The full title of Ian Thomsen’s new book is The Soul of Basketball: The Epic Showdown Between LeBron, Kobe, Doc and Dirk That Saved the NBA. It is a mouthful but it perfectly encapsulates what the book is about. Essentially it is a story about the 2010-11 NBA season, as told through the eyes of the players, coaches and even referees that lived it. The premise is that the 2010 Finals, “The Decision” and the following season were a pivotal point in the league’s history as some of the values and traditions were at stake during that time.
The book opens with a chapter centered on Kobe Bryant, who is largely revered in this book for upholding old school ideas about competition and ruthlessness. It details some of what makes him tick as well some of his flaws. The 2010 Finals are discussed, particularly game 7, when the Lakers beat the Celtics in a mudslide of a game in L.A. After that Thomsen moves on to “The Decision”, and a point of view that sets up the rest of the book.
Thomsen, whether it is his own opinion or just an attempt to tell the reader what the sentiment was at the time, definitely paints LeBron James as the villain of the story. It is probably my biggest gripe with the book. I just think it is a little too harsh on LeBron. Having said that, however, I loved the book. As the story moves on we get the point of view from Doc Rivers and Pat Riley, as well as Paul Pierce and a whole host of people from the Mavericks organization. The interviews with Riley and Rivers are especially fascinating. Both men clearly had a lot to say about this time, and for the most part do not hold back.
It is clear that Thomsen spent years on this story, and it is a story told incredibly well. Reliving the Mavs run to the title that year was a blast, and a reminder of how unique that team and its star player was. In terms of narrative, my only gripe is that there is virtually nothing about the Chicago Bulls that year, which had the best record in the East and boasted the MVP of the league, Derrick Rose. I assume material on them was left on the cutting room floor. Pretty much anything having to do with Dirk in the book is excellent stuff. Thomsen gives us so much detail about Dirk’s background and work with his mentor, Holger Geschwindner, which really allows the reader to understand how Dirk ticks.
Overall this is a must read for NBA fans both new and old. I have always found that mini-era totally fascinating, and a real fork in the road moment for the league. Now there is a book to help better explain it.