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How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius

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A fun, intelligent read that even the most strait-laced sports fan will thoroughly enjoy. Greene embeds basketball in all elements of culture and reminds us that sports science benefits from fields as diverse as ballet and physics. This book leaves you one step ahead of the commentators, and helps you to understand and be able to articulate *why* a certain play was good - both objectively and subjectively.
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This is not a book for people who don't already love basketball. This is for lovers of the game, a game which the author proves with each chapter deserves our love. It's a witty, conversational passage through the evolution of basketball, from inception to modern-day court play. Via interviews with experts in widely diverse fields --board game designers, ballet dancers, chemists, casting directors, philosophers, magicians, wine critics, spacecraft navigators, and  so on -- the author crafts a multi-disciplinary deep-dive into Hoops. I found myself uttering every few pages, "Huh, who knew?" Good stuff for legit Hoops fans, for sure.
[Thanks to Abrams Books and NetGalley for the advanced reader’s copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.]
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This is an excellent basketball book, often because it is not content to stick to basketball. For example, passing is related to relationship coaching. By taking this approach, the book becomes deeper and open to people who may not care about basketball. The writing is also clever.
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A quick Google search for the phrase "thinking outside the box" reveals more than 5 million hits. Quite a few trees have been chopped in forests in making the paper for the business books that have been dedicated to the idea of approaching a problem from a unique perspective and coming up with a possible solution. They weren't all part of the "Freakonomics" series, either. 

The idea doesn't only apply to commerce. Writer Nick Greene loves basketball, and decided to look at the game in several different ways. The resulting book is "How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius," and it's fair to say that he has succeeded in his goal.

Basketball is uniquely suited for a rather off-kilter examination, mostly because of its origins. Baseball, football and basketball slowly evolved from other games, and there's no clear line about how and when the actual game that we know had come forward. Basketball was different. Dr. James Naismith needed something athletic for people to do indoors in a gymnasium in December 1891, since calisthenics and gymnastics weren't a great deal of fun. What was needed was a new game - something that could be played indoors safely on a hard court without a lot of body contact. 

Dr. Naismith was well equipped for the job. He took a soccer ball and decided to have people try to place it into a goal. The best part came when he decided to hang the goals - peach baskets - on the balcony of the YMCA. Who could get hurt jumping in the air? Dr. Naismith also thought that he needed to limit the amount of momentum by the participants, so players couldn't run with the ball - they had to pass it. A few other rules followed, and we had a game ... for a while. When basketball was actually played, it was quickly determined that some other form of ball advancement was needed to prevent the game from turning into keep-away ... and dribbling was created. That led to changes in the ball, in order to advance it more easily.

And the game was off, and so is Greene's book. He takes the novel approach of talking to experts in other fields to get their opinions on a variety of subjects about basketball. A professor in games at New York University checks in with his thoughts on basketball's development. New rules came along, which in term emphasized different skills and usually made the game more fun. For example, originally possession of an out-of-bounds basketball went to the first person to retrieve it, causing some spirited and physical sprints. It must have been like outdoor lacrosse, which awarded the ball to the team that has a player closest to the ball when it leaves the playing field. Setting up "cages" around the court solved that problem for a while, and gave us the word "cagers." Was it still basketball when it was done? A Penn State philosophy professor says yes, absolutely. 

And off we go on an adventure. Games like systems often grow more conservative over the time, and basketball hit something of a wall when teams simply refused to shoot the ball by the early 1950s. The elegant solution was the shot clock, which forces players to play the game. A famous 19-18 game involving the great center George Mikan illustrated the problem nicely; a traffic expert says it often takes the equivalent of a crash to take dramatic action. An advertising executive points out that the time limit forced players to be creative as the clock ran down, and thus opened up the game to those who could thrive in that environment.

Those involved in the game are still wrestling with the problem involving fouls by a trailing team at the end of a game. Nick Elam proposed setting a target score in the fourth quarter, as in "first team to 100 wins." The idea sounds like it almost came off a playground, but based on some experiments such as the NBA All-Star Game, it seems to have the desired effect.

One other traditional problem for the game has been the domination of the biggest players, who are closer to the rim than the rest of the participants and often can score and rebound at will. That led to goaltending rules, the creation of the "lane" by the basket, and the widening of that area. It didn't help. Then came the three-point line, which was almost ignored for several years. But some coaches figured out that because of that bonus point, a shot from beyond the arc was more productive than one inside of it. That meant the best ways to score were the dunk/lay-up, because of its high percentage, and the three-pointer, because of the bonus scoring. Centers have either adapted or died.

There are other chapters on such subjects as free-throw shooting, "we've never done it that way" coaching, dunking (a ballet expert checks in here), defense (which calls for a theoretical astrophysicist), passing, and chemistry. The game has a lot of fans among our best and brightest. 

This is all nicely told by Greene, who never takes himself too seriously; the same can be said for his experts. It all doesn't work perfectly, as the insights of magicians and noodle-makers aren't a perfect fit for the book. Even so, the story moves along nicely for the most part. 

