Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Basketball Diaries a Local Writer's Memoir about Loving Basketball

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Basketball Diaries a Local Writer's Memoir about Loving Basketball

Article excerpt

There's a certain point in Jim O'Brien's "Looking Up: From the ABA to the NBA, the WNBA to the NCAA: A Basketball Memoir" that the reader realizes there's a fundamental truth spread across the book's 480 pages -that in most of the basketball tales being told, there's almost always a connection to Pittsburgh, however large or small it may be.

In a sports-obsessed region, one whose teams and colors are as central to the civic identity as anything else, basketball can exist as something of a forgotten stepchild. With no professional team and a deteriorated pool of local talent, basketball in Pittsburgh can, at best, seem overlooked and, at worst, exist as an object of derision.

But through Mr. O'Brien's experiences and anecdotes, collected over decades covering the sport in depth, a different world is illuminated.

The book isn't specifically about basketball in Pittsburgh. Hundreds of pages and dozens of chapters are devoted to some of the most decorated figures in the sport's history who had no connections to Western Pennsylvania.

In a book that's personal to some extent -it is a memoir, after all -Mr. O'Brien, who became the first Pittsburgh native inducted into the U.S. Basketball Writers Hall of Fame, deftly connects the sport he loves with the city he loves.

What results from it is an enjoyable and insightful read. For a basketball fan, particularly one who appreciates the nuances of the sport and its history, it's an immersive experience, even if it may not be that way for those who don't have a passion for the game.

A vast majority of the 53 chapters focus on a particular figure, helping tell the story of not only that person (usually a player or coach) and the author's experience with them, but also the era in which they lived and often helped define. In each of the stories, Mr. O'Brien illustrates that person's eccentricities and flaws, the kind only acquired by decades spent wandering arenas, traversing locker rooms and sitting in cars, with Mr. O'Brien riding shotgun and his subject at the wheel.

There's Julius Erving, with whom Mr. O'Brien developed a close relationship, a man whose afro, acrobatic game and nickname (Dr. J) embodied all that was cool and cutting edge about the upstart league in which he played, the American Basketball Association (ABA), before he took his talents to the NBA.

There's Michael Jordan, widely regarded as the best to ever play, an athlete Mr. O'Brien got to know early in his career, before a warm personality ("If you met Michael Jordan, you would like him," Mr. O'Brien writes) gave way to the unapproachability that has long been his public persona.

For Mr. O'Brien -a McMurray resident who was the founding editor of Street and Smith's Basketball and a writer for several publications, such as The Sporting News, New York Post and The Pittsburgh Press - this reconstruction of basketball history wouldn't be complete without his hometown. …

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