With the publication of their first book, 2008's The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, the boys of FreeDarko, a 12-man collective of writers who have been operating a website (freedarko.blogspot.com) since 2005, showed that they aren't your typical sports bloggers. (First clue: the use of the word macrophenomenal.) The Almanac intelligently deconstructed the contemporary NBA, all the while staying true to the rambling, DIY ethic associated—not always so positively—with blogs.
For their second trick, The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History, the boys tackled a broader subject. To say that they've written one of the most enlightening books on the game's evolution (which they have) is to miss the point. The book isn't intended solely to educate; it's also meant to entertain, and to that end it succeeds wildly.
The Guide is broken down by era, with each section containing a handful of essays tracing the NBA's evolution, often within the context of society beyond the sport. A piece on Red Holzman's Knicks of the late 1960s and early '70s compares the team with the dynasty that preceded it, Red Auerbach's Celtics, with this sentence: "If Auerbach was [John] Cassavetes, then Holzman would be Robert Altman, whose highly stylized films nevertheless depend on a certain amount of actor independence."
But what sets the book—and it bears mentioning that with its heavy paper stock and fantastic illustrations, the Guide in no way feels like a hastily assembled collection of blog posts—apart are its often hilarious digressions. For a piece on fighting, the writers highlighted keywords in 23,000 AP game stories to break down when fights occurred (one fourth came late in the fourth quarter) and to determine that Isiah Thomas (who was guilty of slapping, karate-kicking, jumping, wrestling, slamming, shoving, sucker-punching and breaking) was the NBA's most tactically diverse brawler.
The '90s section also introduces Six Degrees of Chris Gatling, in which the peripatetic former power forward is linked to George Mikan in six steps. That's two more than it takes to link Gatling—through Christian Slater, Michael Rapaport and Chris Mullin—to Kevin Bacon.
Is that something every fan needs to know? Not necessarily. But is it something they'd enjoy learning? Absolutely.