Bookin’ It

Montage © 2008 Stan Syckes

I’m going through a biography kick but the vast majority of these have been rock bios (in fact, I read Slash’s autobiography just a few months ago). I took a step back to evaluate my life and realized I like the sport of basketball a little bit but hadn’t ever delved (or “dwelved” as my old coworker used to annoyingly pronounce it) into the sport’s literature. This needed to be changed so I did some research and found two of the highest regarded tomes: the biographies of “Pistol” Pete Maravich and Wilt “The Stilt” Chamberalin.

There are some similarities between these two giants of the game besides just basketball. Both were seen as utterly dominant before turning pro and were hailed as soon-to-be NBA kings. While Maravich and Chamberlain certainly didn’t disappoint stats-wise, they always seemed to come up short on the championships in the pros. Both were named on the NBA’s 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players list … and both were the first ones to be dead after this list (Maravich was actually already gone by the time the list was made).

They also both lived relatively sad lives. Maravich was a god at LSU but graduated to a racially-tense NBA. Hailed as a great white hope he was drafted to and overshadowed a strong Atlanta Hawks team that got to the Conference Finals the previous year. His contract was the highest in the sport and he was a flashy ballhog: two characteristics that irked his teammates. Maravich also discovered he really didn’t have much of a soul having been brought up since birth to play basketball and nothing else. He died playing the game he loved of a heart attack (turned out this ballhandling wizard had been performing his magic his whole life on only half a heart!).

Wilt did win a couple of championships in the NBA but not nearly as many as was predicted. He did shatter almost every single offensive and defensive record, however, and is perhaps the only person who could have a chance at beating Michael Jordan in a “the best individual baller ever” argument. Despite all of his accomplishments he was always branded a loser, an outcast, and a freak. It was heartwarming to discover the real man behind all of the “Goliath” and “20,000 women conquered” tales that surround his legend. Though he lived in relative isolation for much of his life, Wilt actually was one of the nicest and caring and certainly the most entertaining men to ever play the game.

To be honest I thought these books were going to be snores as sports biographies just didn’t seem like ones that would have a lot of relevancy decades later. I was happily surprised to find that my prejudice was incorrect – both books are extremely well researched but written in entertaining, modern prose. Chamberlain and Maravich were revolutionaries of the sport and pointed at the future of the league but they were also men of their time; luckily their surroundings and settings are expertly described with a realness that I find lacks in a lot of other biographies I’ve read. As an added bonus this basketball historian loved the personal accounts and inner-team politics between famous teammates of the NBA past.

I would only hesitate to suggest both books to other readers since no one I know is obsessed with the sport as I am. I’m not saying I was biased during these reads, I’m just saying this material might be over your head in basketball knowledge!!!!!!!!!!

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  • Friday, August 8th, 2008 at 16:56 | #1

    I read Slash’s book – and it was ok. As soon as he leaves Guns N Roses you should just set down the book.) But everything up til that was usually good, although he has a tendancy to not talk alot about the music and it’s pretty much the same thing over and over (ex: “So i was back on heroin…”) I also read Lance Bass’s book which is such a fluff (pun intended) piece of crap. It was really interesting when he talked about the behind-the-scenes stuff in NSYNC and discussed how he hid his homosexuality …but condense all that and you got about 10 pages of good stuff.

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