Archives For book review

Quotable Lakers

Kurt —  December 24, 2006

One of my early Christmas gifts this year is a book called “Laker Glory,” a collection of quotes from and about the Lakers, compiled by freelance author Alan Ross. It’s not going to be confused with “The Show” anytime soon, but there are some interesting quotes I’ve found already, so I thought I’d pass them along.

We’ll start with two from Elizabeth Kaye, author of “Ain’t No Tomorrow: Kobe, Shaq, and the Making of a Lakers Dynasty,” talking about Kobe:

As a kid he played until he vomited, then he kept playing until he hit a wall. Still he played. And it taught him that you can push yourself beyond the point where your body shuts down, and from that he deduced that the tame was mental, that mind could win out over matter. Too much of the time the game was too easy for him…. For Kobe, there were no obstacles, only challenges.

And:

“I was like a computer,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen early on. “I retrieved information to benefit my game. He didn’t play on a team or learn street moves like the crossover dribble until he came back to the United States for high school. This meant his path to the NBA was devoid of the usual gyms and playgrounds — even for the most part, teammates. Thomsen came to thing of Kobe as the NBA’s first test tube player.

Chick Hearn on Elgin Baylor:

He might just be the best player I ever saw. He was doing things that Dr. J. made famous 20 years later.

Nate Thurmond on Wilt Chamberlain:

Wilt liked records, so during the (record 33-game win) streak he played the best defense of his career.

Author Bill Libby on Wilt:

He always wore a rubber band around his right wrist to remind him of the days when he was too poor to replace his sagging sweat socks and had to hold them up with elastic.

There is a poetry that can be found in numbers. When you turn numbers over and around, when you attempt to make them tell you a specific story, those numbers begin to speak to you.

When the numbers melt into the Language, they acquire the power to do all of the things which language can do, to become fiction and drama and poetry.

The Mind of Bill James, How a Complete Outsider Changed Baseball, and basketball, too, by Scott Gray chronicles how twenty-five years ago, Bill James started writing about baseball, and a new way of qualifying a game many love was born.

For those who abandon themselves to the game, for those to whom the hurried and casual summaries of journalism are a daily affront…

Bill James begat Rob Neyer, Billy Beane, and Moneyball, which begat Basketball on Paper, 82 games, APBR metrics, and the new stats. A collection of folks who have been attempting to qualify basketball, and its player’s and statistic’s, in a way that focuses and clarifies opinions.

James has spawned so many folks who have taken his original ideas and mutated and translated them into other arenas, making him a truly iconic figure.

But the biggest achievement of this book is removing the label of “stat geek” and a “baseball by numbers” guy from James’ persona. Bill James was a Liberal Arts major, a lover of literature and rhetoric, politics and discourse. A man who writes things like,

Dan Ford…plays the outfield like a blind man staying overnight at a friend’s apartment.

His own opinion on the role of statistics in sport bucks what the national media has misrepresented him as.

Statistics are to sport, …like the relationship of tools to machine and to the mechanic who uses them, The mechanic does not begin with the monkey wrench. All he wants from the monkey wrench is that it do it’s job and not give him any trouble.

In short, this is not some right brained pedant sitting in his parent’s basement.

This is a book about a man and his unique mind first, second it’s a sports book, and third a baseball book.

And forgive me, but he is just so damn quotable:

On baseball cards:…a chart of numbers that would put an actuary to sleep can be made to dance if you put it on one side of the card and Bombo Rivera’s picture on the other.

Given an option, all men prefer to reject information. to which author Gray adds,

Misguided faith leads to stubborn repetition of foolish decisions.

Bringing this back to the Lakers and being someone who has them on the brain on a perpetual basis, I saw so many axioms that could easily be applied to other team sports and, well, life in general…

Applied to the Lakers and the use and misuse of the term dynasty, from Japanese artisan Kaneshige Miciaki,

Tradition consists of creating something new with what one has inherited. Producing something new while incorporating what came before- That’s tradition.

For Jim Buss and his opinion of Andrew Bynum:

There is a place for impatience in the building of a (basketball) team. All of us have a tendency to coast for as long as we can, and never find out what we can do until we have a time of crises….If he finds himself, great; if he doesn’t, we’ve got a (basketball ) team to run.

Italo Calvino said, a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say, and Bill James, his contributions to baseball, and his lateral approach to writing about sport fit that mold.

-Gatinho

Suggested Reading

Kurt —  November 30, 2005

The first sports blog I started reading regularly was Dodger Thoughts. As a long-time Dodger fan frustrated (and still frustrated) by questionable moves by ownership, Jon’s site was a breath of fresh air compared to the mainstream Los Angeles media — a rational and measured discussion of baseball by fans that was smart and well written.

