I used to read a lot of books. Growing up without a TV in the house meant that books made up a significant amount of my time. This all stopped when I moved through university, as textbooks were enough, coupled with an amazing amount of hours spent on the net. Then, 18 months ago I started reading again. However, until I picked up this book, I hadn’t really enjoyed a book since I was a child. The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac changed that.
FreeDarkois an amazing website, unique in its ability to analyse what other people aren’t in the world of basketball. I actually don’t enjoy many of the articles. I get the feeling that I wouldn’t like to talk hoops with its principle author, Shoals. To me, he comes across often jaded and unpleasant. However I cannot deny his ability to focus on something which is engaging and out of left-field (in a good way). This book combines that ability to focus on the unseen but without the attitude which creeps into a vast majority of internet literature (including mine).
The MPBA focuses on individuals playing basketball. However it looks past the everyday statistics such as points, rebounds and steals. Instead, the real spotlight falls upon what individual players provide the basketball loving public, why this is provided and why this is important. Each player analysed with piercing language, ungrounded in the tradition of the NBA. One phrase in particular literally jumped off the page as I read it. It is said of Gerald Wallace and Josh Smith, two players often derided by the mainstream media, “(Wallace and Smith) are wormholes of ability, random mutations of action that reveal themselves in sporadic fashion.” You ask any hardcore basketball fan and you could not get a better description to fit two players who are so often banished from adoration because of atypical styles. This language opens up another method about how to interpret the NBA and the players that make the game so great. It contrasts so starkly with the box scores and match reviews which dance lifelessly throughout the internet. Yet it is just one feature of the book which makes it so enjoyable.
This language and insight is backed up by the twin foundations of numbers and pictures. The first is the statistical analysis of actions and sequences which I previously didn’t even think were contained in a basketball game. Each player which is looked at (there are 19 total) is presented in a different light, with a different focus. While nearly every basketball fan knows that Tim Duncan has four rings, I wonder how many know about the Fibonacci Sequence and that Duncan’s game can be defined by it. Some who read this book will say the unique way to interpret a player’s impact on the game are worthless, made up on a whim. However, not only do I believe this is wrong, I also think it limits what we can learn from the game of basketball and how we can enjoy it. This book tells a story and backs it up with statistics which are unparalleled. Barbosa was the heart of the razzle dazzle Suns, Rasheed Wallace plays better after a Tech foul and it is impossible to predict what Yao Ming will do with the ball in his gigantic hands. This is all understood through the medium of a brand of statistics which stem not from the traditions of the NBA and the opinion desk of ESPN but from a love of the game which has been established over many years.
The second foundation is the illustrations. Words cannot do justice to the beautiful, mind blowing pictures which litter this book at every turn. Be it the players themselves, the infinite detail which pervades every chapter or the presentation of the political slogans toward the end, each picture tells a story of its own. I have never had much of an interest in art, but this book has opened my eyes to the way in which basketball was meant to be portrayed in picture form. What holds the illustrations together throughout the book, though, is the Style Guide. Drawing on the unique ability of each individual player, the MPBA uses a ‘periodic table of style’ which “indicate(s) exactly what occurs in an instant, revealing style as a mix of the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual”. It is a maze of metaphors which demonstrates how each player detailed defines and personalise their own game. The images of animals, hand tools, household toys and a litany of other items lights up the page but still manages to accurately describe the way players move and play ball. It is a the perfect way to weave the language and statistical insight together into sound analysis.
There are flaws in the book. I wasn’t particularly fond of pages looking back at the 2000 NBA draft. I was also disappointed in how certain players, such as Stephon Marbury, are portrayed. However these are minor prices to pay for a book which is insightful, innovative, colourful and a joy to read.
3.7 out of 4
For more writing by Henry, check out his fantasy basketball blog, FourPointPlay.