Sports books are one of the greatest ways to learn about the games we love. When it comes to basketball, there is no shortage of classic memoirs, novels, and everything in between. These books are great for adults to deepen their knowledge of basketball, and for youth athletes (some of them anyways) to get an in-depth look at the sport. Without further ado, here are five (5) of our picks for can’t miss basketball books.

1. The Book of Basketball - Bill Simmons

Written by Bill Simmons with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell, The Book of Basketball takes a deep dive into NBA culture. This book is a hilarious and highly detailed look into what makes NBA basketball so special. Statistics, personalities, and the often larger-than-life opinions of Simmon all take center stage here. Often cited as the greatest modern look into the NBA, The Book of Basketball is a great choice for any hardcore fan.

Simmons is probably best known for his work on ESPN and his more recent podcast, The B.S. Report. He has earned a reputation for being a quick witted, no nonsense analyst who will ask the tough questions. His love of the NBA oozes through the pages of The Book of Basketball, which is one of the reasons it has remained so popular and will likely remain so for many years to come.

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2. When the Game was Ours - Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, & Jackie MacMullan

When it comes to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, what can be said that hasn’t been said already? It turns out, quite a bit. The 80’s rivalry between Johnson and Bird was significant in terms of basketball, media relations, and even race identity in America. When one of the players is nicknamed The Great White Hope and the other literally goes by the moniker Magic Johnson, the story writes itself.

Jackie MacMullan, most famous to modern audiences for her frequent appearances on Around the Horn, handles this story beautifully. The two men open up about their rivalry, their glory days, and their eventual friendship. When the Game was Ours is a fantastic basketball story which has a lesson for everyone.

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3. Heaven is a Playground - Rick Telander

Author Rick Telander was moved by his experiences in early 70’s Brooklyn both watching and playing playground basketball. As opposed to our first two selections, Heaven is a Playground focuses almost exclusively on urban pick-up basketball as it was nearly 50 years ago. This character study shows the struggle of poor, inner city youth trying to make it big by making it into the NBA.

Much like many other tales of American industry, this book is not all happy endings. Some of Telander’s subjects went on to become successful while many remained treading water. This is a slice of basketball Americana that is not to be missed.

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4. The Breaks of the Game - David Halberstam

During the 1979-80 season, Pulitzer prize winning author David Halberstam traveled with and reported on the Portland Trail Blazers. The Breaks of the Game is considered by many as the closest look into an NBA locker room as we have ever received in book form. The drama which took place during this time included a two-month suspension for fighting, star player Bill Walton fighting through injury, and a subtext of civil rights issues.

Halberstam does not stop there. He takes a hard look into the history of the NBA, how Americans have viewed its players, and a snapshot of US culture during the 1960’s and 70’s. Many basketball fans, including Bill Simmons, consider The Breaks of the Game to be the greatest basketball book of all time.

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5. Toughness - Jay Bilas

Former Duke basketball star Jay Bilas is now a fixture of NCAA basketball coverage. He can be seen breaking down film, talking to young superstars like Zion Williamson, and spreading his considerable basketball knowledge to the viewers. With his book: Toughness: Developing True Strength on and off the Court, Bilas lays out his blueprint for developing young men and women into great ball players and even better human beings.

Bilas offers a unique experience as player, analyst, and close friend of many basketball legends. Rather than the Bobby Knight method of simply demanding toughness from youth basketball players, Bilas gives legitimate ways in which basketball players can work on their physical and mental toughness. This is a perfect book for any young baller who hopes to do big things someday.

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