Review of The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons

I’ve always had a tough time doing book reviews. I’m only able to devote a few minutes here and there to actually sitting down and reading, so it takes me a while to get through a typical book. Combine that with the kind of turnaround that people want for a (or any) review, and I often wonder if someone that claims to have read an entire book is actually telling the truth.

In the interest of full disclosure, when Bill Simmons’ 700-page The Book of Basketball landed on my front stoop, I decided then and there that I’d read the first few chapters and then post about it. After all, Christmas is coming up and people are probably wondering if this opus is a worthwhile gift for the beloved basketball fan in their life. (It is.)

Anyone familiar with Simmons’ work on ESPN knows that he’s an engaging writer who uses an easy-to-read, conversational style littered with funny pop culture references. His book is no different. As a former collegiate player, I often take exception to his knowledge of the game. I’m not talking about history — if there’s one thing that’s clear about this book, it’s that Simmons understands how the NBA got from Point A to Point Z.

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“The League” debuts on FX

FX’s original broadcasting has a reputation for being pretty racy and adult-oriented — after all, this is the network that brought us “The Shield,” “Rescue Me,” “Sons of Anarchy,” “Nip/Tuck” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

Last night, “The League” debuted. It’s a half-hour comedy that follows a group of friends that are all in a fantasy football league together. One guy is the defending league champ, and his wife doesn’t want him to play, even going so far as giving away his lucky draft shirt. Another’s wife is supportive, and actually runs his team for him. Then there are the two clueless friends that are either too high or too ill-informed to compete in the league.

But fantasy football doesn’t dominate “The League,” which is more like “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia” for the married, suburban set. It’s raunchy, but often funny.

FX is replaying the premiere tomorrow (Saturday) night and before the second episode next Thursday.

Review of “Shooting Stars,” the LeBron James autobiography

TrueHoop isn’t fond of it.

There are fascinating elements of the James story that have not been told. He was an amateur high-school player worth millions, and for years he was on rails to be an NBA superstar. What was the role of William Wesley (whom James called, in a GQ article, a “great role model”?) How did James navigate that forest of those who congregated to influence him, give him things and skirt the rules? Can he tell us more about the fascinating character of his mother? Did he know Sonny Vaccaro, Phil Knight or any of the various other stars in the constellation of youth basketball? What kinds of overtures did he get from colleges? Did anyone ever offer to help him cheat on his SATs? How did agents, financial advisers and the like approach him? How did he build the most important financial relationship of his life, with Nike? How did he choose his first agent, Aaron Goodwin? How is it LeBron’s close friend Maverick Carter got a job at Nike while James was in school?

But James and Bissinger essentially passed. If you’re looking for a dose of reality, look elsewhere.

Instead we get some touching but shallow insight into how much he likes his friends. Some pretty basic denials of wrongdoing in the little controversies that were in the paper (the expensive Humvee he drove with no visible means of support, the retro jerseys he accepted as a gift) and a little story about getting in trouble for once smoking marijuana.

It’s safe to the point of glossy. Barack Obama, running for the highest office in the land, took more chances.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising that James took the safe way out. His persona is generally calculated and anytime he does speak off the cuff (not shaking hands after the Magic series, rooting for the Yankees, being loyal to Akron, etc.), he usually gets in trouble. Maybe we’ll get the real story in 10 or 20 years after he hangs ’em up.

DVD Review – March Madness: The Greatest Moments of the NCAA Tournament

March Madness is arguably the greatest sporting event in the world, so when the NCAA decided to put together a highlights package, there was plenty to choose from. The DVD has four distinct parts: Great Comebacks (including the 1998 “Comeback ‘Cats” of Kentucky), Buzzer Beaters (Bryce Drew, Christian Laettner, etc.), Cinderella Stories (’66 Texas Western, ’06 George Mason) and Legendary Performances (Magic/Bird in ’79, Isiah Thomas in ’81). Jim Nantz narrates and does a nice job of setting up the action, whether it took place in 1966 or in 2006.

In addition to the aforementioned topics, the documentary covers the ’05 comebacks by Louisville and Illinois to make the Final Four, Michael Jordan’s clutch shot in the ’82 finals, Keith Smart’s game-winner in the ’87 finals, Dwyane Wade’s triple-double as well as Jim Valvano’s N.C. State team that took down Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma. The film also highlights Shaquille O’Neal’s single-game record for blocks, Bo Kimble’s touching tribute to Hank Gathers and Bill Walton’s astonishing 21 for 22 performance in 1973.

Special features include highlights of three championship games: ’79 (Michigan State/Indiana State), ’82 (North Carolina/Georgetown) and ’83 (N.C. State/Houston). There is also an in-depth, uncut interview with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

All in all, this is a nice one-disc package that covers just about every buzzer beater and Cinderella story in the last four decades of the NCAA tournament.

DVD review: The Ride of Their Lives (NASCAR)

CMT and Paramount video entertainment released a historical perspective DVD last Tuesday entitled The Ride of Their Lives, which chronicles NASCAR from its early southern roots in the 1950’s to its corporate juggernaut status of today. The pioneers of auto racing are brought to life through the words and memories of the men and women who were a part of the early days of NASCAR.

This documentary follows the evolution of racing through archival footage of NASCAR’s first 60 years in business and also documents the technological transformation that has occurred in the sport. Long-time fans will have the opportunity to reminisce once again about the days when racing cars had the same look and feel of the automobiles that were sold at their local dealerships. It was a time when drivers repaired their own vehicles without the assistance of a pit crew.

NASCAR is a way of life for some of the drivers as racing has been a part of their families’ lives for generations. This DVD gives an in-depth look at the history of the Petty, Allison, and Earnhardt families and delves deep into each family’s personal tragedies that have taken place throughout the years. You will also hear an emotional account of the life of Wendell Scott, the first African-American NASCAR driver and the gut-wrenching story of Tim Richmond who died from complications of the AIDS virus in 1987.

And no racing documentary would be complete without a video montage of spectacular car crashes. My favorite was a still picture collage of an on-track fistfight between the Allison brothers and Cale Yarbrough. It serves as a great example of how tempers can flare up when drivers are jockeying for position at high speeds with a large amount of money at stake.

Racing fans throughout the country are gearing up to converge on Daytona Beach, Florida this weekend to attend NASCAR’s equivalent to the Super Bowl — The Daytona 500 — so the DVD’s release is timely. And the interview with former NASCAR chairman Bill France Jr., where he recollects the early days drivers racing on the local Daytona beaches (prior to the speedway being built), will get fans primed for the big race.

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