It's clear that a book like this is not for everyone. But speaking as someone who once wrote an article about the idea of having four outs per half-inning in a seven-inning baseball game, I enjoyed stretching my imagination. If you qualify, there's little doubt that "How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius" is worth your time.
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Offering more entertainment than real analysis, pretending to be a basketball genius is easier with this widely ranging and discursive book in hand. More enjoyable than the typical halftime show.
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Ever wonder how the rules for basketball began and evolved over time or how the three-point-shot came to be? Ever get frustrated when the other team fouls the player you know is going to struggle at the line or wonder why the final two minutes of a close game are such a drag? How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius has answers for you (and research-based solutions)!

As a former player and coach, this book is right up my alley. Part basketball history lesson, part game analysis, part discussion of the beauty and draw of the sport with experts in varied fields, it is a fascinating and fun read.

One of the most interesting sections for me was on the history of the shot clock. I’d grown up in a state where the shot clock wasn’t used, but traveled to coach in tournaments where it was, and the game felt totally different in the best possible ways. Reading this chapter was like reliving those experiences, but backed with a history lesson that helped me understand why the shot clock came to be in the first place and why it stuck around--sure, the shot clock limits the time of each possession, but what it ultimately does is contribute to the beauty and efficacy of the game of basketball. 

Some of the humor fell a little flat for me and I could’ve used more female voices on the pages, but overall the book was fascinating and enjoyable.

Thank you to Abrams and NetGalley for providing the advanced copy!
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A great deep dive into the history and current landscape of basketball that is surprisingly approachable for casual fans of the game. Who knew that the backboard was only added to the game to stop overly-excited fans from swatting the ball away from behind the hoop?! The author approaches this one with a light-hearted, but informative tone that makes it an entertaining and educational read. Recommended for casual fans or hardcores alike.
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This is a book on basketball that is really like no other one on the market today. Author Nick Green breaks down the sport in its basic areas such as shooting three-point shots, dribbling and free throws.  But he doesn't stop there – he solicits input from other industries and art forms as varied as ballet, baking and cartography and compares those skills to the skills necessary to perform these basketball skills.  Add in a chapter at the beginning about the early history of the game described in this same manner and you have a terrific book on the sport. 

That beginning chapter, in which the tone for the rest of the book is set, is brilliant in its way that it will draw a reader into the early version of the sport the way Dr. James Naismith drew it up and the original rules.  Green injects plenty of humor in this chapter that he liberally sprinkles throughout the book. He will use examples of NBA stars and what they do extremely well such as Steph Curry's three-point shooting or Chris Paul's dribbling skills to illustrate why not only are special talents, but how they are analyzed by experts in other, non-basketball areas.  Green doesn't forget past masters of the game either, such as Marques Haynes for his dribbling skills with the Harlem Globetrotters.  I also liked his references to George Mikan – not only for his career as the first NBA "big man" but also for his use of the three-point line when Mikan was the first commissioner of the ABA and that league's use of the arc.

What is also impressive is the variety of other industries that Green was able to compare to basketball and how they related to basketball.  Before reading this book, I never would have thought to wonder if Mikhail Baryshnikov, the famous Russian ballerina, would be able to dunk a basketball.  Who knew that making pasta from scratch had skills relatable to dribbling? These are just two of the wonderful skills that Green introduces to the reader that really enhance one's basketball knowledges and appreciation.  

If a reader follows basketball at all, no matter the interest level or whether high school, college or professional, this book is a must-read.  This review barely scratches the surface of the treasure trove of knowledge that a fan will learn.  This book is, well, a stroke of genius. 

I wish to thank Abrams Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius from Nick Greene is a startling blend of entertainment and education for even the biggest basketball fans. Yet even those with little interest in watching the game will still find a lot of interesting information here using basketball as simply the focal point.

I'm going to give a slightly inaccurate description of the book because I think it is close enough to accurate and it explains why I think it will find a wide readership. This is almost like a history of basketball, though not in the sense of a lot of statistics and dynasties explained. More like how the game evolved and some of the more interesting players and innovators. But the history book is broken up by discussions with people from various fields about whatever aspect was just discussed. So a few pages of basketball history or discussion, then several pages about how someone sees that particular aspect just presented. This offers some fun perspectives and very often a new appreciation of the game and the players.

I also want to relate what I found most fun. I used to teach theory and literature, which means often teaching books I was very familiar with. It always amazed me when students would discuss a book and I would learn yet another avenue into a book I might have read a dozen times. This does the same thing for me, I find it intriguing to see how other people view the game of basketball. Not in the sense that some fans love offense and others defense, or a lot of passing versus isolation one on one. But how these people relate some aspect of the game to their own area of expertise. Sorta like I might think of a game as a narrative and look for how something subtle done in the second quarter is done with an eye toward the fourth. That is the literature person in me.

