I like to read – A LOT! And as basketball is one of my biggest passions, I have read countless basketball books in my life. From classics like "The breaks of the game" or "The miracle of St. Anthony" to lesser-known books like .
In this post, I am going to present my Top 5 best basketball books of all time. But be warned, some of these books may not be for everyone. The books I liked the most are less about the X and O’s of basketball and more about the impact of basketball on different people, cultures, and societies.
Here we go:
#5 The Book of Basketball – Bill Simmons
As a longtime listener of the BS Report podcast, I just had to read this book. And I wasn’t disappointed! The book delivers an insane amount of information about the history of the NBA including a list of the best players spanning more than 300 pages!
There’s also fun chapters like “The What-if game” where he goes into questions like: “What if Detroit took Carmelo Anthony over Darko Milicic?” or “What if Len Bias hadn’t overdosed” and another one where he settles the argument: “Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russel?”
At times it can become a bit dry as you will be bombarded by statistics of players and references across sports and pop-culture which can become hard to follow if you are younger or didn’t grow up in the US. Overall this is the perfect book if you want to know more about the history of the NBA and US basketball in general!
#4 Pacific Rims – Rafe Bartholomew
Did you know that the Philippines are maybe the most basketball-crazy country on earth? Before I learned about this book I definitely had no idea!
“Pacific Rims” follows Rafe Bartholomew’s journey through the island exploring its love for the game of basketball and coming up with really interesting insights into the culture of the Philippines.
He spends a complete season inside the locker room of a professional basketball team, talks to politicians who promise brand new basketball courts to poor areas in exchange for votes and follows a travelling basketball show like the Harlem Globetrotters (except they don’t play Globetrotters vs Generals but Midgets vs Transsexuals!!!)
Needless to say, this book is a must read if you want to know more about the strange obsession of the Phillippines with basketball!
#3 The Last Shot – Darcy Frey
Growing up in a small town in Germany, “The Last Shot” for me is as much of a look into a foreign culture as “Pacific Rim”. The book talks about the life on the playgrounds of Coney Island, an area filled with crime, poverty, and despair. In a situation like this, basketball becomes the last chance to escape this life, get a college education or make big money in the NBA.
We follow four young basketball players who are blessed with a lot of athletic talent, discipline and the ultimate will to make it out of the ghetto. It shows their struggle with inadequate schooling, desperate family situations and the brutal world of college recruiting.
If you liked the documentary “Hoop Dreams” then you are also going to love this book!
#2 Brave Dragons – Jim Yardley
This is the story of former NBA coach Bob Weiss trying to bring the basketball style of the NBA to the worst team in Chinese basketball. Needless to say: things don’t quite work out the way they should.
This is an intriguing look into the Chinese society and what happens if one tries to bring American individualism to a country which is heavily shaped by communism where collectivism rules. This book is less about the day to day of a basketball coach and more about how different cultures and ways of thinking shape the game of basketball.
I thought this was a fascinating book which gave me a look through the lens of something familiar (basketball) into a country which is completely different compared to European countries or the US.
#1 Can I Keep My Jersey – Paul Shirley
I first learned about Paul Shirley when he wrote a Blog during the 2004-2005 NBA season for the Phoenix Suns. As a twelfth player, he barely played but he provided an unbelievably entertaining and honest look behind the curtain of the NBA. He later wrote for Bill Simmons Page 2 on ESPN about teams, players, media, cheerleaders and even topics outside of the athletic sphere.
In his first book “Can I keep my jersey” he tells about his life as a professional basketball player in countries like Russia, China, Greece and Spain. He experiences different countries, basketball philosophies and even a Russian Christmas party with two male strippers 🙂
If you ever wondered what it would be like to have a friend who is a professional basketball player then this is the book for you!
These are my top 5 favorite books about basketball! Did I miss a great one? Let me know, I am always looking for new and interesting books!