The best books about basketball

2 authors have picked their favorite books about basketball and why they recommend each book.

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I Came as a Shadow

By John Thompson, Jesse Washington,

Book cover of I Came as a Shadow: An Autobiography

John Thompson's inspiring and honest account of his life as told to Jesse Washington. The legendary coach grew up in poverty in segregated Washington, DC in the 1950s, and parlayed basketball first into a ticket out of DC to Providence College on a basketball scholarship and then back to DC, as a guidance counselor, then a fill-in high school basketball coach who became a city legend, and then as Georgetown's first Black head basketball coach, when he was hired in 1972. 

Thompson built the Hoyas into a formidable squad by the late 1970s and then, with the arrival of Patrick Ewing on campus in 1981, a dynasty. The Hoyas made the NCAA championship game three times in Ewing's four years, winning it all in 1984. Thompson also emerged as an outspoken and fierce defender of his players and black athletes more generally, fighting the NCAA's efforts to impose SAT minimums…


Who am I?

I am a professor of Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and I have written about the intersection of sports, media, and politics for many years. I am also the co-host of a podcast, Agony of Defeat, with Matt Andrews, that explores the connections between sports, politics, and history. Basketball is an especially rich topic for mining these intersections. And I’m also a lifelong sports fan.


I wrote...

Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

By Marc Hetherington, Jonathan Weiler,

Book cover of Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

What is my book about?

Two award-winning political scientists provide the psychological key to America’s deadlocked politics, showing that we are divided not by ideologies but something deeper: personality differences that appear in everything from politics to parenting to the workplace to TV preferences, and which would be innocuous if only we could decouple them from our noxious political debate. Drawing on groundbreaking original research, Prius or Pickup? is an incisive, illuminating study of the fracturing of the American mind.

The Breaks of the Game

By David Halberstam,

Book cover of The Breaks of the Game

David Halberstam's classic, a chronicle of the Portland Trailblazers during the 1979-80 season. Three years removed from a stunning run to the NBA title, and with their mercurial superstar, Bill Walton, injured and then traded, the Blazers scuffled through the long slog of the season, trying in vain to recapture old glory. The book isn't just a chronicle of a team of interesting characters, though. It's an unflinching look at the cold financial calculus of professional sports and what it means when athletes know that they are, in the end, high-priced and expendable commodities. The book also captures the NBA at a critical inflection point in its history. It became a predominantly black league in the 1970s and its popularity declined to the point that the finals were televised on tape delay. Halberstam, the players and management are acutely aware of the tightrope the sport was compelled to walk as…


Who am I?

I am a professor of Global Studies at UNC Chapel Hill and I have written about the intersection of sports, media, and politics for many years. I am also the co-host of a podcast, Agony of Defeat, with Matt Andrews, that explores the connections between sports, politics, and history. Basketball is an especially rich topic for mining these intersections. And I’m also a lifelong sports fan.


I wrote...

Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

By Marc Hetherington, Jonathan Weiler,

Book cover of Prius or Pickup?: How the Answers to Four Simple Questions Explain America's Great Divide

What is my book about?

Two award-winning political scientists provide the psychological key to America’s deadlocked politics, showing that we are divided not by ideologies but something deeper: personality differences that appear in everything from politics to parenting to the workplace to TV preferences, and which would be innocuous if only we could decouple them from our noxious political debate. Drawing on groundbreaking original research, Prius or Pickup? is an incisive, illuminating study of the fracturing of the American mind.

In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle

By Madeleine Blais,

Book cover of In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle

While this book mirrors the template of Darcy Frey’s book and my own, following a high school basketball team through an entire season, the setting—an upper-class, genteel community of white suburbanites in Amherst, Massachusetts—is a world away from that of those stories, and, most importantly, the athletes are female. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, through her elegant writing, brings a piercing understanding of the obstacles these girls face in the wake of Title IX as they prove their toughness, perseverance, and abilities in a sport traditionally dominated by men. 


Who am I?

