Great Writing About America’s Game


Made in America, basketball has become a national obsession whose rise as popular entertainment coincided with the ascendancy of new ways of writing about sports.

In this landmark anthology, the biggest and best collection of basketball writing ever assembled, an all-star roster of sportswriters, essayists, and players cover the game in all its myriad aspects: the storied teams, like the Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, and Tennessee Lady Vols; the iconic stars, like Kareem, Jordan, LeBron, and Steph Curry; the frenzy of March Madness and the NBA Finals; and the sheer poetry, grace, and spectacle of the sport.

The book opens with James Naismith’s account of inventing the game in 1891, an unlikely origin story for a global phenomenon. It moves on to Red Smith’s momentary dalliance with a sport he claims not to have liked, and to Edith Roberts’s account of the legendary Indiana championship immortalized in the film Hoosiers, before it fast breaks to the 1960s, when basketball writing came into its own.

John McPhee on Bill Bradley, Jimmy Breslin on Al McGuire, David Halberstam on the Portland Trail Blazers: these masters of modern journalism sized up players, coaches, and teams in trenchant prose, while reporters like Pete Axthelm and Rick Telander began exploring the glories and tragedies of “the city game,” the electrifying world of playground ball and its players’ complex stories. The pieces gathered here range from personal reflections on the sport (John Edgar Wideman, Brian Doyle, David Shields), to indelible profiles (Frank Deford on Bob Knight, Gary Smith on Pat Summitt), to pieces influenced by the revolution in basketball commentary on the Web (the FreeDarko Collective, Zach Lowe). Still others approach the sport as a way to think about America more broadly, particularly about race, illuminating Michael Novak’s observation that “a part of our deepest identity is uttered in this game.”


“Alexander Wolff has put together this collection like a master point guard distributing the ball, deftly providing both a chronology of the game and a full, rich accounting of its place in American culture.”

—Glenn Stout, series editor, The Best American Sports Writing

“Splendid. . . . Like an all-star game between hard covers.”

David M. Shribman, The Wall Street Journal

“A great hoops book. . . . Casts a wide net that goes far beyond the NBA . . . [to] speak to the multitudes contained within the game, whether it’s played on the biggest stage in the world or a playground after dark.”

—Chris Vognar, Dallas Morning News

“An embarrassment of riches. . . . This collection is a slam dunk for anyone who loves basketball.”

—Erik Spanberg, The Christian Science Monitor

“Deserves a place on the shelf of any self-respecting hoops fan.”

—Alex Belth, Stacks

“What a terrific book. . . . Wolff’s basketball anthology is such a wonderful surprise.”

—Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

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