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The basketball gospel according to ESPN's 'Sports Guy,' Bill Simmons

A long-winded, entertaining book about all-things NBA

Bill Simmons, as anyone who has read his "Sports Guy" columns or listened to his popular podcasts on knows, is not your ordinary sports journalist.

Most sports writers — in an attempt to be "objective" — would have to be waterboarded by Dick Cheney himself before admitting to having a favorite team in a league they cover.

Simmons, on the other hand, grew up in New England and is unabashedly a fan of all of Boston's professional teams. He is not afraid to explain in detail — replete with anecdotes, one-liners and pop culture references — about his love of the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins.

But it's the NBA in general and the Celtics in particular that are closest to Simmons' heart.

His fandom comes honestly enough and in a way many of us started watching sports — by going to games with his dad.

As Simmons explains in the prologue of the recently published "The Book of Basketball," his father bought a single-season ticket for the Celtics after getting a tax refund in 1973. Young Billy would go with him to the games, too, and sit on his dad's lap.

The rest is history. Simmons is now a walking encyclopedia of NBA knowledge.

Subtitled "The NBA According to the Sports Guy," Simmons' rambling 700-page tome is written just like his columns — only much longer and a little bluer. It should be noted that while his ESPN work is edited to a PG-13 level at its most adult, Simmons has some R-rated language and references in his opus.

That said, fans of Simmons' columns should read the book, if they haven't already. It's impeccably researched through both the written word — books, newspapers and magazines — and countless hours of watching archived footage of old NBA games and television coverage.

The result is a book filled with Simmons' various and sometimes-flawed opinions and lists about the NBA along with personal stories and obscure references to movies, TV shows and other pop culture phenomena. It's alternatively informative, thought provoking, head scratching and frustrating but always entertaining and oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny. And don't forget to read the footnotes. Some of the best jokes can be found there.

A feud between some Utah Jazz fans and Simmons has been brewing in recent years over what some believe is his unnatural love of Chris Paul's game — especially in comparison to that of Deron Williams.

Those easily offended Jazz fans will want to avoid the part in the book where he says Karl Malone being named the 1997 MVP was the No. 1 "outright travesty" in the history of the award. Simmons argues that the honor should have gone to Michael Jordan in '97, but "everyone was Jordaned out."

Simmons alludes to the thin skins of many Jazz fans and Utahns in one footnote where he calls Malone and John Stockton two of the five dirtiest players of the Jordan era along with former BYU/Celtics guard Danny Ainge. "It's true. I know there is an 8-year-old Mormon kid crying right now and screaming, 'Nooo! Noooooooo!' But it's true. Scratch Salt Lake City off the book-signing tour."

Simmons also writes that Utah should surrender its NBA team's ill-fitting name.

"I wish Utah and New Orleans would switch last names so New Orleans could be the Jazz again. Let's do the right thing here. America has suffered long enough."

Malone is the second-leading scorer in league history, but Simmons sometimes calls him Mail Fraud rather than Mailman in the book. Malone is harshly criticized for his ineffectiveness in key moments of playoff games — but he is given high marks for his "unintentional comedy."

Simmons describes the clothes Malone wore on his draft day as "a silver-blue sports coat with a blue shirt, cream-colored pants and a pink tie that only went down to his navel. ... Malone's outfit makes me laugh out loud even 24 years later."

In addition to his work with ESPN, Simmons used to write jokes for Jimmy Kimmel's late night show.

"Kimmel could spend fifteen solid minutes talking like Malone; all you do is deepen your voice, refer to yourself in the third person, talk in abrupt sentences in the present tense, add a slight Southern accent and use a lot of double negatives."

Examples Simmons uses: "Karl Malone don't like no HIV. Karl Malone don't want to worry about no blood hitting Karl Malone in the eye." And "Karl Malone love making up jokes. Karl Malone always say, 'laughter is the best Mexican.' "

Simmons doesn't just bash Malone and make fun of him, however. He also lists him as the 18th-best player in league history — just ahead of No. 19 Charles Barkley and behind No. 17 Bob Pettit and No. 16 Julius Erving.

In all, Simmons lists the 96 best NBA players ever. Four of them have their jerseys hanging in the EnergySolutions Arena rafters after being retired by the Jazz — Malone (18), Stockton (25), Adrian Dantley (66) and Pete Maravich (68). Others, like No. 12 Moses Malone (ABA's Utah Stars) all the way to No. 96 Tom Chambers (University of Utah, late stint with Jazz) have ties to the Beehive State.

Simmons' biggest criticism of Stockton seems to be that he wasn't flashy.

"(Stockton) was very, very, very, very good but never great, personified by all those second-team and third-team All-NBA appearances and the fact that he never cracked the top six of the MVP voting. He bored everyone to death with those predictable high screens with Malone, the blank expression on his face and a sweeping lack of flair. ... He didn't have a nickname and modeled his haircut after the LEGO man. He deserves partial responsibility for Utah's appallingly methodical style of play in the '90s."

Simmons was impressed, however, with Stockton's longevity and durability.

"Stockton should have gotten more credit for being the most fundamentally sound point guard ever, for playing the position selflessly and thoughtfully for an extraordinary length of time. Most points play at high level for nine to 12 years; Stockton did it for 18 and didn't miss a single game in 17 of them. ... He was one of a kind. Boring as hell ... but one of a kind."

Simmons on the other all-time great Jazz players:

"Dantley was a six-foot-three low-post guy (number of guys fitting that description today: zero) who reached the free throw line so frequently, Bob Ryan decided after one particularly goofy Dantley game that any weird box score line should just be called a 'Dantley.' Few were more efficient offensively, as evidenced by Dantley retiring with the highest field goal percentage (54 percent) of any noncenter."

And ...

"(Maravich) made impossible shots look easy. He saw passing angles his teammates couldn't even imagine. He was the most entertaining player alive, and the most tortured one as well. You marveled at Pete Maravich, but you worried about him, too."

Simmons' work is not for everyone. But for those who enjoy stat-filled analysis, snide comments and plenty of references to '80s sitcoms and "The Shawshank Redemption" mixed with loads of basketball information, this is the book for you.

Simmons' Top 10

The top 10 players in NBA history (along with the top players with Utah ties) according to Bill Simmons' "The Book of Basketball"

1. Michael Jordan

2. Bill Russell

3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

4. Magic Johnson

5. Larry Bird

6. Wilt Chamberlain

7. Tim Duncan

8. Jerry West

9. Oscar Robinson

10. Hakeem Olajuwon

Those with Utah connections

12. Moses Malone

18. Karl Malone

25. John Stockton

66. Adrian Dantley

68. Pete Maravich

96. Tom Chambers