This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Basketball (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated
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“If you were to draw a triple Venn diagram of hoops, trunk bangers, and jokes made at the expense of J. Cole,” wrote Chris Gayomali in an article for GQ in 2015, “Grantland writer Shea Serrano would be smack-dab in the center, probably wearing a Tim Duncan jersey. He’s one of the funniest follows on Twitter, and… one of the nicest humans alive.”
We don’t know Shea Serrano personally, but based on his third book, we firmly believe Gayomali’s assessment: raucously hilarious and unexpectedly informative, “Basketball (and Other Things)” is a compendium of about 23 lengthy answers (some of them, multipart) to fairly nontraditional basketball questions – of the sort you’ve probably never seen or thought about before.
So, get ready to recall what happened at the moment before “the moment” and discover if Kobe Bryant was a dork – among many other things.
That’s easy: the 1992-3 season. He had 43 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1 block, and 3.7 steals per 100 possessions. He won the Finals MVP. And he also scored 666 points in the playoffs. In Serrano’s words, that season, the 1986 God-disguised-as-Michael-Jordan version went into Devil-mode.
A Frankenplayer is an ideal player made out of other player’s traits. The name of Serrano’s Frankenplayer is God Shammgod – that is not an invented name, by the way – and he has, among many, many other things, Manute Bol’s wingspan, Wilt Chamberlain’s rebounding power, Steph Curry’s 2016 shooting skill, Hakeem Olajuwon’s ability to protect the paint – and, of course, Bill Russell’s rings.
Unless you were born yesterday, you probably already know the answer to this question: Vince Carter is – that’s who.
Since this is a long list starting at No. 29, we’ll limit ourselves to revealing to you merely the Top 3 Picks. At No. 2 and No. 3 (tied) are Butch McRae and Neon Boudeaux, played by then-teammates Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal in the 1994 William Friedkin movie “Blue Chips.” Unsurprisingly, at No. 1, it’s Eliot Richards from “Bedazzled,” played by Brendan Fraser and boasting a stat line of 104 points, 45 rebounds, 32 assists, 37 steals, and 28 blocks during the only game shown in the movie. Just too otherworldly to not be the first overall draft pick in any draft – fictional or real!
What do you remember about Gilbert Arenas? Certainly not that he was a three-time All-Star and a three-time All-NBA pick – but that he brought a gun into the locker room after a confrontation with one of his teammates. What about Kermit Washington? He was an All-Star in 1980, but probably all you know about him is that he hit Rudy Tomjanovich in the face – so hard that “his skull was dislocated and spinal fluid was leaking from his brain.” There are many other NBA players we remember nowadays for the wrong reasons – some bad, some good, some weird. Some – like in the case of Dražen Petrović or Len Bias – inconsolably sad.
Some shots, in the opinion of Serrano, should have been worth a couple of points more – or, in the case of Ray Allen’s 3 in 2014 final, less (yes, Serrano is a Spurs fan) – than their conventional counterparts. For example, a 1990 Buck Williams 10-footer should have been worth 3 instead of 2 points because “any player who plays in goggles gets an automatic 50 percent increase in value to any shot he makes.” Just as well, a John Stockton’s layup should have been worth 5 points instead of 2, because we should “add 150 percent valuation increase to every layup by a player under 6’2.” Finally, anyone who is 6’1" and under and white who dunks it in a game should get a million points and a title on the spot.
Rated by the percentage of disrespectfulness in them, the dunks inducted in Serrano’s unusual Hall of Fame start with Michael Jordan’s dunk on Dikembe Mutombo in 1997 (85% disrespectful) and include such memorable dunks as John Starks’ on the entire Bulls team in 1993 (93% disrespectful). However, there’s only 100% disrespectful dunk in Serrano’s Hall of Fame and owned by a teammate of Jordan: Scottie Pippen. Yes, we’re talking about that bad-mannered dunk on Patrick Ewing during Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference semifinals – to this day, still the pinnacle of NBA disrespect.
This is an NBA player you remember to have been somewhat better than his stats show. Since it’s a highly personal category, Serrano’s answer is a list of the memory heroes of some of his friends – followed by their explanations. His pick: Vinny Del Negro. Ours (in case you want to know): Jason Williams, the assists Gandalf.
If you have watched “The Purge” – a movie based on the premise that all crime is legal during 12 hours of the year (so that there’s no crime afterward) – you’ll like this chapter a lot. And you’ll probably side with the “Rest Easy, My Friend” group, represented by none other than Ben Wallace.
The title may be misleading. The question should be better rephrased as: “Which NBA championship had the greatest, biggest, most substantial impact on the NBA?” And even though the Chicago Bulls’ sixth title and the 1998 championship may seem like the obvious answer for anyone born after 1980, Serrano places this at number two. Number one: The 1984 Championship, when the Celtics beat the Lakers 4–3. It was the first Bird-Magic final – and it was so many other things that no final ever was.
In Serrano’s opinion, Allen Iverson is the sixth most important basketball player in basketball history – just behind Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Magic, and Bird. So, it’s no surprise that during Serrano’s mock-trial, the honorable Bill Russell’s verdict is Iverson – who also gets Wade’s 2013 NBA Championship during the trial.
