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There are a whole lot of books about basketball. More and more every day. Finding the best basketball books is an endless pursuit. I accept the challenge.
I’d like to read every book ever written about basketball if I could. I don’t think it’s possible. I’m trying. But every section of this post could serve as its own intense focus of study.
So this is a living document of all of the best basketball books I’ve read, organized by subtopic. The list also includes books I haven’t read, just with less commentary. If I’ve read it, I’ll put an 🤓 next to it. If I’m in the middle of it, I’ll do a 📖. I’m also recording some of the great quotes I come across in a separate post full of sick basketball quotes.
And if you are an expert on any of these subtopics, please reach out and share your thoughts on the books that have influenced you the most in your studies.
The Best Basketball Books on Philosophy
I first learned of this book in the early 2000’s, from a movie called I Heart Huckabees. There’s a line where Jude Law refers to it as a deep book, a book about spirituality. Jason Schwartzman counters, “isn’t that about basketball”?
And this is all I knew about Sacred Hoops for many years…
The joke ends up being that the book is actually very much about spirituality. In it, the legendary Phil Jackson lays out his coaching philosophy within the context of the historic Bulls Dynasty, but his sense of the spiritual is inseparable from that philosophy.
Growing up in a devout household, Jackson and his siblings were primed for rebellion. Jackson recalls in his early years, being so hopped up on religious dogma, that when he came home from school one day to find his Mother missing, he was convinced she had been raptured and he was now left to fend for himself.
When Jackson began to broaden his view of the world, he was quick to embrace newer spiritual concepts and incorporate them into his philosophy. He would ultimately embrace elements of Christianity, Buddhism, and even Native American shamanism in a coaching philosophy that would ultimately lead to 11 coaching titles.
Sacred Hoops does well to outline this philosophy and how it leads to a cohesive team that can flex at will. I can’t help but think about how a loose canon like Dennis Rodman was able to function as a key piece of a title team under Jackson after being discarded unceremoniously by a similarly revered but far more rigid Gregg Popovich.
This one shares the wisdom of legendary basketball coach John Wooden and his secrets to creating a successful team and organization.
It’s like a playbook for life and leadership, filled with valuable lessons that can be applied both on and off the court. One of Wooden’s more popular books, if you want to learn how to build a winning team, motivate others, and become a better leader, this book is a good place to start.
Basketball Sports Writing
I found the title misleading. I was expecting this book to help me understand the game and, you know, watch basketball like a genius.
This isn’t about in-depth strategy. It’s something else. But that something else is quite good and very unique.
Greene compiles interviews and articles that reveal elements of the sport from unique viewpoints.
Bill Simmons is a sports guy. He has a podcast. It is at times an awesome podcast and at other times, it is kinda boring, like listening to a sports guy who has always been a sports guy talk about sports.
But he’s written several books and they are popular, and they are on my list coming up soon.
Books on Basketball Game Theory (X’s and O’s)
I picked this one up when I was getting into the triangle offense. Makes perfect sense, why wouldn’t you want to go right to the source? Tex is the guy who codified and refined the triangle over years and years, and he’s the guy Phil Jackson leaned on when bringing this style of offense to his Lakers and Bulls Dynasties.
And it appears to be just a spiral bound printing of a handbook that Tex used to bring the Lakers team onboard with the triangle. Like, this is the literal offensive gameplan that Kobe and Shaq used to take down all of those Lakers titles in the early 00’s.
It’s also just a killer read on basketball strategy. It’s a little heavy on diagrams and drills. If you were planning to implement a triangle on your team, this should be required reading.
But this book is also packed with valuable strategic insights. I mostly skimmed a lot of the diagrams and implementation stuff and focused on the game theory parts. This book has done more to unlock my understandign of basketball game theory than any other resource.
One of the first books on basketball strategy I ever read, simply because it has decent reviews and it’s easy and cheap to get the Kindle edition. The Texas-based author has an impressive collection of ebooks under his name.
