For every subject there are a handful of must-read books. In the business world, that would probably be Bryan Burrough and John Helyar’s Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of RJR Nabisco. In politics, the go-to tome is All the President’s Men, the book by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein summarizing their groundbreaking Watergate investigation for the Washington Post. For self-help, it’s probably How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie or The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. You get the point. If you’re serious about those subjects, you’ve probably read them.
These are those books for basketball, along with unique links where you can buy them at a discount:
Fab Five by Mitch Albom
The defining book on the team that changed college basketball – and popular culture – forever. Formerly great sportswriter Mitch Albom, of Tuesdays With Morrie fame, had nearly unlimited access and provides a behind-the-scenes look at the recruitment of the Fab Five, as well as a comprehensive 360 degree look at each player on the University of Michigan’s 1991 team. It is a well-written, addictive, easy-to-read book that basketball fans of any age will enjoy, even if you only know Jalen Rose and Chris Webber because of their current high-profile media jobs.
The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith
Michael Jordan is by far the most famous player in the history of the sport, and this is the definitive book about him. Written during the 1990-1991 season – which turned out to be Jordan’s first championship season – the book was released in 1992 to much acclaim and controversy. At this point in his career, Jordan had a pristine image, carefully cultivated through commercials for Nike and Gatorade. Smith peeled back the curtain to show his true nature: an ultra-competitive, arrogant, dictatorial savant who was brutal toward teammates who didn’t measure up and impatient with the front office to deliver him a better roster. If you love – or hate – MJ, it doesn’t matter; this book is a must read either way.
Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam
Halberstam may be the most talented non-fiction writer of the second half of the 20th century, and Breaks of the Game is widely considered the greatest basketball book ever written. While it does skew a little old – the book takes readers behind the scenes of the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers season – it touches on timeless themes like race, friendship, and team dynamics. It also paints the most vivid picture ever of what the NBA was like before Magic Johnson and Larry Bird “saved” it in the 1980s.
The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons
These days Simmons’ fans have to harass him in order to write a single column, but back in 2009, before he was a multi-media mogul and podcast impresario, he produced a 736-page tome on the history of the NBA that instantly became a bestseller and a comprehensive reference for all serious NBA fans. Criticized by some at the time for its lack of structure, the list-heavy format was actually ahead of its time, allowing readers without Shaquille O’Neal-sized attention spans to pick and choose their favorite parts without having to re-read the entire thing. Even if you don’t like Simmons or can’t stand the thought of reading a 700+ page book, if you want people to take you seriously as a basketball fan, just buy a copy for your book shelf.
Boys Among Men by Jonathan Abrams
The definitive tale of the “preps to pros” generation, highlighted by players like Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett. Abrams does a great job going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s and re-reporting the machinations that led to an onslaught of players entering the NBA straight out of high school. There is no book that does a better job explaining the modern NBA, and as a bonus, it’s a real page-turner. Make sure you have some time to spare when you pick it up, because you may not be able to put it down for a while.