Sunday, February 25, 2018

Review of "The Soul of Basketball"

The synopsis of this excellent book says that the 2010-11 season is one that could be considered a season that saved the NBA.  I thought that was a bit strange - after all, it was the season where LeBron James jumped from his hometown to take his talents to South Beach.  How in the world could this have been the one to "save" the league?  Well, the book makes an excellent case of just that point.  It is one of the best basketball books that I have read.  Here is my review of "The Soul of Basketball."

The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk that Saved the NBA” by Ian Thomson
Basketball, professional, Heat, Mavericks, Celtics, Lakers
Publish date:
April 17, 2018

352 pages
5 of 5 stars (Outstanding)
The 2010-11 basketball season turned out to be one that was very pivotal for the sport and the league. Why this season was such an important one is explained by author Ian Thomson in this excellent book about not just LeBron James and the Heat, but also about other key player and teams.

It started during the summer when the game’s biggest star, LeBron James, announced “The Decision” to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat and in doing so, became a villain in the eyes of many fans, not just those in Cleveland. From there, the season was a topsy-turvy affair for the top teams. Not just for the Heat, who now had three stars (they also signed free agent Chris Bosh to go with their star guard Dwayne Wade), but also for the Boston Celtics, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks.

Thomson takes the reader inside these teams and one key person for each team. For the Celtics, that is their coach Doc Rivers, who led the team to the championship in 2008 and lost a heartbreaking seven game series to the Lakers in the 2010 Finals.  This has weighed heavy on Rivers’ mind and he wants to make sure this does not deter from his team’s goals. The Celtics had good success against the Heat during the 2010-11 season and they meet in the playoffs.  Through the stories of not only Rivers, but also Paul Pierce and Rajan Rondo, the reader will experience the ups and downs of the season up to their elimination by the Heat in the playoffs.

Speaking of Miami, the Heat’s adventures are covered with the same extensive detail about their key personnel.  The reader will learn about James’s inner turmoil about becoming the player everyone loved to hate.  He realized that announcing his joining the Heat in the manner that he did was not popular, that the rally held soon afterward in which he, Wade and Bosh predicted multiple championships added fuel to that fire, and that he was realizing that he was not the only cog that made Miami a good team.

Not all of the material about the Heat is about the players, however. The reader will learn a great deal about the inner workings a team will execute when attempting to sign a star player when he or she reads about Pat Riley’s wheeling and dealing to sign James.  These passages were very informative and helped the reader understand why James eventually chose Miami – and late in the book, also why James left Miami to head back to Cleveland. These are part of the “self- corrections” that Thomson illustrates as an important part of the NBA culture.

The Los Angeles Lakers were the defending champions during the 2010-11 season, and the determination and drive to succeed exhibited by their superstar, Kobe Bryant, is well documented.  However, the best writing about a player who is exhibiting a special talent to win is saved for Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki. What is especially entertaining about Nowitzki’s story is how he worked closely for many years with Holger Geschwindner.  Holger worked with Nowitzki on everything from his footwork to his shot selection to his mental game. Like his team, Nowitzki didn’t start the 2010-11 season with a lot of fanfare, but by the time the NBA Finals were done, the Mavericks were the champions, defeating James and the Heat with Nowitzki being the dominant player in the Finals. His reaction to winning was interesting – he lifted both fists up in triumph, then ran into the locker room where he was crying hard while being urged to come back out to the arena to accept the award of being named the MVP of the Finals.  It made for great drama.

The book is certainly one of the best basketball books one will find about recent NBA history and one of the best I have had the pleasure to read. The NBA is carving out its own identity, according to Thomson, as the sport of the American Dream as Major League Baseball is drawing criticism for its slow pace and the NFL has issues with the violence of the game and the dangers of concussions. The book is a compelling case for arriving at this conclusion and is one that any NBA fan will want to add to his or her library.

I wish to thank Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Format Read:
E-book (Kindle)

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