A Fan’s Notes

I got this one from the Esquire list of 75 Books Every Man Should Read, but that isn’t why I read it (incidentally, I won’t be getting my Man Library Card from Esquire anytime soon). I picked it up because of a particular project I’m working on with a similar bent. I wanted to see how Exley approached his recounting of a fan’s life from a fictional standpoint. Changing names and particular details allows more creative license, but does it still resonate the same way? The book is more about the narrator’s mental instability than it is about his admiration for Frank Gifford and the G-men. It is a well-written example of its generation, but I’m not a man of that generation.

When it comes to the NBA I’m not a man of the current generation, either. After this season’s lockout I hardly paid any attention to the league, and even then it was only to defend my title in a family fantasy league (I was the runner up). I poured my attention into the NHL instead, and was rewarded with an outstanding season for a new fan.

The University of Utah has a club hockey team that hasn’t produced any pro prospects, so I don’t have my usual connection to a given team. Utah does have the Grizzlies, an ECHL affiliate of the Calgary Flames. I took my son to a Grizzlies game this year and we had a great time. As an extension of that experience could I become a fan of the Flames? The connection is too tenuous. I did find one player in the NHL who hails from Salt Lake: Trevor Lewis of the L.A. Kings. It’s not easy for a native Utahn (me) to be a fan of any franchise in Los Angeles, but it helped that a native Utahn (Lewis) is a member of the team. After Lewis scored two goals in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals to help the Kings win the Cup for the first time it sealed the deal: I am a Kings fan! It may appear to be hopping on the bandwagon, but that isn’t the case. At the beginning of the season my friend Ryan and I each chose four teams, all division rivals. I took the Kings, Predators, Flyers, and Hurricanes; he picked the Coyotes, Blues, Devils, and Lightning. Four teams apiece seems a bit much, but it made the season far more interesting for us both. Especially when six of our teams made the playoffs and faced each other in the second round! Ryan won that round 2-1, but I won in the end as eighth-seeded L.A. knocked out all three of his teams: #2 St. Louis, #3 Phoenix, and #6 New Jersey in the Finals. It was a season for the ages!

To get my basketball fix I had to turn to an earlier age. Last season I read The Fab Five by Mitch Albom (props to Juwan Howard for finally winning a title with the Heat), and this year I read Living the Dream by Hakeem Olajuwon (with Peter Knobler). Hakeem was my favorite player growing up – loved watching him go up against the Jazz and Mr. Robinson’s Spurs – and now that the NBA has degenerated into an unwatchable mess, I felt it was time to revisit the golden age of the sport (mid-80’s to mid-90’s). Hakeem’s not my favorite writer, but he’s still my favorite player!

Bill Simmons researched dozens of books on the NBA for The Book of Basketball, but he bypassed Olajuwon’s book. In one of his self-perpetuating footnotes he says he “refused to buy Living the Dream because it sounded so awful.” Is it fair to expect a world class athlete to also be a world class writer? How much talent can you fit into a 6’10” frame? It doesn’t compare to the entertaining way Simmons writes, but English isn’t Olajuwon’s native language. I’d like to see Simmons go to Nigeria to play soccer and demonstrate how multi-talented he is! He can write circles around Hakeem, and he certainly knows his basketball. I enjoyed reading The Book of Basketball, although it took me a month to get through it. This is a case of having too much of a good thing: too many zany theories, too much Boston worship, too many porn star references. Reading a complete history (plus his alternate histories) of the league made up for disregarding the NBA this season (and for the foreseeable future).

Simmons also turned to the Kings in lieu of the locked out NBA; can’t wait for him to release a book on the 2011-12 season in the NHL!

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