A fun game this is! Surely Michael Jordan wouldn’t have been the greatest player of all time if he had been named Morgan Jordan, right? No – he would have been an accountant at a mid-level accounting firm – starting, of course, from the age of 23. However, Wilt Chamberlord might have been an even more dominant player than Chamberlain – which is pretty scary to even think about. And John Harden? Well, he would have made a name as a movie star in a string of second-rate action movies playing his alter ego, John Harder. The most celebrated among them: “Death Hammer.”
Let’s just say that it packs just too much action and too many twists in two hours to be “summarizable.” Spoiler alert: it ends with John Harder’s death. He becomes John Hardest in the sequel.
According to Serrano, the bear would probably have a better season as 1997 Karl Malone than 1997 Karl Malone would have as a bear. Don’t ask us – or anyone – why. Too difficult to explain.
Nick Anderson was a great NBA player until he missed four consecutive key free throws against the Houston Rockets in Game One of the NBA Finals – which cost Orlando Magic that game and, according to many, even the title three games later. Afterward, Nick Anderson lost all of his confidence. Serrano’s question is: what if he made just one of those free throws? Since four seconds from time, the Rockets were three points behind before Nick’s first free throw, probably Orlando Magic would have won the game. And maybe even the title. So, Shaq would have never left the team. And, consequently, they might have won a few more titles afterward. The rest is history. A fictional one, of course.
We all remember the moments: Magic playing center in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals, a limping Willis Reed taking the Knicks to their first title, Michael Jordan’s last shot in Bulls uniform… Derek Fisher’s buzzer-beater against the Spurs in the 2004 Western Conference semifinals with 0.4 seconds on the clock is certainly on this list as well. But do you remember the moment before it? If you don’t, Tim Duncan sank an incredible prayer from almost the 3-point line over Shaq. It could have been the winning moment. It wasn’t. So, now it’s much less-remembered than Fisher’s shot. It shouldn’t have been.
No. 17. Was Kobe Bryant a dork? (and also: how many years during his career was Kobe Bryant the best player in the league?)
Serrano doesn’t like Kobe too much. So, his second favorite Bryant memory is of him tripping while shushing the crowd after some big shot against the Spurs. Just enough evidence to dub him a dork. Also, Serrano’s pretty sure that Kobe was never the best player in the league. And even if he was, he was never for longer than a single season: the 2008-9 when, ironically, his Lakers got crushed by the Celtics in Game 6 of the Finals to lose the series.
Everybody knows the answer to this question: it’s the universally disliked Bill Laimbeer, the Michael Jordan of NBA Villainy.
Why shouldn’t we? But, then again, of the 18 lists this chapter catalogs, one probably interests you the most: the 10 greatest basketball players of all time. Serrano’s list, in order from the best to the tenth, looks like this: Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James, Magic Johnson, Tim Duncan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Larry Bird, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O’Neal.
According to Serrano, pickup basketball is the best version of basketball – even better than NBA basketball. Not according to us. So, we’ll leave those who disagree to fill in the blank of the title and discuss the answers.
Willis Reed’s broken leg game, Larry Bird’s cracked cranium game, Michael Jordan’s flu game – there are a few (nine, to be exact) legit contenders for this title. However, according to Serrano at least, no one had a better big-name game under duress than Detroit’s favorite son, Isiah Thomas, on June 19, 1988, when he scored 25 out of his 43 points against the Lakers in the third quarter – despite playing with a sprained ankle!
“The series may be a done deal, but it ain’t over between you and me. Sure, you’re pretty good with your team behind you, but I want you one on one.” This was a note Shaq supposedly left Hakeem after the 1995 NBA Finals in which the Rockets triumphed over the Orlando Magic. Hakeem ignored it, but had he accepted… Well, he would have won the one-on-one game, nevertheless. Serrano knows the score in advance: 6-4.
Shaq and Kobe; Magic and Kareem, Stockton and Malone; Jordan and Pippen… There are just too many exceptional duos to even list them here. Even so, Payton and Kemp edge out MJ and Scottie in the otherwise tied final game of Serrano’s eight-round elimination tournament, courtesy of their dope nicknames: the Glove and the Reign Man. It’s only fair: they lost too many games that mattered against the dynamic Bulls duo in real life to lose this one as well.
Serrano’s answer: MLK. “Why?” – you wonder? That makes two of us.
Serrano thinks it’s Charles Barkley. After him, it’s Karl Malone. And after that – Patrick Ewing. And then after that – well, “it’s a toss-up, the same as all of this, really.”
Captivating, zany, and hilariously funny, “Basketball (and Other Things)” was one of Barnes & Noble’s best nonfiction books for 2017 and one of Barack Obama’s recommended books for that year.
Indeed, if you love basketball, it will become one of your all-time favorite books as well! Especially if you enjoy debating the game’s most well-known stories and legends, and all the unforgettable moments and unhappened what-ifs.
A perfect book for a perfect gift.
Sports are not just for playing: they are for watching and discussing as well. Enjoy all three as much as you can. Life is richer when you do.
Shea Serrano is a Mexican American journalist and sportswriter. He started freelancing for the Houston Press on topics related to rap music in 2007, and his know-how and witty style quickly earned him national recognition and... (Read more)
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