I’m a narrative nonfiction writer whose subjects range from politics to professional football, from racial conflict to environmental destruction, from inner-city public education to social justice to spinal cord injury. The settings for my books range from the Galapagos Islands to the swamps of rural Florida, to Arctic Alaska. I typically live with and among my subjects for months at a time, portraying their lives in an intimately personal way.


I wrote...

Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

By Michael D'Orso,

Book cover of Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska

What is my book about?

In October of 2004, I flew from my home in Norfolk, Virginia, to the tiny Arctic village of Fort Yukon, Alaska, where I rented a small cabin and spent the next six months climbing into the day-to-day lives of the community’s indigenous Native population while shadowing the village’s boys high school basketball team through the course of an entire season as they, their families, and their neighbors faced a myriad of challenges (poverty, inadequate schooling, alcoholism, suicide, teen pregnancy, and the loss of their traditional culture) while clinging to the one thing that gives their community hope and pulls together most of the state’s 200 “bush” villages: the game of basketball.

Getting Undressed

By David Cooks, Eric Wolffersdorff,

Book cover of Getting Undressed: From Paralysis to Purpose

David had a spinal aneurysm at the age of 15, and his dreams of sports, college, and his future seemed to be halted. Yet, through faith and determination, his life took on a whole new journey full of awesome experiences, people, and lessons. Similar to Goggin’s book, this story opens up your mind as to what’s possible, what matters, and why we live.


Who am I?

As a former Division 1 basketball player at Marquette University and current ecommerce executive, I’m always looking for new sources of inspiration. Please enjoy my list and send me any comments on what you find inspiring!


I wrote...

Walk-On Warrior: Drive, Discipline, and the Will to Win

By John Willkom,

Book cover of Walk-On Warrior: Drive, Discipline, and the Will to Win

What is my book about?

A basketball journey like no other. The incredible first-hand account of a college season at Marquette, a summer with Hall of Fame coach, Rick Majerus, and a court-side seat with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.

Small town. Undersized. Not enough talent. John Willkom heard it all as a young basketball player growing up in rural Wisconsin. Despite the odds, John dedicated his life to the game, an arduous journey that challenged the very core of even the most disciplined. As John’s hard work lands him amongst basketball’s elite, it is the workouts, the people, and the behind-the-scenes interactions that not only change his skill set but how he lives his life. Both heartfelt and funny, Walk-On Warrior takes you into the mind of an athlete from John’s perspective. Take a journey that will reignite your passion for life, challenge your perspectives on toughness and fear, and ultimately, inspire you to maximize your talent. 

Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table

By Jacqueline Briggs Martin, Eric-Shabazz Larkin (illustrator),

Book cover of Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table

When former basketball star Will Allen notices a problem in his community—too many abandoned lots and not enough fresh food—he sees opportunity. This biography tells the story of Will Allen’s inspirational journey to create urban farms that heal both the land and the people harvesting and eating the bounty. Farmer Will Allen and the Growing Table is the perfect book to talk to kids about how there is often more than one way to solve a problem and get them excited about growing their own fresh food. Plus, any picture book that includes worms is a picture book I want to read with my kids—and worms play a starring role in Will Allen’s vision.


Who am I?

Katherine Pryor is the award-winning author of several picture books about food and gardens. In addition to writing, she has worked to create better food choices at institutions, corporations, and food banks. She gardens with her young twins at their home on an island in northwest Washington. 


I wrote...

Zora's Zucchini

By Katherine Pryor, Anna Raff (illustrator),

Book cover of Zora's Zucchini

What is my book about?

The first harvest of a summer garden is always exciting, but what happens when the plants just keep growing...and growing...and growing? When Zora finds herself with more zucchini than her family can bake, sauté, or barbecue, she dreams up solutions to keep her precious veggies from going to waste. Fortunately, the resourceful girl comes up with the perfect plan—a garden swap! 

“A fun and accessible title that lends itself to discussion of gardening, nutrition, and problem-solving.” — School Library Journal

Power Forward

By Hena Khan,

Book cover of Power Forward

Zayd is a couple of years younger (4th grade) than the main characters of my other book picks, but again, he is a boy seeking fame and glory through sports. In particular, I enjoy his voice and learning about the Pakastani (Muslim) culture of his interesting family. The frustrating pull between basketball and playing the violin sets up several intriguing situations. This is a fun story that turns out to be the first book in a series of four.


