Likely the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Ben Simmons ended his collegiate career with a whimper. An embarrassing 33-point loss in the SEC tournament to Texas A&M followed by LSU quietly declining any postseason invites and, just like that, it was over. The most heralded college player in the country this year finished with some nice individual numbers, but his team was unimpressive all season. Almost immediately, the conversation turned to the NBA’s age limit and the necessity for Simmons to have even attended college in the first place. His abbreviated stay at LSU seemed more of a burden than a privilege and the abrupt end didn’t do anything to quell that notion, while hurting his monetary starting point at the next level.
With that on the consciousness of basketball fans everywhere, what better time than now for Jonathan Abrams’ new book Boys Among Men to hit shelves. Beginning with the pile of cash poured onto a crate in Moses Malone’s living room in 1974 that enticed him to go pro, and ending with Amir Johnson in 2005, Abrams delves into the history of the entire prep-to-pro generation. The successes and the busts are all examined, as well as the concept of what a success and a bust actually means.
Abrams, whose brilliant work at Grantland has made him a household name for any hardcore hoops aficionado, wrote illuminating profiles that would span a player’s entire life, and paint them as actual humans and not just athletes, before the site was shuddered. He does more of the same here.
Success on the court can be measured by numbers, but throughout Boys, Abrams seeks to find out what led to success on the court and what separated the Kobe Bryants of the world from the Korleone Youngs. Yes, talent is key, but so are the little things organizations do to help them in their transition. The support systems are the biggest thing necessary to surround these young men and help raise teenagers facing multi-million dollar expectations before they even have bank accounts for that money. In chapter after chapter, Abrams describes how some organizations and the hangers-on in a player’s orbit, failed to support players like Lenny Cooke and Leon Smith properly, but others set up proper contingency plans for players like Jermaine O’Neal and Kevin Garnett, to properly nurture them into future All-Stars.