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Simmons on the evil box, The Book and the secret of hoops

By Adena Andrews,
Posted Nov 5 2009 12:30PM

At, we're talking all ball, all the time. After a bunch of arguments and spilled coffee, along comes a book to solve all our quarrels... and to start some new ones. It's called The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to The Sports Guy, by Bill Simmons of ESPN. Simmons talked with us to discuss his 700-page book, ranking the greatest players of all time and discovering the secret of basketball. Why did you want to write the book?

Bill Simmons: I wanted to initially figure out who the best players and the best teams ever were. When I dived into it I realized it was going to be a much more complicated process than just saying Jordan is better than Magic. It's a book about perception versus reality. A great example is, we grew up thinking Oscar Robertson's triple-doubles were a huge thing. But when you think about that era and how high the scoring was, it really isn't. Teams were getting 85 rebounds a game and it really wasn't as big as a deal as you think. So at that point I just said, 'Screw it, I'm throwing myself into this.'

Also, I am turning 40 at the end of the decade and I wanted to put all my thoughts in one place. I don't know what's going to happen. Am I going to get old and start forgetting stuff? Don't you think 700 pages is kind of long for the average sports fan to read?

Simmons: It's not a spy novel or a Civil War novel. You can dive in and out of the book. I'm not worried about the size. Who is this book for and how can readers utilize it in everyday life?

Simmons: I want the basketball junkies to like it. It's not that big of a group, but it's really important that they care about it. The average fan, people that like basketball, I think they will learn stuff from it and appreciate basketball better. Also, it kind of gives them a reference for things: I wrote 1,400 words about how Reggie Miller wasn't a superstar and was overrated. I just haven't heard this stuff anywhere.

If you are in a sports bar arguing whether Patrick Ewing was a superstar or not or whether the 1996 Bulls were better than the 1987 Lakers, you can go to this book and say, 'Simmons pointed out that the '96 Bulls actually weren't all that good in the playoffs and the '92 Bulls were actually a better team. '

A bar Cliff Notes version of the book would be cool. With the flurry of trades this summer, which teams have captured the secret of basketball?

Simmons: Well the Lakers totally turned their back on the secret by getting rid of Trevor Ariza. Everything he does is subtle and he doesn't care about stats. He's just there to win and he's fun to play with. He is egoless. Then they bring in Ron Artest who is just ego-full.

Then you have the Spurs who have embraced the secret because they just keep bringing in guys who are at the right points of their careers. Like Richard Jefferson, who was on a good team once upon a time and then was just toiling away in obscurity in Milwaukee. Now he is hungry and willing to do whatever it takes to win. I pick the Spurs to win this year for reasons that don't even have to do with talent as much as the dynamics of the team. They made moves that were not just based on talent but personality also.

If you want to know more about the secret of basketball you are just going to have to read my book. OK, time for a little word association. First thing that comes to mind when I say ... Basketball Jesus?

Simmons: Obviously Larry Bird. Because it makes the Lakers' fans mad.

Truthfully though, in the book it really hurt me to rank Magic ahead of Larry Bird. I put Magic and Kareem over Bird. As an unabashed Celtics fan, it absolutely murdered me. I wanted the book to be accurate and I didn't want to have any biases and the bottom line is Kareem and Magic had better careers than Bird. It kills me. The Next Michael Jordan?

Simmons: Doesn't exist. Will never exist. I wish people would stop saying that. We will have variations of him but we will never have anyone who is the competitor he was. At least I hope not. The Evil Box?

Simmons: Ten years ago they started putting the score and the time in a little box at the bottom of the screen which murders guys who date women who don't like sports. In the old days a guy used to be able to say, 'Yeah the game's almost over. Only two minutes left.' And the woman would have no idea. Now it's like they can look at the screen and say, 'But there is 5:48 left.' Fan Night?

Simmons: (pauses) Oh on NBA TV! McHale is going to be great and Ernie Johnson is the best studio host in the world. I love the fact that we now live in a time where fans can decide what games can be on TV. Kevin Garnett?

Simmons: Still an enigma to some degree. I can see, as the years pass, people will start to think he was better than he was because of his stats and he ended up winning a title. He is one of those guys that need to be a piece of a really good team. We saw in Minnesota that he is too unselfish to carry a team. Basketball capital of the United States?

Simmons: In my opinion it has to be Indiana. So I put the capital as French Lick because that's where Larry Bird is from. It's a great name, it just sounds like it should be the capital. In my book I blow up the Hall of Fame and move it to French Lick, Ind. I think that was one of my best moves.

The new Hall of Fame will be shaped liked an Egyptian pyramid. Currently, the Hall of Fame doesn't weigh the players by importance. So K.C. Jones is no less important than Magic and Wilt Chamberlain. That doesn't make sense. The Hall of Fame should be designed for someone who knows nothing about basketball and wants to learn about who mattered and who didn't. That's why I like the pyramid. You are climbing up the levels and finally you get to the last level and it's the 12 best players of all time. That's what the Hall of Fame should be.

I would love to see them open an NBA Hall of Fame ... and I wouldn't rule it out either. The Garden?

Simmons: In the book I make a declaration very early that the Boston Garden will be referred to as The Garden always. I call Madison Square Garden, 'MSG.' Now that Boston Garden is gone I don't even know what the new place is called. I do think that MSG is probably now the real Garden and probably the single best place to watch a basketball game, which is hard for me to say. I try to make an effort to see one Knicks game in person every season. Also, with all the cookie cutter stadiums today, I think the Staples Center has the coolest design and atmosphere to it. NBA TV?

Simmons: A Godsend for me. I always keep waiting for NBA TV to ask me to do the programming, where they ask me to leave ESPN. I would have to take it. I would take a massive pay cut just to program basketball games. I love watching the old games on NBA TV because they help you during the summer to get your basketball fix.

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