There have been so many books written about professional basketball that it’s enough to make your head spin. Former players and coaches who were writing in their own words or with assistance from professionals. Those books that were written by basketball fans, sports psychologists, and all manner of other individuals with hoop dreams. The bandwagon is a wide one and it does not seem to be slowing down. Jump onto it by all means. There will always be a basketball junkie who will sacrifice yet another part of their personal life to read what you’ve got to say.
There are a truly terrifying number of books to consider. If you want some assistance sorting the wheat from the chaff, then check out our article -‘NBA players who wrote books’ for our own personal favourites and some interesting reads that you may not have yet encountered.
Here, we look at the best sellers. Those that have shifted the most units and no doubt been given as presents, wanted or otherwise, to basketball fans all over the country.
In countdown order from 20th place then:
DWIGHT HOWARD: THE INSPIRATIONAL STORY OF BASKETBALL SUPERSTAR DWIGHT HOWARD
2014 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
The Inspirational Story of Basketball Superstar Dwight Howard is an unauthorized biography that was written 9 years into his career. It appears to have sold like the proverbial hot cakes.
Howard is an eight-time NBA All-Star, eight-time All-NBA Team honoree, five-time All-Defensive Team member, and a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. He was part of the gold medal-winning U.S. Team at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Howard was also the first player in NBA history to be named Defensive Player of the Year (DPOY) for three seasons in a row.
Dwight Howard was certainly very highly-rated early in his career and still plays to this day. Dradfted by Orlando Magic in 2004 he set numerous franchise records for them and they made the NBA Finals in 2009.
Howard’s reputation as an awkward locker-room presence goes before him and he has moved around a fair bit as a player. In the words of his own website:
HOWARD FACED CHALLENGING MEDIA AND PUBLIC PERCEPTION THAT BEGAN TO OVERSHADOW HIS EARLY CAREER ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND THE RESPECT AND ADMIRATION OF HIS PEERS, FANS, AND PREDECESSORS.
Howard is an international ambassador for the NBA and tours the globe and works hard to expand the league’s charitable reach.
There have been debates as to whether Dwight Howard deserves to be in the top 75 NBA players of all time. We’ll leave that up to you to decide. Suffice it to say that the author of this book certainly thinks so.
SUM IT UP: 1,098 VICTORIES, A COUPLE OF IRRELEVANT LOSSES, AND A LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE
Pat Head Summit & Sally Jenkins
2013 – ESTIMATED 20K+ COPIES SOLD
In all of NCAA basketball history, no coach won more than Pat Summitt.
For 38 years she broke all the records. Coached a team through an undefeated season. Was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Named Sports Illustrated’s ‘Sportswoman of the year’. Co-captained the 1st women’s Olympic team. Oversaw more winning games than any coach in history.
In this book, Pat Summitt tells us the story of her remarkable resilience and will to win. Her personal struggles and glorious triumphs. She learned how to be strong and do what needed to be done from her strict father. Being a mother herself taught her how to maintain discipline whilst nurturing and supporting her athletes. She became a great coach and role model for so many of them.
Summitt also talks openly about her greatest battle to date – with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
THIS IS AN ESSENTIAL READ FULL OF HUMOUR AND LOVE
LIFE IS NOT AN ACCIDENT: A MEMOIR OF REINVENTION
2017 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
It’s hard to describe the profound, moving nature of Jay Williams’ autobiography without welling up again at the sheer tragedy of it all.
Williams was 2nd pick in the NBA Draft in 2002. He had been described by some as the most promising player of a generation and looked poised to set the NBA alight. He was picked by the Chicago Bulls as their first choice and they even gave him Michael Jordan’s locker!
The dream was over almost as soon as it began, sadly. Williams lost control of his high-powered motorcycle and the accident ended his career there and then.
Those of you who have ever seen Million dollar baby will know the feeling of a sledgehammer blow that it gives you. Well, this is the same. Except it’s true.
WE CAN’T SUGARCOAT IT. THIS IS AN INTENSE READ
Williams talks candidly about the accident and how it changed his life forever. There are some very dark times ahead of him at the very moment that he gets onto that motorcycle. He talks of his depression and the vivid memories of what happened. He fears he may never escape them.
Williams also speaks out about the inherent corruption in the NBA. He describes it as being rife in every aspect and corner of the sport. We see glimpses of the dark underbelly of the sport we love in the form of stories about sex, drugs, gambling, and all manner of other vices and crimes. Again, he claims that those are endemic in the league.
