I might as well just come out and say it: I'm an NBA fan, through and through -- rabidly, almost, it's kind of insane. I wasn't for awhile. I grew up living and dying with the Lakers, but somewhere between the second and third titles of the Shaq/Kobe era, I just lost interest. Politics, art, activism, music, and other interests took hold, and I thought I was leaving behind a banal, childish fixture for more sophisticated tastes. And while it wasn't the FreeDarko collective or their fabulous blog that brought me back into basketball (how THAT happened, I'll never figure out), they were responsible for convincing me that the NBA, despite its clamoring for mainstream appeal and the obsessive attempts to ingratiate itself to corporate America through not just its business model, but the leagues entire culture -- despite standing for so much that I am against, it was this group of writers that taught me that this sport is worthwhile. That not only is basketball sophisticated, it's fun.
The Macrophenomenal Almanac analyzes the league as it was meant to be seen -- in terms of the players, and is complemented perfectly by beautiful illustrations and graphs, and the purely genius "style guide". Thus, the authors spend a full chapter each on several of the most interesting, meaningful players in the game. And meaningful is of their own definition -- meaning in terms of symbolism, not wins and losses, which is why there is a chapter on Stephon Marbury, who for all his talent and ability may never play another game in his career, simply because he's such a nutjob, and not on more "deserving" players like former MVP's Dirk Nowitski or Shaquille O'Neal. That's because the book rests on a refreshing new basketball worldview, which is given in an incomplete form in the "Manifesto" which precedes the book: Basketball is fun. It is the league of style and improvisation, and a player's playing style is 1) an essential part of the game and 2) often the truest way to learn about the true personalities of millionaire celebrities who hide their quirks and most human traits for fear of losing product endorsements. But, dig deeper on the FreeDarko blog, especially come playoff time, and you'll see this manifesto fleshed out and sing. Basketball teams become gestalt personalities or group ideologies, and a basketball game becomes a battle of Hegelian dialectics of one team ideology versus another. So, this all sounds rather ridiculous, and they know it is. These folks make no bones about the fact that their intellectual language isn't entirely in place for the subject matter. But it follows their outlook on basketball perfectly -- intellect is their swag, and their swag is phenomenal.
Here's the real important part, though: rather than simply analyze basketball as detached academics, they come at the sport as impassioned fan, and they'll root for whichever style they favor. They fully bridge the two polar extremes of modern sportswriting -- the fanatic enthusiasm of the "fan's eye view" of sports with the sober expertise of a sports historian, and the result is incredible. Again, enough cannot be said about the phenomenal illustrations and design of this book, as well.
As dense as it acts from time to time, the Almanac reads actually as a more accessible introduction to the FreeDarko collective's nigh-impenetrable (more due to encyclopedic knowledge of the game and inside jokes than high-falooting language) blog, which is actually the greater ouvre, and I highly recommend it. But for those that have never read the blog, this is the perfect intro. And for those who already do, well, you already know why to read this.