If you’re a Dodger fan, or a baseball fan, you need to check it out — I know many of you already have.

Now Dodger Thoughts is a multi-media empire — you can get Dodger Thoughts in old-fashioned book form, the Best of Dodger Thoughts. One of the best parts is not only do you get the great posts, what makes Dodger Thoughts special is the great community of commenters, and the best of those comments also are in the book.

I don’t throw out a lot of book recommendations (although I will say if your thinking of buying the new Nick Hornby, let me save you the time as I just finished it last night — it’s not that great), but this is one I’ve already ordered. Jon is the dean of LA sports bloggers, the best out there (and the guy that inspired the tone and tenor of this site) and it’s the one book where I’ve already read everything in it and still want to own it.

Wilt, 1962, Reviewed

Kurt —  August 19, 2005

There may be no more mythically intimidating player in the history of basketball than Wilt Chamberlain. And 1962 was the year of his most famed achievement, the 100 point game. That’s at the heart of a new book by Gary Pomerantz, who looks at Wilt in that year and in the context of those times. Scott Thompson — who posters here know as Gatinho, one of the most insightful and regular commenters on this site — read the book while on vacation and has written a review. (Why he was reading a book while in Brazil is another question for another day.) I’m proud to post it here, and I think it’s safe to say he recommends it.

“The Hershey Sports Arena had aged like Dorian Gray: not at all…” When reading a sports book, an avid reader of many genres’ (or an English teacher’s) first thoughts as they begin are, “Is this going to be a sports novel that takes a stab at the literary or a piece of literature that happens to be about sports.” Pomerantz strikes a balance melding story-telling with poignant historical and social insights, sweetened with a load of head scratching Wilt stats some of which you just can’t get your head around (55 rebounds in a game against Bill Russell, allegedly a better rebounder).

In the legendary 100-point game, Wilt handled the ball 125 times, had 63 shots, 32 free throws, 25 rebounds, and played all 48 minutes. The previous record was 73 points (also Wilt´s) in triple overtime. No player has gone over 75 since that night and the last player who came close in recent history was David Robinson with 71 and he had the help of the Clippers. Only four players have broken 70: David Thompson, Wilt, Robinson, and the original Laker gunner, Elgin Baylor.

Wilt,1962, by Gary Pomerantz, was reflective of the format that Jane Leavy used in her 2003 book “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” chronicling Koufax´s perfect game set against the backdrop of the Watts riots. Alternating chapters, she moved from a pitch by pitch recount of the Game to chapters about Koufax and his social relevance as an icon of the Jewish Community. Alternating between insights into the characters involved in this John Henry style achievement and a minute by minute recap of the contest, Pomerantz mimics this style in his painstakingly researched novel analyzing “The Night of 100 points and the Dawn of a New Era.”

In arguing about the ability of a Shaq against a Wilt or Bill Russell, I always griped that, “Wilt was playing against a league that was on average 5 to 6 inches shorter than it is today.” Thus diminishing the efforts of Wilt with visions of an adult playing against a child on an 8 foot rim. But Pomerantz’s account lifted away those misconceptions and showed what a workman-like, lunch pail and hard hat effort this really was. Had he not missed the lay up, he would have scored the 99th and 100th points on a steal of the inbounds pass. Elgin Baylor, who predicted that Wilt would score a hundred in an interview with Chick Hearn just a month before he did, and Jerry West, whose 63 that year (24 in the third quarter, a Laker record) against the same pathetic Knick team that Wilt got historic on, are mentioned prominently in the book as the only two players of the time who could be mentioned in the same conversations about scoring as Wilt.

Laker fans will also recognize Dipperisms (Pomerantz calls him the Dipper throughout the book being as that was what Wilt preferred — he hated “The Stilt”) like “my boom-boom move” and “no one roots for Goliath” as having been “bitten” by one 340 pound South Beach resident.

Finally, Pomerantz unveils the NBA´s unwritten racial code of the time concerning African-American players and their implicit playing restrictions: “One at home, two on the road, and three if you are losing.” He places that into the context of the present NBA and its continuing difficulty of appealing to middle America. Interestingly, the criticism of the NBA then was that they were scoring too many points and that the average American Joe couldn’t relate to the “glandular goons” who were taking over the game. Sadly, to this day the same types of criticisms exist, dripping with their thinly veiled racial undertones,(lack of fundamentals, a one on one game, the playground/Spostscenter highlight reel influence) as echoes of the NBA´s past and the shift caused by The Dipper’s seminal performance penetrate the modern game.

If you want to check out the box score from Wilt’s big game, here it is.