The basketball gospel according to ESPN's 'Sports Guy,' Bill Simmons

A long-winded, entertaining book about all-things NBA

Published: Sunday, Feb. 28 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

Simmons says Utah Jazz point guard John Stockton, left, was "one of a kind" but "boring," while Karl Malone, right, is harshly criticized for everything from playoff failures to the way he talked.

Rich Pedroncelli, AP

Bill Simmons, as anyone who has read his "Sports Guy" columns or listened to his popular podcasts on ESPN.com knows, is not your ordinary sports journalist.

Most sports writers — in an attempt to be "objective" — would have to be waterboarded by Dick Cheney himself before admitting to having a favorite team in a league they cover.

Simmons, on the other hand, grew up in New England and is unabashedly a fan of all of Boston's professional teams. He is not afraid to explain in detail — replete with anecdotes, one-liners and pop culture references — about his love of the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins.

But it's the NBA in general and the Celtics in particular that are closest to Simmons' heart.

His fandom comes honestly enough and in a way many of us started watching sports — by going to games with his dad.

As Simmons explains in the prologue of the recently published "The Book of Basketball," his father bought a single-season ticket for the Celtics after getting a tax refund in 1973. Young Billy would go with him to the games, too, and sit on his dad's lap.

The rest is history. Simmons is now a walking encyclopedia of NBA knowledge.

Subtitled "The NBA According to the Sports Guy," Simmons' rambling 700-page tome is written just like his columns — only much longer and a little bluer. It should be noted that while his ESPN work is edited to a PG-13 level at its most adult, Simmons has some R-rated language and references in his opus.

That said, fans of Simmons' columns should read the book, if they haven't already. It's impeccably researched through both the written word — books, newspapers and magazines — and countless hours of watching archived footage of old NBA games and television coverage.

The result is a book filled with Simmons' various and sometimes-flawed opinions and lists about the NBA along with personal stories and obscure references to movies, TV shows and other pop culture phenomena. It's alternatively informative, thought provoking, head scratching and frustrating but always entertaining and oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny. And don't forget to read the footnotes. Some of the best jokes can be found there.

A feud between some Utah Jazz fans and Simmons has been brewing in recent years over what some believe is his unnatural love of Chris Paul's game — especially in comparison to that of Deron Williams.

Those easily offended Jazz fans will want to avoid the part in the book where he says Karl Malone being named the 1997 MVP was the No. 1 "outright travesty" in the history of the award. Simmons argues that the honor should have gone to Michael Jordan in '97, but "everyone was Jordaned out."

Simmons alludes to the thin skins of many Jazz fans and Utahns in one footnote where he calls Malone and John Stockton two of the five dirtiest players of the Jordan era along with former BYU/Celtics guard Danny Ainge. "It's true. I know there is an 8-year-old Mormon kid crying right now and screaming, 'Nooo! Noooooooo!' But it's true. Scratch Salt Lake City off the book-signing tour."

Simmons also writes that Utah should surrender its NBA team's ill-fitting name.

"I wish Utah and New Orleans would switch last names so New Orleans could be the Jazz again. Let's do the right thing here. America has suffered long enough."

Malone is the second-leading scorer in league history, but Simmons sometimes calls him Mail Fraud rather than Mailman in the book. Malone is harshly criticized for his ineffectiveness in key moments of playoff games — but he is given high marks for his "unintentional comedy."

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