St. Martin's / Warner
Pick up a book on basketball in your average library and you'd be forgiven for wondering if this was a game played by Americans, by Americans, for Americans. Sure, you get the odd Kukoc or Divac-ism thrown in, but Stateside hoops rules. OK?
Until now. Trotting around the globe with his eye trained on courts of many shapes and colours, respected Sports Illustrated diarist Alexander Wolff sets out to find out what happened to the game invented by Dr. James Naismith in Springfield once it boarded the steamer ships and headed off for far flung pastures.
Unseen and largely unrecognised until the Dream Team era brought international basketball into the mainstream, Naismith's brainchild has spread into paths only previously uncovered by soccer, a truly global endeavour with a universal face up front.
Over the course of a year, Wolff tracked down friends and strangers, using their experiences to guide him toward basketball's new roots. He reveals the complex and intriguing saga which led the construction of Ireland's National Basketball Arena, a development assisted by the apparent philanthropy of an American millionaire and a boisterous union magnate.
Further afield, he sees how a generation of his own countrymen have sought to earn a living in Europe, an existence far removed from the bright illumination of the NBA. How do the locals adjust to the invasion and how do the exports for hire deal with a game which may have the same rules on paper, if not off the court.
Horse racing may be the sport of kings but hoops is not without royal patronage as Wolff reveals in vivid colour from his excursion into the remote mountain kingdom of Bhutan. There, he attempted to set up a little one-on-one with King Jogme Singye Wangchuck, who as Wolff notes, "in regular pick-up games with the Royal Bodyguards .. was famous for coming off screens and letting fly well-practiced three-point shot."
Such incredible tales serve to delight and occasionally astound. The blind courage of those in Bosnia who risked the safety to reach the gym, the teenage dreamers in Illinois who hope that their dribble will lead them to riches, the elusive café owner in Israel who was once an idol before letting his guard down.
What makes Big Game so special however is that it is not just a book about basketball, nor a travelogue, more an exploration of how hoops interweaves vitally into the journeys of individuals and communities in every part of the globe. Each the same yet gloriously unique.
Wolff joyously grasps this sentiment and runs coast to coast at full tilt. And in the process, he has crafted both a superlative sporting journal and a delicious literary treat.