If you’re at all like me, you already binged Tiger King, played some video games, re-learned how fractions work, re-learned how our founding fathers framed The Constitution, binged some other TV and watched way too much cable news.
At some point, I needed to turn my brain to other things. When I need to engage my brain, but still shut out the world, I turn to books. One of my favorite subjects to read about is basketball. Shocking, right?
At last count, I had over 100 books about basketball on my bookshelf. Yes, an actual bookshelf, not on an e-reader. I still prefer to hold a book in my hand when reading. A lot of those books are about the Boston Celtics. Another shocker, right?
This version of 10 Takeaways is 10 essential Celtics books. The caveat is that I had to own the book and have actually read it for the book to count. I have some other Celtics books on the shelf that I haven’t read as of it. Check with me at the end of the pandemic because that will probably have changed by then!
(Apologies if images are blurry. Did my best!)
1. Drive – by Larry Bird with Bob Ryan
This is my go-to Bird book. No one better to learn about the Legend from than the Legend himself. I love everything about how honest Bird is throughout the book. He doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He goes through his hardships growing up through his time in the NBA. Bird wrote this book before the end of his playing career, but you get the sense he knew he didn’t have much time left.
2. Forty-Eight Minutes – by Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto
I’m one of those kids who grew up reading Bob Ryan columns in The Boston Globe. I’ll read anything the man writes about the Celtics. This book is different though. It involves a random mid-January game between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But it breaks down the entire day. From shootaround to the postgame, it’s all there. One game painstakingly chronicled. It holds up to this day and is enjoyable for any basketball fan, not just Boston ones.
3. Unfinished Business – by Jack McCallum
Jack McCallum has become kind of the master of writing basketball books. Every book he writes about the sport is terrific. Unfinished Business is no different, despite it being one of his earlier works. It’s about an aging Celtics team trying to recapture the glory of the 1980s. It’s all the guys you know, but older and slower. Whenever I read this book, it brings me back to when I was really starting to understand the game. I fell in love with basketball in the 1980s, but I started to get it in the 1990s. This book takes me there and makes me remember a team full of warriors that I really loved.
4. Dream Team – by Jack McCallum
OK, maybe I’m cheating a little bit. This one isn’t really about the Celtics. But it does feature a lot of Larry Bird. And it’s end-of-career Bird. It’s Bird when Bird knows he’s done. And it’s just an incredible read overall. Another masterpiece by McCallum!
5. When The Game Was Ours – by Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson with Jackie MacMullan
An amazing look back at two careers forever intertwined by Bird and Magic themselves. You can feel Jackie Mac’s gift for storytelling interwoven within Bird and Johnson’s anecdotes. This one is a good read for those younger fans who didn’t get to see the two legends play, except for highlights. They get into why the game matters and why their personal rivalry matters within the game. And if you were there, you’ll still read some previously untold stories that will have you engrossed throughout.
6. Let Me Tell You A Story – by Red Auerbach and John Feinstein
He’s not for everyone, but I’m a big fan of Feinstein’s basketball books. I love that he gets deep into details and tackles subjects from different points of view. If you’re a Celtics fan you know there aren’t 17 banners hanging without Red Auerbach. This book takes you inside the dynasty’s architect’s life like no other. And it’s Auerbach telling stories for the majority of the book. That part itself is worth the time and effort alone.
7. Top Of The World – by Peter May
This book is one of this “history in the moment” types. It came out immediately after the Celtics won Banner 17 in 2008. It’s a good look at how that team was built and the characters who brought Boston basketball back to prominence. It’s got some fun stories about that 2008 group that was put together on the fly after Danny Ainge gutted the roster in trades for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett.
8. Bird Watching – by Larry Bird with Jackie MacMullan
If Jackie Mac teams up with Larry Bird on a book, I’m reading it! This one is kind of like the sequel or epilogue to Drive. Bird goes through his playing career, but also his time coaching the Indiana Pacers. Much like Drive and his playing career, Bird isn’t done coaching the Pacers when he wrote this, but you get a sense that he knows he’s not long for the job. It’s a different Bird though, through a different lens on the sidelines.
9. Cousy – by Bill Reynolds
His politics aside, which aren’t for some people, Bob Cousy has led a fascinating life. Throughout this look you’ll understand that the Celtics didn’t even want him at first. And that Red Auerbach viewed him as a local yokel of sorts because Cousy played at Holy Cross. Eventually, Cousy became a Celtics legend as a player and then a broadcaster. It’s also a great look at the fledgling years of the NBA, which aren’t covered all that often.
10. Ever Green – by Dan Shaugnessy
Before he turned into a local curmudgeon, Shaugnessy had a real love for sports, especially basketball, that was easily seen. This book is basically a book of Celtics history from the start in 1946 through the 1980s. The glory days of Boston basketball. It doesn’t include the Dark Ages of the 1990s or the rebirth behind Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, but it’s a good history lesson for those younger fans. Shaugnessy gets deep into some stories you probably haven’t heard before, and even if you have, it’s fun to relive them!
There you have it. 10 essential books for all Celtics fans to read. Which ones did I miss? Let me know, because I’m always happy to add to the collection.
Also, let me know if you’d be interested in a list of basketball books in general. As I said, I have tons of them. They range from high school to college to NBA. Some are historical. Some are biographical. Some are funny. I’m happy to share more lists, if you’d like to read them!