March Madness

March Madness starts this week, and the "mad" part started for me last Thursday when the University of Washington Huskies broke the piece of my heart not devoted to the Seattle Mariners by losing their first PAC 12 tournament game. What? The Huskies are the PAC 12 Conference champions! They lost to my second favorite basketball team, Oregon State University, who then lost to Arizona. Now whom do I root for? VCU? Florida State?

With all the basketball madness in the air, it's interesting to note that there are not many books about basketball. Football, yes; many more about baseball (well, of course), and soccer books are coming along. The benchmark for basketball books remains David Halberstam's magnificent The Breaks of the Game, about the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers--a masterful dissection of the NBA, the money and media that have shaped the game and a story of dreams both reached and denied.

There are two new basketball books that any fan would enjoy, with appeal beyond fandom. Don't Put Me In, Coach by Mark Titus is about an Ohio State walk-on who rode the bench for four years--it's hilarious and often serious. He tells about declaring for the NBA draft, hoping for a few stories for his blog (he now writes for Grantland). The NBA insisted he withdraw because he was making a mockery of the draft, but by forcing Titus out, they made more of a mockery than he ever could. His stories about his teammates and games are illuminating and very funny. Keep this one in mind for a Father's Day gift.

Brave Dragons by Jim Yardley is subtitled A Chinese Basketball Team, an American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing. "Cultural misunderstandings" barely begins to describe what happened when former NBA coach Bob Weiss agreed to coach the Shanxi Brave Dragons pro team; "cultural abysses" is more like it. The team's owner, Boss Wang, wanted Weiss to turn the Dragons into an American-style team, but thwarted Weiss at every turn. Add Chinese players with no freedom to break out of their strictures, a few non-Chinese players with culture shock, and you get a fascinating look at both basketball and China. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

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