Who am I?

I’ve always been a fan of stories where the underdog makes good due to their own strength and determination. Although my book picks are all connected to sports I don’t happen to participate in, I feel the power of choosing the life you want by working hard encompasses all fields whether it be learning to sing or dance or becoming an expert in science, chess, juggling, or whatever one’s passion might be. For me, I guess it would be writing and not giving up even when it sometimes feels like playing the lottery each time one of my manuscripts is sent into cyberspace.


I wrote...

Roller Boy

By Marcia Strykowski,

Book cover of Roller Boy

What is my book about?

After his baseball dreams fall through, Mateo’s mood sinks low. What can he be good at? What will take him from that skinny little kid with the big hair to someone who matters? Mateo struggles to find his true purpose while dodging bullies, avoiding gluten, and falling for Roller City’s star skater. In doing so, he discovers he’s a pretty good skater himself. But still, roller-skating? What if his buddies find out he’s whirling around in girly skates? Anybody halfway to cool would be hanging at a skate park, on boards or blades.

Mateo keeps his sense of humor and channels his innermost strength into an incredible ride on roller skates that just might take him all the way to regionals.

So Done

By Paula Chase,

Book cover of So Done

When Tai’s useless, always-high dad touches her best friend, Mila, where he shouldn’t, the girls’ friendship is challenged and changed. Tai, already ashamed of her father, wants to pretend the moment never happened. But, Mila can’t pretend because she lives every day with the fear and shame of that moment. After a summer apart, the two friends struggle to reconnect while also competing for acceptance into the same gifted-and-talented arts program. As both work to be seen for who they want to be, they must also learn to look back together at what really happened. I loved the portrayal of the girls’ friendship and the honesty of a story in which the “happy ending” doesn’t mean a return to the way things were.


Who am I?

In That’s What Friends Do, the #MeToo experience that Sammie’s mom shares with Sammie is my story. I was thirteen. I never told anyone. Even as I started writing my novel, it didn’t occur to me to share with my husband, or my teenage children, my experience. But one evening, as the #MeToo movement was exploding in the media, I was sitting around a dinner table with several other couples. All of the women had had a #MeToo experience. Most of us were young teens when it happened. Shame and guilt had kept us silent for far too long. My novel – and the others on my list – are working to break through that silence.


I wrote...

That's What Friends Do

By Cathleen Barnhart,

Book cover of That's What Friends Do

What is my book about?

Samantha Goldstein and David Fisher have been friends ever since they met on their town’s Little League baseball team. But when a new kid named Luke starts hanging out with them, what was a comfortable pair becomes an awkward trio.

Luke’s flirting make Sammie feel uncomfortable—and David so jealous that he decides to make a move on the friend he’s always had a crush on. But things go all wrong and too far, and Sammie and David are both left feeling hurt, confused, and unsure of themselves, without anyone to talk to about what happened. As rumors fly around the school, David must try to make things right (if he can) and Sammie must learn to speak up about what’s been done to her.

Full Court

By Dennis Trudell (editor),

Book cover of Full Court: A literary anthology of basketball

In the 1990s, I didn’t know of any collection of basketball stories and few great basketball books had been written. Dennis Trudell saw the same thing and fixed it with this literary anthology. I appreciated the broad array of stories in the collection. It includes John Updike’s poem, “The Ex-basketball Player.” In “Posting Up,” Stephanie Grant captured the beauty of basketball in a story about a teenage girl learning to play the post. Most stories tackle hard topics beyond the basketball court. If you love basketball and literature, you must find this hard-to-find book. 


Who am I?

I’m a storyteller and jack of all trades who grew up on a family farm in Indiana. I can operate a combine, analyze data, or edit a book. Writing about sports can create great stories, but the true beauty lies in the people and circumstances, not the stats and game highlights. Most of my works are nonfiction—personal interest, sports, history, and sports history. I enjoy unearthing untold stories, especially when they involve equal rights, underdogs, hidden history, and non-famous people. Everyone has a story to tell.


