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Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Art of a Beautiful Game

By Henry Abbott

I can tell you, right now, in nine words, what is wrong with "The Art of a Beautiful Game," which is Chris Ballard's new book:

I have no idea what the book is about.

The subhead is "The Thinking Fan's Tour of the NBA," and that's accurate enough. But this tour is all over the place. With Kobe Bryant in high school. With Shane Battier, strategizing in the locker room. On the practice court with Steve Kerr. On the free throw line with Nick Anderson. In the Washington D.C. suburbs with Idan Ravin. At David Thorpe's Train Like a Pro. Learning why Steve Nash almost never jumps off his left leg. Drag racing through the Phoenix suburbs with Shaquille O'Neal. What Alonzo Mourning has to say about this.

Ballard writes for Sports Illustrated, where he produces beautiful, long and often meaningful features about these kinds of hoops topics. When you spend all that time with all those interesting NBA people, of course you'll develop all kinds of insights that don't make it in your articles. It's a natural impulse to want to combine all of that interesting stuff  into one tome -- "the stories I'd tell you if you came over to  my house" kind of thing.

The entire time I was reading this book, part of my brain was screaming for a central organizing theme beyond "grab bag."

But guess what: That part of my brain was wrong. Look at all the places I mentioned in that tour. Don't you want to go there? This book is a great read, and for hardcore NBA fans, almost certainly a must-read. On one topic after another, Ballard writes nicely about the stuff that basketball junkies want to know. Here are five things from the book, of which there are thousands:
To sum it up: This book is nearly impossible to sum up. But it's meaningful, insightful, enjoyable and well worth the read.