And this book is quite interesting. Sivils walks the reader through on-court decision making in a long list of game scenarios.
It’s as good a place as any to start. With a focus on point-of-view decision making as a player and a coach, this book does a solid job of sculpting the fundamentals.
As you further expand your knowledge base, you can hang more complex basketball strategy concepts on this initial framework.
Books on Basketball Analytics
I put this one first in the analytics section because it’s kinda the grandaddy in a way. My first exposure to Basketball on Paper was an interview Joe Mazzulla did with JJ Reddick on his Old Man and the Three podcast. Mazzulla references having started off a new coaching job early in his career by just maintaining analytics as outlined in this book.
So I picked it up and sorted through it. While it may be that some of the ideas in this book are not new, that is primarily because the book has been around for 20 stats-obsessed years in the NBA and Oliver’s topics have permeated NBA culture so deeply. That is, a lot of the concepts you find in here seem familiar, or are common knowledge, but many of them were first described in this book. It’s kinda a seminal work of basketball analytics.
Kirk Goldsberry is perhaps best known for his fascinating statistical visualizations. But a lot of his visualizations cover shooting statistics and revolve around the analysis of shot positioning over time.
Sprawlball assembles some of these visualizations in a look a the evolution of the modern basketball offense. Goldsberry shows how three-point shooting and analytics have transformed the game, making it faster, more dynamic, and higher-scoring.
Books on Basketball History, Culture and Politics
A look at one fateful year of the Bill Walton Trailblazers, this is one of the most beloved basketball books of all time. In my copy, the forward is written by Bill Simmons, who offers glowing reviews.
The Breaks of the Game is so intricately and lovingly crafted as to represent the most complete analysis I’ve yet encountered of the heart, soul, finances, personality, logistics, etc. of running an NBA team to a title and scratching away for another one.-Bill Simmons
And I agree. It is fascinating.
Bill Walton is particularly interesting to me as one of the most dominant college athletes of all time. And this story covers the intimate details of the aftermath of his banner season with the Portland Trailblazers.
There’s a Netflix series called High Flying Bird that touches on some of the racial and political subtleties of the NBA. This book features heavily in that film.
The Revolt of the Black Athlete was first published in 1968. It examines activism among black athletes in the early 60’s. It’s a classic and widely regarded as a fundamental work of activist scholarship. It’s a clear influence on activism in modern sports.
A journey through the wild and crazy world of the American Basketball Association. It’s less about the big names, more about the underdogs, the rebels, the players who were too ‘crazy’ for the NBA, and the unexpected heroes who made the ABA special.
Tall Tales: The Glory Years of the NBA, in the Words of the Men Who Played, Coached, and Built Pro Basketball
Personal accounts of the exciting and unforgettable moments that shaped the NBA into what it is today. What makes this book really special is that it offers a unique perspective. Instead of just analyzing stats and games from a distance, you’ll get to know the inside stories and personal experiences of the people who built the NBA legend.
The story of how the NBA became a worldwide phenomenon. It dives deep into how the NBA managed to capture the hearts of people all around the globe, making basketball a global sensation.
What sets this book apart is its focus on the NBA’s impact outside the United States. It’s not just about the games and famous players; it’s about the NBA’s influence on culture, business, and society worldwide.
The Fab 5 tells the story of five young basketball players, University of Michigan’s famous Fab Five, who changed the game in the early ’90s. It digs into the lives and struggles of these 5 players with personal stories, exploring how they confront fame and criticism.
A front-row seat as Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers’ tackle an iconic season. It’s an in-depth look at Knight’s coaching style, his intense personality, and how he pushes his players to their limits.
Go behind the scenes with the 2005-2006 Phoenix Suns team with a coach who experienced the season up close. A first-hand examination of the Mike D’Antoni, ‘7 seconds or less’ offense.