I highly recommend this for fans of basketball, whether they are diehard or casual. I also think a lot of people with no interest in watching a game but who might find thinking about sports from a different perspective interesting will enjoy the book.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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A fun and entertaining book of the history and practice of basketball. Chock full of interesting stories, tidbits, and unusual perspectives. A great read for any student of the game. I learned a great deal.
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A solidly entertaining history of basketball.  It touches on the evolution of the game from Naismith to Curry with all the starts and stops in-between.  Bringing in different professionals to opine on the game added a nice element for those basketball junkies who feel like they have discussed the game from every conceivable angle.  Turns out there are some very wise perspectives on the sport from outside the typical norms.
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Nick Greene's "How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius" is an engagingly fun journey through the sport of basketball - its origins, evolution and its universality. Deconstructing the game while drawing similarities from a variety of other sources. I learned so much about a sport I claim to know a lot about, perhaps now I can maybe add that 'Genius' moniker. And in all, this book feels like a celebration of the wonderful and seemingly miraculous sport of basketball
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For the hoops junkie.  Do you want to know about the shot clock?  the three point line?  shooting a foul shot?  the backboard?  Even the origins of dribbling?  Then this is your book.  Very readable discussion about basketball.  I loved it.
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A must read for any true fan of basketball. Nick Greene tells the story of how basketball started in Springfield, Massachusetts, and transformed into the game we watch today. The book details when Yale broke a cardinal rule, but might have fixed the game. He continues to move through different innovations like the shot clock, three point line, and even the slam dunk and how each revolutionized the game. The author is engaging, and tells an interesting, and sometimes humorous story.
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I greatly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for all those who love the game. The author’s vast knowledge of the game’s history, anecdotes, and writing style are unparalleled. "How to Watch Basketball Like a Genius" by Greene should be a part of every high school library.
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By interviewing experts from other fields, Nick Greene is able to describe the beauty and grace of basketball like few other writers have been able to do. 

I loved the way that Greene was able to interweave aspects of the game with input from experts. My favorite was the discussion of the Triangle office and the background of Tex Winter. It was very fitting that the last expert Greene wrote about was the architect of one of the most successful offensive schemes in NBA history. But before that, we hear from experts in fields such as the sciences, relationship counseling, and ballet. But, the input from these experts in other fields helps build up to the discussion of Tex Winter.

Greene's writing style is also a delight. He's self deprecating, but not twee. I haven't read someone write like him since A.J. Jacobs. He has some great turns of phrase. None is better than the discussion of Wilt Chamberlain's biography. He manages to talk about Wilt with some empathy while still calling him out for his inability to take responsibility for anything wrong that happened to him. The book was truly a pleasure to read.

I recommend this book to everyone, not just basketball fan.
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Fun and informative! Written by a fan for fans, this is a fabulous overview history of basketball organized by elements of play. Loved the tone and humor, too.
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I really enjoyed this book. It was written in a way that keeps you engaged. I found the "topics not covered" pages to be quite funny. It covered all aspects of basketball. History, notable players, how to play, you name it, Greene probably covered it.
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How many of you during quarantine watched the Michael Jordan documentary #TheLastDance? We are a Chicago family where the patron saints are #MichaelJordan and #WalterPayton. 
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You may not be a basketball fan but EVERYONE knows Michael Jordan and for basketball fans the 90’s era Chicago Bulls was a magical time especially for this Chicago Girl. 
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#nickgreene writes about the start of basketball in a way that is conversational and interesting.
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He talks about how ballerinas know the trajectory of how they land. There is a science to it. I’m a basketball mom AND a dance mom and I never put that together before but it’s so true. He talked about how Dennis Rodman (one of my favorite players to watch) would stand there during warm ups instead up warming up. He would just watch the way the ball would bouncy, and the direction it would go . He would study the science of rebounding and he was one of the best rebounders in the league.
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He also talked about the science of the free throws and consistency. However, any little detail can throw off this consistency. I love the story of the 1997 finals. Karl Malone (NICKNAME: The Mailman) was at the line with 9.2 seconds left and the game tied.
Scottie Pippen whispers to Malone “The Mailman doesn’t deliver on Sunday.” He missed both free throws and Jordan goes on to shoot a buzzer beater and they win the Championship.
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I miss the sound of shoes scuffing the gym floor. I miss the sound of whistles and coaches yelling. I even miss the sound at travel games of parents screaming D Up. (If you have a kid that plays travel basketball, you know what I’m talking about) I swear I will never complain again about paying $10.00 again just to get into a gym to watch my kids play basketball. I Just want to watch them play again. 
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This the perfect book for the basketball fan in your life. This is available March 2, 2021.
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Thank you #Netgalley and #AbramsPress for an arc in exchange for an honest review
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This was a great book about the subtleties of basketball and how seemingly minor details in basketball's history  actually had profound ripple effects. Sections describing the practice and form of Klay Thompson's jumpshot compared to Chinatown noodle pulling, where both utilize repetitive practice and detailed form to create a consistent outcome are great examples where the author brought basketball details into other professions. I would recommend this to anyone interested in basketball or the NBA.
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