Basketball and Other Things
Author: Shea Serrano
Illustrator: Arturo Torres
When I was in tenth grade, one of my favorite teachers made an assignment to participate in historical tea parties. How it worked was four students would each be assigned different historical figures. The student would need to research their person, come to class dressed up like him or her, and then eat at a tea party with the other three while the rest of the class watched. There were a few questions we needed to discuss, staying in character for how our person would have answered them. My figure was John Adams. Being a huge fan of “1776,” I basically just did an impression of William Daniels acting as John Adams for thirty minutes. Anybody whose seen the movie knows that John was “obnoxious and disliked, you know it’s so.” The character played well into my sense of humor and I had the class laughing throughout, particularly as I talked down to other people that didn’t go to Harvard. Even though I probably did less research than other people the end result was a perfect score and such a memorable performance the teacher wrote one of my recommendations for college and referenced it three years later. Sometimes personality is more important than content when it comes to conveying information.
Shea Serrano’s Basketball and Other Things reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger playing Mr. Freeze in Batman and Robin. No matter how much makeup, costume and special effects you cover Arnold in, you’ll never forget you’re watching Arnold Schwarzenegger playing a character. Similarly when reading Serrano on Grantland, The Ringer, and The Rap Yearbook, it does not matter what the article or chapter is about, there is never any doubt you are reading a piece by Shea Serrano. What makes a Shea Serrano article unique? In honor of his frequent article construction, let’s break down the elements:
An Introduction based around a personal anecdote – Do you see how I started this review? That’s the basic idea. Whether the chapter was about the best fictional basketball players or which player’s legacy would change the most if they had won a championship, there was always at least a little insight into the mind/history/interests of the author to set the tone for the chapter.
A set of elements or factors to consider when making a decision – Whether the question is subjecting (who would you most want to dunk on?) or seemingly objective
Funny artwork, charts, and graphs to assist in discussion – The artwork in Basketball and Other Things was once again done by Arturo Torres. Each chapter includes at least one full page, full color image that references something or somebody discussed in the chapter. The charts and graphs in this book are for the most part more informative than the ones Serrano uses in his articles on line, but there were still some funny ones mixed in.
Footnotes galore – Nearly every page in this book has footnotes at the bottom. These typically fall into two categories. 1) Informative – These are the ones where Serrano writes something like “He’s only the 4th guy to do this” and the footnote will include the other three. 2) Humorous – This is self-explanatory. My personal favorite was when making a list of the best player to never win a championship, the footnote mentioned how he could not foresee Carmelo Anthony ever winning one, which made him sad and made me happy.
A reliance on opinions over stats – It make sense that Serrano has gotten his break writing for Bill Simmons’s websites, as the two have many of the same strengths and weaknesses. Both guys like to draw comparisons to pop culture when looking at sports storylines, both wear their fandoms on the sleeve (San Antonio Spurs for Serrano), and both are not the first person would trust to decide an actual basketball intellectual argument. The difference between the two, is that Simmons unfortunately tried to do just that in his Book of Basketballwhile Serrano for the most part avoids that goal.
Overall I had a lot of fun reading this book, but it is not for everybody. The humor can be pretty juvenile (I feel like the subject of penises came up at least 6 times). Most of my favorite sections were the sections that were not even trying to be serious basketball writing. Conversely, my least favorite chapters were when Serrano wrote as straight forward as possible (specifically, the “what happened right before the big play” chapters felt like reading game recaps for 15 pages). Although I’ll shelve this book in my basketball section of my home library, it could just as easily fit in the humor section and probably succeeds more in that genre.