Sprawlball: A Visual Tour of the New Era of the NBA — Kirk Goldsberry
A compelling narrative of the NBA’s recent past, troubling present, and possible future
Early in my college years, I read Michael Lewis’ Moneyball. I was never the same. And I mean that literally. There are only a few books that changed my intellectual life, and Moneyball was one of them. My love of baseball combined with my tendency toward analytics made me seek out other books to look at baseball in a different way (Baseball Between the Numbers and Jonah Keri’s The Extra 2%). That analytic approach soon extended to other arenas such as crime and even my readings in politics and history (s/o Bill James’ great Popular Crime, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog-then-website, and John Fea’s Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?). The common thread through all of this is a tendency to disregard previous narratives and look at the facts of a case. It became my passion across all disciplines.
As my love of basketball began to grow, I kept looking for something to read that filled this Moneyball space for the NBA, but there was nothing. For years, there was a dearth of book-level analysis of the “Morey-ball” era of the NBA (so called because Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has taken analytics much farther than anyone else in his team-building and philosophy). I know the literature wasn’t there, because I was looking for it. Michael Lewis almost wrote the book himself, but that became the terrific first chapter of The Undoing Project, where Lewis examines Morey and his impact on basketball. (The Undoing Project as a whole is about psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, psychologists who uncovered a lot of the principles that Lewis was analyzing in Moneyball. This book is amazing and could not be more in my wheelhouse.)
Well, now there is a Moneyball for basketball. Kirk Goldsberry’s Sprawlball is a portrait of the NBA in this new era, and it is just terrific. By saying it is Moneyball for basketball, I don’t mean that it has the deep investigative reporting and style that characterizes Michael Lewis. And I’m glad that’s not what Goldsberry was going for. I also don’t mean that Sprawlball is an unflinching praise song for the analytical era and what it is doing to the game, as…