Saturday, August 06, 2011

BOOKS: Seven Seconds or Less by Jack McCallum

There once was a team in the NBA that strived to shoot as often as possible, as quickly as possible.

Actually, there's been several, but the most recent team to give a try and come close to the  fairy-tale finish of winning the holy grail of the sport, a world championship, were the Phoenix Suns. And, as it happens, the last time 'Phoenix' and 'title contender' were uttered in the same breathe with some sincerity, Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum was on hand to detail the day-to-day events of one of the most exciting teams the NBA has seen in quite a while. The result, Seven Seconds or Less (aka :07 Seconds Or Less).

Why am I bringing up a five-year old book now? Well, there's the depressing thought that reading about old-time basketball will be as close as we will get to the pro game for the rest of this year. It's not like anybody's got any enthusiasm for the way the negotiations are going on between the owners and the players. The over-under on the lockout right now sits at some time in December, perilously close to NEXT year.

But, the fact is that McCallum's a great writer, having headed S.I.'s NBA coverage for years. And he picked an outstanding year to take a sabbatical and work his way into the inner workings of one of the NBA's most fascinating teams. And subsequent developments have made the book even more interesting.

There was a large cast of colourful characters hanging around the Suns' dressing room back in the 2005-06 season. The coaching staff, replete with the Clan D'Antoni. Guard Steve Nash, forever Captain Canuck. Mercurial Shawn Marion, later a Toronto Raptor and, almost incredulously, later a key cog in a Dallas world championship victory. The 'other' foreign element for the Suns, Leandro Barbosa (also later a Raptor) and Boris Diaw (later ALMOST a Raptor). Did I also mention ex-Raptor assistant coach Marc Iavaroni yet? Amongst the angsty guys never to have been Toronto property, even in spirit, it's hard to get more interesting than man-child Amar'e Stoudemire and NBA gypsies Tim Thomas, Eddie House and Raja Bell.

With THAT cast of characters, it wasn't hard to see why McCallum picked the Desert Stars to cover for his NBA version of John Feinstein's A Season on the Brink (the lauded look from the inside during a year with Bobby Knight's Indiana University college team).

You come to like a lot, if not all, of the Suns during the book. McCallum makes them all seem real. And that's sometimes hard in the bigger-than-life world of the NBA. It's hard to feel sorry for millionaires, all with the genetic advantage most of you readers don't have. But McCallum succeeds for the most part in doing exactly that.

It's not giving away the ending to note that the Suns didn't win the championship. And that collection was broken up not too long after, and never did win the title as a group. But after reading the book, betcha want more of them to find the way to do what Marion did, eventually win it all in a different uniform.

This isn't just a version of A Season on the Brink, it's a worthy companion to sit along side it on the shelf of top-notch basketball books.

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