The Art of a Beautiful Game

I just finished reading Chris Ballard’s book, The Art of a Beautiful Game. It was recommended to me by my son, Elliot, who checked it out from our public library on the last day before it shut down in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. I love the game of basketball, particularly the National Basketball Association (NBA). Still, I don’t know if I would have read the book under normal circumstances because it’s pretty technical and it’s pretty dated (originally published in 2009). But it kept my interest.

I like the approach that Ballard uses to examine different facets of the game of basketball. He picks a different player to highlight and explain a different element of the sport: Dwight Howard and the Art of Rebounding… Kobe Bryant and the Art of Competition… Shane Battier at the Art of Defense… that sort of thing. It works well to break the game down into all its component parts. And the players who are interviewed really do add some interesting perspectives.

It’s just a little bit weird that everything is set eleven years in the past. At the time, it apparently seemed like Gilbert Arenas was on his way to a Hall of Fame career, as a brilliant offensive talent — but he fizzled out shortly after the publication of the book because of some locker-room and legal issues. The author also devoted a whole chapter to the “Rise of Size,” talking about players like Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming — which also seems kind of silly now because the last few years of professional basketball have seen the rapid increase of “Small Ball,” with shooters spreading the floor and causing problems for those behemoth players.

Even so, the anachronistic nature of the book can be kind of entertaining. The chapters on Kobe Bryant (still at the height of his powers on the basketball court) and LeBron James (still an ascending young star in his first stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers) were extra-fascinating, considering everything that has transpired since the book’s publication.

I wish there were actual basketball games to watch right now. The NBA Playoffs should have been in full swing by this point in time. The Art of a Beautiful Game somehow made this COVID-19 stoppage more painful and more manageable. In any event, I’m glad we still have the ability to read and remember.

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