Basketball: Great Writing About America’s Game is like an all-star game between hard covers. It is also a volume that can be easily dipped into—the way Wilt Chamberlain used to dip into his free-throw shots, though the reader’s efforts will be better rewarded ... The anthology makes it clear that basketball is often a sport played by people struggling for and eventually personifying (literally and otherwise) upward mobility.
It is also a sport of fluid motion and rhythmic grace and thus, at times, poetical.
This month brings the climax of the college basketball season – March Madness, remember? – followed in April by the start of the two-month marathon that is the NBA playoffs. And if that’s still not enough roundball, Basketball: Great Writing About America's Game, a new Library of America collection of the best basketball writing, offers an embarrassment of riches to restore your spirits once your bracket goes bust. Longtime Sports Illustrated writer and contributor Alexander Wolff curated the collection and he’s done it so well that this reader has but one quibble: Why leave out an excerpt from John Feinstein’s 'A Season on the Brink,' the 1986 bestseller chronicling a year inside the Indiana Hoosiers program with coach Bobby Knight? That complaint aside, Wolff has put together a fast-break compilation that takes the reader literally from the beginning – in a sliver of memoir from James Naismith on how he invented the game in 1891 – to the present-day reign of Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
In his introduction, Alexander Wolff references George Plimpton’s famous line: 'The smaller the ball, the more formidable the literature.' Plimpton felt the best sports writing was on baseball and golf, and not so much on basketball. Plimpton, though, might have felt differently if he’d read this book. Wolff, the longtime basketball writer for Sports Illustrated, has put together a Hall of Fame-worthy collection of stories about the game.
But about four weeks ago, the non-profit Library of America--without question America's finest and most important book publisher--finally came through with a volume of Basketball: Great American Writing About America's Game edited by Alexander Wolff (Library of America, 463 pages, $35.) It isn't nearly as packed with literary stars as the LOA's baseball and boxing volumes, but what a terrific book it is anyway.