there without sounding bitter and picked on.  

The Last Season: A Team in Search of its Soul by Phil Jackson
Score: 7. Obviously not a Bulls book, and while I’m not a Lakers hater, I’m very far from a Laker’s fan.  The most interesting part of reading this is the misconception of how Kobe was treated in the book.   The media spends so much time discussing how Jackson dissed Kobe all book long, and I didn’t feel that way at all.  He was honest about Kobe, but quickly pointed out all of the stress Kobe was under due to the trial going on and also seemed amazed at his ability to compartmentalize throughout the season.  

Man in the Middle John Amaechi
Score: 7.  The story of the first NBA player to come out as gay, but quite honestly, the book would have been amazing whether Amaechi was gay or not.   There are many incredible stories of how a player rose to the NBA, but Amaechi’s might be among the least likely I’ve read about given that there was no scout that found him, but rather his own conscious decision to make it to the NBA from out of nowhere.

Can I Keep my Jersey by Paul Shirly

Score: 6. Shirly’s book is almost masterful.  Almost.  Instead, he suffers from
too much self-deprecation and too many parts of it overbearing as he’s
trying too hard to be funny.   Despite trying a bit too hard at times,
Shirly’s book is a fascinating read.   His dealings with the Chicago
Bulls are enough to make you feel pretty good about the team too.

Sacred Hoops: Spirtual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior by Phil Jackson

Score 5. This book largely mirrors the same time period as the Jordan Rules, and
I read the two of them back to back.   The stark differences in how
they treated the same team are amusing at first, but understandable
given their varying perspectives.   Jackson’s book comes off as a bit
idealistic, but it’s still interesting to learn more about his

07 Seconds or Less by Jack McCallum

Score: 5.  I’ll start off by saying I expected more of the book.   For a guy with absolutely unprecedented access to the team, he spent way too much time recapping games and not near enough time discussing the personalities of the players.   This book won’t turn you into a Marion or Amare fan as Marion comes off as a whiner and Amare is believed by everyone around to be dogging his recovery while the team protects him in the press.  Everyone else comes off glowingly in the book though and McCallum clearly has some serious man love for Steve Nash and Mike D’Antoni especially.

Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam
Score: 5.  This is the Jordan Rules for Blazers fans of the late 70s and early 80s.   Given that my basketball expertise is largely from the 90s and beyond, I wasn’t able to appreciate the full impact of all the stories about minor players I hadn’t heard of.   The same types of stories that I rave about in more current books aren’t quite as interesting when I can’t put a face to the player and have no opinion of him already.   It’s a good read, but the subject matter didn’t quite do it for me.   If I had been a big fan of the NBA of that time period or the Blazers, then I probably would have graded it up at 9 or 10.

Bill Wennington’s Tales from the Hardwood
by Bill Wennington

Score: 5.   It’s an interesting light read for a Bulls fan, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it for a non Bulls fan.   It gives some insight into the players around on the second threepete team, but it doesn’t delve too deep or dish any dirt as Wennington is careful not to make anyone look too bad.   It does give you some appreciation for how great a teammate Scottie Pippen was and how difficult Michael Jordan was to deal with.   While I doubt it was by design there was definitely some good cop / bad cop at play there.

Tip Off: How the 1984 Draft Changed Basketball Forever by Filip Bondy
Score: 4. Too much of the book was common knowledge or too lightly covered.   The information which was new to me was outstanding though.   About 1/3rd of the book was great, 1/3rd was passable, and 1/3rd I could have skipped entirely.   The less you know about Jordaon, Barkley, Stockton, and Hakeem the more interesting this book will be to you.   What I got most out of this book was that I should go read a book just about Charles Barkley.

Playmasters: from Sellouts to Lockouts by Eldon L. Ham
Score: 3.  This book was extraordinarily disappointing as the description of what it covers would have made the book outstanding, but it seems mostly like the author’s charged opinion disguised as an objective review of the material.   There were two sections in this book which I found extraordinarily interesting.   Oscar Robertson and Spencer Haywood’s lawsuits against the league and his breakdown of how the league’s financial system could completely crumble which seems very appropriate in today’s climate.   I’d highly recommend those two sections, but I’d go to the library and spend 30 minutes reading them rather than checking out the whole book.  He wastes entire chapters reviewing various playoff runs for championship teams doing so in too light a detail to be compelling and drifting from what the true purpose of the book would be.


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  • ^I thought the Jordan Rules was a boring read, yet it's still a must read because of the gold mine of information in it. It has more to do with Smith's writing style for why the book was boring to me, than the content of it.

    Some other books you might want to check out.

    The Physics of Basketball

    Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac

    When March Went Mad

    Also, it doesn't come out until September, but I think Shooting Stars about Lebron James coming out of high school, will be a must read.

  • I found Rodman's first bio to be a good read. It isn't as far out there as you may think.

  • Thank you for the list. May I add the book A Miracle at St. Anthony as well as Sole Influence which discussed the shoe wars between Nike and Adidas over high school talent.

  • Saw this in the morning and picked up Jordan Rules right after that. About to get into it.

  • Doug, I enjoyed the reviews. The three I have read on there: Jordan Rules, Phil Jackson's, and Paul Shirley's... I agree a lot with your reviews.

    Shirley's self-depreciation made it kind of stale upon reflection but his humor overrides it. Jordan Rules has incredible insight; it's such an easy read as well. But your point on Jackson's book is right on. The media made it seem like somethin' the whole book really wasn't.

    Are you interested in Bill Simmons' upcoming Book Of Basketball? Apparently it's gonna be over 700 pages!?!

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