Gimme the ball
This one was overdue. After their previous (and fabulous) showcases for football and baseball, Sports Illustrated now gives us The Basketball Book. The format is gloriously similar: hundreds of astonishingly good color and black-and-white photos from the SI archive, interlaced with informative essays and profiles by topnotch journalists. The focus here, however, is a tad skewed, and up for criticism. Unlike the prior series entries, which focused only on the men's pro game, the coverage here includes the college game and also the WNBA. Nothing wrong with that in theory, but certainly the college game (both male and female) is deserving of its own volume, and here it gets overwhelmed by the imposing shadow of the NBA. Plus, the WNBA coverage smacks of tokenism, with only a handful of its major players represented.
On the plus side, there is something about basketball photography that seems even more dynamic than its sporting counterparts, possibly because the photographers can get so close to the action. The results are often breathtaking, both in style and historical importance: an overhead view of Shaquille O'Neal jamming one through the hoop; a coral-tinged portrait of a brooding Wilt Chamberlain (c. 1965); a dramatic shot of an outstretched Dennis Rodman lunging desperately for a loose ball; a delightful photo of basketball twins Tom and Dick Van Arsdale during their college playing days at Indiana; and movingly meditative facing-page glimpses of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen looking like African gods. There's trick photography here as wellfor example, a multiple exposure of John Stockton all over the court at once, and a fascinatingly fun bi-fold center insert that lines up 29 of the great ones by height in descending order (ladies included), from Manute Bol (7'7") to Muggsy Bogues (5'3"). The browsing extras are endless: decade-by-decade rundowns of the best players, college and pro; a declension of famous on-court strategies as devised by coaches from Nat Holman to Bobby Knight; and satisfying visual sidebars.