Literature Review: Patrick J’s Top 5 Favorite Basketball Books

Ricky is hurt. The Wolves are losing. The games are difficult to watch. It’s spring, and tanking season is underway across the league.

League Pass isn’t enough anymore. What’s a hoops blogger to do to satisfy his addiction?

Here at Punch-Drunk Wolves, we’re turning to books.

Last night, Andy mentioned he’s now reading Mark Titus’ new book DON’T PUT ME IN, COACH: MY INCREDIBLE NCAA JOURNEY FROM THE END OF THE BENCH TO THE END OF THE BENCH. I’m a voracious reader, too, and nothing beats a great basketball book.

Since talking about the Wolves isn’t much fun right now, I decided to follow Andy’s lead and talk books.Below the fold, I list my five favorite basketball books. A subsequent post will contain numbers 6-10. I’ll probably follow that up with a post on “notable basketball books that are conspicuously absent from Patrick J’s top 10 list.”

Without further ado…

Patrick J’s Top 5 Basketball Books

1. THE LAST SHOT: CITY STREETS, BASKETBALL DREAMS – Darcy Frey: My favorite hoops book of all time. It follows three Brooklyn teens–13-year old prodigy Stephon Marbury is one of them–chasing their hoop dreams.

2. FALL RIVER DREAMS: A TEAM’S QUEST FOR GLORY, A TOWN’S SEARCH FOR ITS SOUL – Bill Reynolds: A close second to THE LAST SHOT, this book follows Chris Herren’s storied Durfee High team, from Fall River, Massachusetts, while weaving the town’s history of blue-collar hoops together with its own sordid history–particularly the still-infamous Lizzie Borden murders. I first read this book when I was 16 and am not embarrassed to admit I totally geeked out when I first visited Fall River after I moved to Massachusetts as a late twenty-something adult. (I haven’t yet read Herren and Reynolds’ recent collaboration, BASKETBALL JUNKIE, but it’s on my list. I hope it’s a better basketball/heroin story than Jim Carroll’s THE BASKETBALL DIARIES. The bar is low.)

3. LOOSE BALLS: THE SHORT, WILD LIFE OF THE AMERICAN BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION- Terry Pluto: My top “non-coming-of-age” hoops book. Unless an colorful history of the ABA is a coming-of-age story. Which it basically is. This book is so, so good. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a sportswriter. Pluto’s book was the be-all, end-all of what I hoped to achieve. As an eleven or twelve year-old, I wrote him a hand-written letter. He replied with a phone call to my parents’ house, and we chatted for almost an hour. He seemed like not only a great sportswriter but also a generous guy. I’m not sure how many of today’s top sportswriters would take an hour out of a busy day to mentor a star-struck twelve year-old, but I’m sure glad Pluto did. You should read his stuff here and here, and, of course, follow him on Twitter.

4. A SEASON ON THE BRINK: A YEAR WITH BOB KNIGHT AND THE INDIANA HOOSIERS – John Feinstein: Feinstein does a great job of bringing out the complexities–the good, and the bad–of Bob Knight. I always loved the discipline with which Knight’s teams played, and Feinstein shows how Knight could demand leadership from key players, reward loyalty, effort, and toughness, and punish those whom he perceived to be lacking in these qualities. Fantastic, if almost uncomfortably intimate, narrative of Knight’s relationship with Steve Alford.

5. THEY CALL ME COACH – John Wooden (with Jack Tobin): This book made me want to be the best basketball player and person I could be. I still have a crumpled, handwritten copy of his PYRAMID OF SUCCESS, which I made when I was about 15 and have been carrying around in my wallet ever since. Given how effective Wooden is in a sports autobiography, I have a hard time getting my head around what a great coach he must’ve been.

Numbers 6-10 will be coming soon. ’til then.


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