Editor’s note: A book review is a first for me, but I figured, hey, why not. So this is something you’ll probably see more of around these parts, maybe one every two weeks or so, depending on how well this experiment goes.
There’s not many NBA writers out there better than Jack McCallum. A former Curt Gowdy Media Award winner, McCallum, also the author of last summer’s remarkable ‘Dream Team’ profile, spends most of the 2005-06 season as a phantom assistant coach with the run-and-gun Phoenix Suns, with the majority of the book’s content derived from the team’s Western Conference Finals run.
The anecdotes are classic — and often hilarious. McCallum’s angle, as a token assistant coach who has no say in day-to-day operations but nevertheless is in that room, delivers troves of insight, mainly from head coach Mike D’Antoni and assistant coach Marc Iavaroni, and excellent anecdotes, mainly from Alvin Gentry, a guy who’s been around the block for, at the time of McCallum’s writing, 18 years.
The book really demands a respect for the day-in, day-out grind of coaching in the NBA, one of McCallum’s stated reasons for writing. The frustration conveyed by the coaches throughout the 2005-06 postseason, from the 3-1 deficit to the Lakers dominated by Kobe Bryant, (purportedly) poor officiating and Kwame Brown, to another 7-game series against an L.A. team, the Clippers, and on to the team’s 6-game bow to Dallas.
Then, there’s the players. McCallum delivers dozens of behind-the-scenes stories, perhaps none more interesting than the ever-so-delicate personality of Shawn Marion, then Nash’s No. 1 running mate, who felt the coaches unfairly targeted him more than any other player and hated, I mean hated, the way Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and D’Antoni drew the headlines before him. Marion was, according to McCallum, reportedly furious his inflated bobblehead was not for sale in the team’s in-stadium store, unlike Nash’s and Stoudemire’s.
Oh, and of course there’s Raja Bell and Eddie House — and the opposing team scouting reports that House ‘won’t shoot it unless he has it in his hands.’ The locker room dynamic, as a whole, is intriguing, and McCallum does an excellent job breaking down the roles each of the guys play, mainly Nash, Stoudemire (who missed all but 3 games of this season due to injury), Marion, Bell, House, Tim Thomas, Boris Diaw, Kurt Thomas and Leandro Barbosa.
How delicate the coaches are in addressing the players — whether to point out that they consistently shoot the ball just inside the 3-line, to address an individual player’s weakness on tape and potentially embarrass him, etc. — and how much more thought goes into these processes than normally let on.
I only have 2 complaints with this book. A: Fair or unfair, even the slightest grammatical mistake in a printed novel drives me insane, and there are a few misspellings in this book — the most egregious being ‘Andrew Iguodala.’ B: McCallum often glosses over the regular season, which I can understand in the sense that the playoff reading is more entertaining and McCallum’s editors probably wanted to keep the book tidy, already at 309 pages. But then again, I enjoyed McCallum’s reporting and the coaches’ anecdotes so much, I just wanted more.
Season profiles can, if not done right, can turn into a chronological compilation of game stories, but the Suns, at least from the surface, afforded the author unprecedented access (even to the pre- and post-meal buffets!), and McCallum did not mess it up. Just a phenomenal book from a phenomenal writer.
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Buy Jack McCallum’s “:07 Seconds or Less” via Amazon here.