Rating the best basketball books is like arguing with your friends over the greatest hip-hop albums. AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted? It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back? Breaking Atoms? Illmatic? You could go on all day. All solid choices, but too much personal preference, flavor and style come into play to settle on a clear-cut winner.
Just as I did recently with the 20 greatest basketball movies ever, I can’t give love to everything. There’s just no way someone can read every basketball book ever written; it’s like trying to get your hands on every track NaS has ever been on (believe me, I’m trying). For example, one-time Dime writer Camron Ghorbi once nominated To Hate Like This Is To Be Happy Forever as a candidate for this list. Yet without reading it, I can’t give anymore than an honorable mention.
You’ll poke fun at my list, hate my list, argue with my list. But in the end, it is my list. So let’s get to it.
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15. THE ASSIST
Author: Neil Swidey
Okay, this was a tough one. Is The Assist as good as When The Game Was Ours or Unfinished Business? Eh, probably not. But as you’ll see from some of the entries on my list, it’s easier to make me fall in love with something I’ve never had before. Bird and Magic? Amazing, but I’ve only heard those stories dozens of times. The Dream Team? Great, but I’ll take something new. In the end, I chose this one over Drive with Bob Ryan and Larry Bird (the perfect writer/player team) because of a personal connection.
This is basically a stepchild of The Last Shot, a story about the unique situation at Charlestown High School and its coach, Jack O’Brien. I went to high school just outside of Boston, graduated the same year as many of these players and played against them in AAU and in summer camps. When I heard they had written a book about this team, naturally I needed to eat it up.
In my experience, these high schoolers were unbelievable. The team was as good as any in the state. However, in the grand scheme of things, they were minor D-1 recruits, and the story reflected that. It wasn’t so much about recruiting or college ball or being the next LeBron James. It was about the crossroads that divided the team’s two best players. It was about the history of Boston, the awful busing scandals and a screwed-up legal system. It was about O’Brien, one of the more complex coaches you’ll find in any of these books. The Assist isn’t known as a must-read for basketball fans. If it were up to me, it would be.