Basketball (And Other Things)
(2017), a quirky, humorous nonfiction collection by Mexican American author and journalist Shea Serrano, with illustrations by artist Arturo Torres, is a celebration of all things basketball, from its greatest moments to its most notorious episodes, from the legends of the game and the myths that surround them to the what-ifs, near-misses, what-ever-happened-to stories that are rarely explored. With an introduction by NBA icon Reggie Miller, Basketball (And Other Things)
was a number-one New York Times
bestseller; President Barack Obama selected it for his annual list of his favorite books of the year.
The volume opens with an introduction, in which Serrano sheds light on exactly what the book is…and is not. It is not a straightforward history of basketball. Instead, Serrano only ventures about as far back as 1980, when Magic Johnson and Larry Byrd ushered in the modern era of the NBA. Other people and events from before this period appear throughout the text, but the major focus is on the contemporary background of basketball. In Serrano's own words, many of the book's discussions of basketball "go sideways for a second." This is the reason he inserted the And Other Things
into the book's title. Having this information lets the reader know that this is no orthodox biography of the sport. This is a loving dissection and wildly irreverent tribute to a great American pastime.
Each chapter of the volume begins with a question, which Serrano then sets out to answer. The first chapter poses this query: "What year was Michael Jordan the best version of Michael Jordon?" For argument's sake, Serrano concedes that Michael Jordan is likely the greatest basketball player of all time. However, when an athlete achieves such monumental levels of greatness, each year, each new season, brings new milestones, records, and jaw-droppingly impressive feats. The chapter examines Jordan's career through a fourfold perspective in order to determine when Jordan was most quintessentially Jordan: his box score stats, his advanced stats, his playoff performances each year, and any extenuating factors that may have impacted his playing in each season. Serrano breaks it all down in a way that defies easy summation but underscores his larger point: Jordan was one of the greats, and he will never be matched.
In the chapter titled "Who's Your Frankenplayer Made Out of?", Serrano muses on what strengths he would pluck from various professional players to form a sort of basketball wunderkind/megastar—or, a frankenplayer. The rules he sets are simple: You can only pick one quality from one player; the player must have played in the NBA for at least 10 years; ideally, the quality should be from when the player was at his peak. Throughout the chapter, Serrano debates with himself as he tries to craft the perfect player, and his finished product contains everything from Jordan's strategy to Bill Laimbeer's smirk, from Wilt Chamberlain's rebounding to Scottie Pippen's nose.
Not all chapters are a glowing homage. For instance, in "Which Dunks Are in the Disrespectful Hall of Fame?", Serrano offers an in-depth, two-part look at the most ignoble dunks in the last four decades of the sport. In "What Attributes Makes for the Best Basketball Villain?", Serrano zeroes in on those more unsavory aspects of players' characters and how they both fascinate and repel fans. The chapter called "Was Kobe Bryant a Dork?" speaks for itself.
Hypothetical scenarios receive equal time. In these, Serrano imagines a more idealized game. He posits whether Allen Iverson or Dwyane Wade made more contributions that were pivotal to the sport. He is curious whether basketball players' legacies change if we were to change their names. In addition, he expounds further on this theory by pondering how their legacies change if we award them championships they never won during their careers.
Torres's colorful drawings pepper the text, and the volume concludes with a list of acknowledgments and an index.
In the end, Basketball (And Other Things)
asks fans of the sport to engage with it in new and unexpected ways. By asking questions—some incisive, others fun and lighthearted, and a few morally complex—Serrano wants you to enjoy basketball, not as an automaton in the stands, but as an informed spectator who is intellectually and emotionally invested in, excited by, and challenged by the experience of being a fan. Basketball, after all, is more prevalent in American culture than one might initially think. Football and baseball may get more publicity, but basketball is just as ubiquitous. As Miller notes in his introduction, there are always kids playing a quick game on a stretch of blacktop somewhere. Often a basketball is being tossed around in movie and television scenes. Moreover, the biggest stars of the game have made indelible impressions on history and popular culture. Basketball is a common thread throughout much of American life. "It's there," Miller writes. "Basketball is always there."