“Blood in the Garden” offers a unique and in-depth look at the gritty era of the New York Knicks in the 1990s. Big for Knicks fans, or those interested in the Riley dynasties.
Young, Black, Rich, and Famous: The Rise of the NBA, the Hip Hop Invasion, and the Transformation of American Culture
This book looks at how basketball and hip hop came together and changed American culture. It explores the connection between basketball and hip hop and how the NBA became a platform for young, talented black athletes to rise to fame and fortune
This one covers the rivalry and friendship between two basketball legends, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Co-authored by Bird, Johnson, and respected sportswriter Jackie MacMullan, the book explores the contrasting backgrounds and personalities of Bird and Johnson, as well as the unique challenges they faced on and off the court.
But more importantly, it explores their relationship and how, through fierce competition, a genuine respect and admiration for each other’s talents was forged.
Grant Hill shares his personal journey in basketball, all the ups and downs he faced during his career. Offers unique insights and behind-the-scenes stories that you won’t find in many other basketball books.
Lazenby is one of the NBA’s most acclaimed biographers. “Michael Jordan: The Life” is one of the most complete depictions of basketball’s greatest legend.
Elgin Baylor’s memoir, covering every leg of his legendary career. Elgin was the #1 draft pick in 1958 and would go on to become one of the game’s first black superstars. He’s got a lot to talk about.
This is Andre Iguodala’s memoir. But, last I checked, Iggy is still playing NBA basketball. In fact, he’s one the oldest dude to still be doing it. So obviously, this one doesn’t tell the whole story.
Rather it focuses on the groundwork, the qualities and skills that Iguodala had to develop to achieve greatness. It offers a unique perspective on the player’s struggles, triumphs, and sacrifices. It’s well appreciated for it’s commentary on team and personal development.
Don’t Put Me In, Coach: My Incredible NCAA Journey from the End of the Bench to the End of the Bench
The journey of a college basketball player who is the least skilled player on the team. A humorous telling of the author’s experience playing Buckeye basketball, breaking the Ohio State win record and playing alongside future NBA players, while scoring a total of 9 points in his entire college career.
Novelist Pat Conroy relates the details of his senior year attending The Military College of South Carolina and playing with the Ciadel Bulldogs.
Wilt wrote several memoirs. Which is pretty impressive for a dude who was busy living a life a lot of people dreamed of. They are mostly out of print and kinda tough to get ahold of, but I’m working on it.
Another Wilt memoir. Or maybe more of a rant? Apparently, he goes into great deal on the topic of professional sports and the decision making that drives the whole spectacle.
General Basketball Books
The Best Basketball Fiction
“Sooley: A Novel” follows the journey of a young boy named Sooley from South Sudan, who’s passionate about playing basketball. Sooley gets the chance of a lifetime to showcase his skills in America.
Graphic Novels about Basketball
Big fan of comic books here. I was a fan as a kid, but the pandemic broke my brain, just like everyone else’s, and now I’m even more into comic books as an adult.
And if you are also a fan of both hoops and comic books, you ar ein for a treat, because this first title is legit. And the second one, well I have not yet read it, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the anime series on which it was based.
A personal favorite. This graphic novel depicts the emergence of basketball fandom in a nerdy High School teacher who aspires to writing comic books. Spoiler: Gene does in fact become a fantastic and well-regarded graphic novelist.
This story lands with me especially as someone who loved comics as a kid and was completely disinterested in sports, but spontaneously developed a passion for the sport as an adult.
Kuroko is the easily overlooked 6th player on the greatest middle school basketball team Japan has ever seen. But it’s High School now, and he’s elected to go to a school that’s not well known for basketball. When Kuroko meets basketball prodigy Kagami, he vows that together they will defeat every one of his now infamous former teammates.
The shelf is full. Even my kindle is full. There’s just so much interesting stuff in here. If you do dig into any of these and you want to share your thoughts, please reach out to [email protected] or find me on X or Twitter or whatever you wanna call it @hoop_song.