I wrote...

Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s

By Matthew A. Werner,

Book cover of Season of Upsets: Farm boys, city kids, Hoosier basketball and the dawn of the 1950s

What is my book about?

This is the incredible true story of the 1950 Indiana high school basketball season. The circumstances of that one season captured the essence of Hoosier hysteria in all its glory. But this is more than a sports story. The students were born into the Great Depression and grew up in the shadow of World War II. The coaches were veterans of war. A fire destroyed a school, but not its spirit. A coal strike threatened everything. There were hard times and happy memories. In the end, everyone shared one common love: basketball.

The Miracle of St. Anthony

By Adrian Wojnarowski,

Book cover of The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty

Jersey City hoops this time, but Wojnarowski’s book details the dedication of Bob Hurley (father of Duke star and NBA player Bobby Hurley) who is the head coach at a small Catholic school in Jersey City. Under his leadership, this tiny school wins championship after championship. For Hurley, the championships are a sidebar. His focus is on the players as human beings. He knows them--where they came from, where they are, where they could be headed--good and bad. Tough love at its best. A remarkable book about a remarkable man. The flip side of The Last Shot.

Who am I?

For 20 years, I tried to write politically relevant, “important” novels. I teach. One day I told my students that to succeed as a writer, they needed to write about things they knew and loved. Honesty was the key. That night, I resumed work on a novel set in Prague involving Cold War intrigue, capitalism, communism, and some other "isms" I’ve forgotten. I wrote a paragraph and then stopped. My advice was good. Write about things you know and love. So why not follow it myself? What section of the newspaper did I read first? The sports page. Did I live and die with my favorite sports teams? Yes. I put my hopeless Prague novel aside and started On the Devil’s Court. For better or worse, a sportswriter is who I am.


I wrote...

Golden Arm

By Carl Deuker,

Book cover of Golden Arm

What is my book about?

High school baseball pitcher Laz Weathers has a golden arm. He just needs a major league scout to see it. But when you live in a trailer home and go to a struggling school with a lousy athletic program, how do you do that? Laz’s big break comes when the local high school baseball powerhouse gives him the opportunity to escape his dead-end by moving in with one of their families and thus becoming eligible to join their high-profile team. Great coaching. Scouts at every game. State title is a distinct possibility.

But escape also means leaving home, family, friends, obligations. Is the shiny future worth it if you have to close the door to your past?

Between the Devil and the Duke

By Kelly Bowen,

Book cover of Between the Devil and the Duke

An adventurous lady gambler. I enjoy stories where the heroine is taking on the role usually belonging to the hero. Kelly Bowen is so skilled at giving us characters to care about and root for. This story was a delicious read with a heroine equal to the task of taming the hero. I love Kelly’s writing style and how smoothly her stories flow.


Who am I?

I am the bestselling author of more than 46 romance novels. I love history, enjoy research, and am always looking for little-known facts to make my stories more authentic. Some of those facts have revealed that women in the 19th century often took on occupations, hobbies, or causes that challenged them and sometimes placed them in danger. Although seldom acknowledged as such, women in the 19th century were a force to be reckoned with, although their contributions were often overlooked. But through reading personal accounts, letters of the time, biographies, and nonfiction accounts about various women’s roles, I have gained a greater appreciation for how daring women have been throughout history.


I wrote...

The Return of the Duke: Once Upon a Dukedom

By Lorraine Heath,

Book cover of The Return of the Duke: Once Upon a Dukedom

What is my book about?

When his father, the Duke of Wolfford, is hanged for an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, Marcus Stanwick is stripped of everything. Vowing to return honor to his family, he seeks to expose the others involved in the treasonous plot. His search forces him to turn to a woman he despises for her unforgivable betrayal.

Harboring secrets, Esme Lancaster has her own reasons for wanting to discover who’s behind the conspiracy that’s still afoot. As their hunt for the truth leads them into danger, they’re unable to deny their growing desire for each other. But giving in to temptation comes at a cost, and they must decide if love is worth the risk of losing their one chance for redemption.

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