The Greatest Basketball Tournament Never Played

The championship game of the NCAA tournament would have been played on April 6th. Alas. So Kalani put his blank March Madness bracket to use and created the Third Place Books Basketball Book Championship instead! It was a competitive group of 16 basketball books that he recently read (mostly). Here’s a recap of how the imaginary tournament all went down.  


(1) Bill Simmons’s The Book of Basketball vs. (16) David Shield’s Black Planet

Black Planet is a very intriguing book that covers the 1994-95 SuperSonics from the casual point of view of a writer without a press pass. Shields writes from the bleachers over the course of a season exploring race and the meaning of sports fandom, but oh boy, this is a chaotic read. Simmons wins the matchup here for being organized and clearly writing his book with an outline. Did I read all 700 pages of The Book of Basketball? No, I didn’t, in fact, I skipped around and probably only read about half of it, but it was still so much more coherent than Black Planet. Winner: The Book of Basketball

(9) Kirk Goldsberry’s Sprawlball vs.(8) Gene Luen Yang’s Dragon Hoops

Sprawlball is a beautiful looking book full of some incredibly nerdy hoops analysis on the modern NBA. Bonus points must be given for having Kyle Korver(!?!) grace the book’s cover alongside modern legends like Lebron, Steph, KD, and The Beard. I love a book full of sports infographics...but I haven’t read this one yet. Winner: Dragon Hoops

(5) Ray Allen’s From the Outside vs.(12) George Karl’s Furious George

A true to life battle of Ray Allen vs. George Karl. Player against coach! Both books had quite a bit of media attention when they initially came out because of some controversial takes that they both write about in these books, but Coach wins this battle for writing so much more candidly and trashing some of the players he clearly hated to coach. Coach probably should have kept a lot of these opinions to himself but instead we get an enjoyable book chock-full of beef. Winner: Furious George

(13) Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover vs. (4) Lydia Reeder’s Dust Bowl Girls

Dust Bowl Girls has frequently been compared as the basketball version of A League of Their Own. I started reading this after finishing Boom Town (the #10 seed book below), so perhaps unfairly, I could only take reading so much about 1930s Oklahoma (#SorryNotSorry Okies), so this was a DNF for me. But if Geena Davis stars in the film adaptation of this some day, I’ll be first in line. Winner: The Crossover

(3) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Coach Wooden and Me vs. (14) Sam Walker’s The Captain Class

In a truly stunning upset, a book that is only sort of about basketball beats out a book about Hall of Fame legends, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and John Wooden! This was a hard fought battle, but The Captain Class is a book that will forever change the way you think about team sports. While I liked reading about Kareem’s lifelong relationship with his mentor, John Wooden, both figures were a bit ahead of my time, in an era of inferior basketball...(I said it, I meant it). Winner: The Captain Class

(11) Vin Baker’s God and Starbucks vs. (6) John Feinstein’s The Back Roads to March

John Feinstein is one of the all-time great names when it comes to sportswriters. But...I’ve only read his books about golf. Winner: God and Starbucks


 (7) Kobe Bryant’s The Mamba Mentality vs. (10) Sam Anderson’s Boom Town

Another shocking win by an underdog book!!! Sorry Kobe fans (RIP Mamba), but Boom Town is one of my favorite books that you probably have never heard of. If you’re looking for the sleeper underdog team to root for in this bracket then look no further than Boom TownWinner: Boom Town

(15) Rob McClanaghan’s Net Work vs. (2) Shea Serrano’s Basketball and Other Things

Rob McClanaghan is one of the NBA’s most respected trainers who has worked with all the biggest names. So far, I’ve only read this book’s foreword written by Steph Curry and it’s been sitting on the nightstand ever since. Winner: Basketball and Other Things


(1) The Book of Basketball vs. (8) Dragon Hoops

The Book of Basketball was written over 10 years ago and is already starting to show its age. It’s so old that Bill Simmons has recently created The Book of Basketball 2.0 podcast (which I’m a big fan of) as an addendum/audio sequel to this book. Dragon Hoops on the other hand is an absolute gem of a story that will hold up long after 10 years and won’t need any sequel. Winner: Dragon Hoops

(12) Furious George vs. (13) The Crossover

Can’t allow George Karl, the guy that decided not to have Defensive Player of the year Gary Payton guard Michael Jordan in the 1996 Finals, to advance any further. Coach Karl never won a title, so he’s not winning this one either. Winner: The Crossover


(14) The Captain Class vs(11) God and Starbucks

Vin Baker does a truly admirable job telling his rags-to-riches-to-rags story about how alcoholism ruined his NBA career and nearly destroyed his life. I would recommend both of these books equally to any sports fan, but I truly loved The Captain Class. If you want to know why Bill Russell (a guy who retired from basketball two decades before I was born) is in my personal top-5 all-time greats, then read The Captain ClassWinner: The Captain Class

(10) Boom Town vs (2) Basketball and Other Things

I think I messed up here...Boom Town was supposed to be in my final four but bracketology ruined everything! I totally understand that a book about the founding of Oklahoma City and the bizarre theft of a sports franchise may sound like an odd choice for a book, but Sam Anderson weaves together a fascinating portrait of an American city through civic history and sports. I’m a lifelong Sonics fan (RIP Sonics) but reading about the early days of the OKC Thunder in this book was incredibly insightful. Basketball and Other Things edges it out for the win though. The blend of sports, pop culture, and humor teamed with great illustrations make it such a fun book worthy of re-reading at the beginning of every season. Winner: Basketball and Other Things


(8) Dragon Hoops vs. (13) The Crossover

This is an incredibly competitive all-young reader’s matchup! In one corner we have Kwame Alexander’s middle-grade novel-in-verse poetry about family and brotherhood and in the other corner, Gene Luen Yang’s YA graphic novel about the real 2014-15 Bishop O’Dowd High School team. The Crossover won the Newbery Medal and basically every other book accolade, so in keeping with the underdog spirit, the winner is …Winner: Dragon Hoops 

(14) The Captain Class vs (2) Basketball and Other Things

The Captain Class’s Cinderella March Madness run comes to an end here. Unfortunately, it's just not a basketball book, so it’s eligibility runs out here. In fact, Forbes, CNBC, and the Wall Street Journal all named this book as one of the year’s best “business books!” Shea Serrano kicks this business book’s ass in a blowout win.  Winner: Basketball and Other Things 


(8) Dragon Hoops vs. (2) Basketball and Other Things

The highest seed to win the NCAA tournament was a #8 seed and it only happened once (by Villanova in 1985). So, in this historic championship matchup, the underdog #8 seed book, Dragon Hoops beats out the #2 Basketball and Other Things for the title of the Third Place Books Basketball Book Champion! While Basketball and Other Things is one of the most fun reads start to finish, Dragon Hoops perfectly tells the completely true story of a high school team trying to win a championship for the first time. Author and illustrator Gene Luen Yang, who admittingly hated sports before starting his research on this book ends up telling a quintessential sports story. In this nonfiction graphic novel Yang manages to tell the history of basketball, while also touching on themes of sexism and racism in sports, basketball’s impact in other cultures, all while telling the story of an entire season of high school hoops, and in a comically meta fun way. Even if you don’t like basketball, I would bet you can still find this a thoroughly enjoyable read. 
Champion Winner: Dragon Hoops (*Okay, I admit it, there may have been some recency bias on this one, as Dragon Hoops just came out last week!)

*Tournament judge Kalani, with the Second Place winner, Shea Serrano