As with many people who suffer unimaginable trauma and heartbreak, they can find themselves with a kind of resigned peace and a fresh outlook on life. Luckily, Williams did not succumb completely to his crippling depression and now commentates regularly on ESPN. He has other, entrepreneurial projects that engage him and fill his time. We should not weep for Jay Williams any more than any other youngster who has a life-altering accident and is changed forever. He is luckier than most.
But this remains an autobiography that will break your heart into a thousand pieces
YOU SHOULD READ IT ANYWAY
QADDAFI’S POINT GUARD: THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF A PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER TRAPPED IN LIBYA’S CIVIL WAR
Alex Owumi & Daniel Paisner
2013 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
Nigerian-born Alex Owumi went undrafted by the NBA after graduating from Georgetown University and was forced to ply his trade overseas. Bizarrely, he ended up in Libya playing for a state-run athletic club. The club happened to be funded by the family of one Muammar Qaddafi.
Owumi was living in Libya and playing for Al-Nasr there when the Libyan uprising and subsequent civil war erupted. He was held captive in his apartment in Benghazi for more than two weeks. No food, phone, internet, or hope. Weakened and in enormous danger, Owumi was eventually able to escape Benghazi and get out of the country. He was smuggled to a refugee camp in Egypt. In another bizarre twist, he was then contacted by an Egyptian basketball team who hoped to acquire his services.
Owumi finished that same year by helping lead them to a league championship and was even named league MVP in the process!
Qaddafi’s Point Guard is a remarkable book that tells a story that is almost beyond belief. His triumph over adversity is one that is markedly different from the standard one we see about poor kids who grow up to be superstars. Superb.
THE DANDY DONS: BILL RUSSELL, K.C JONES, PHIL WOOLPERT, AND ONE OF COLLEGE BASKETBALL’S GREATEST AND MOST INNOVATIVE TEAMS
James W. Johnson
2009 ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
The story of the Dandy Dons is a truly remarkable one by anybody’s measure. It sounds like the stuff of movie drama but is all true. It was the middle of the 1950s and racial tensions and inequality could not have been more present in the United States.
A white, former prison guard named Phil Woolpert, who was completely new to the concept of basketball coaching, led a team from a small university in California to the national title.
In and of itself, that is a remarkable story.
Try throwing into the mix the fact that the team also contained 3 black guys at that period in American history, and you have a genuinely ground-breaking story.
The Dandy Dons literally and metaphorically paved the way for all the black players that followed and transformed the sport.
Not only did they transcend previous barriers of race and equality but they also kicked some serious butt on the court too. Their tactics were new and alien to a lot of teams. They played a much more ‘vertical’ system. Defended centrally and were aggressive and intimidating. And boy did it work.
COURT SENSE: WINNING BASKETBALL’S MENTAL GAME
John M. Giannini
2008 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
The first half of this book discusses the basic attributes and mindset that a player must have in place, both on the court and off it, to give themselves the best chance of success. The second half of the book lays out what the author feels are the key tenets of performance. He does this in the form of “Six Cs” and says that all high-flying coaches and players displayed them on their rise to the top.
You’ll have to read the book for the 6 but they represent good advice that is crowbarred into a convenient vehicle for delivering them.
Overall, a worthwhile book that can teach anyone how to discipline themselves and give of their all at every opportunity.
Author John Giannini is a former collegiate player and veteran coach. He has a PhD in sport psychology and is not just making this stuff up on the fly to sell copies. He backs up his findings and suggestions with real-life examples and stories shared by some of the league’s top coaches. It couldn’t hurt any aspiring player to read this. Not one bit.
THE FIRST TIP-OFF: THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF THE BIRTH OF THE NBA
2008 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
Charley Rosen takes the reader on a roller-coaster journey through every aspect of the NBA’s first-ever season. The book is brimming with rare photographs from long-forgotten archives and features some fascinating, exclusive interviews.
The First Tip-Off gives life once again to a cast of characters the like of which the world will never see again. From “Jumping” Joe Fulks, the former Marine who became basketball’s first real superstar to Chuck Connors, the loveable clown of the BAA. As Rosen breathes life into them we can almost imagine the setting and the sense of adventure they must have felt in their knee pads and scratchy jerseys.
The season itself was filled with drama and Rosen guides us through it expertly. Even those of us too young to have lived through that time can get a feeling for how it was back then. Some would say simpler times. Players were happy to get a hot shower and take home $60.
A lovely step back in time that will endear all who read it to the pioneering players of the time and the values they held in high regard.
ON THE COURT WITH LEBRON JAMES
Matt Christopher & Stephanie Peters
2008 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
Another unofficial biography of an NBA megastar. A detailed look at King James’ early life in Akron, Ohio and how he dazzled all before him even before reaching high school.
Walkthroughs of LeBron’s biggest moments and challenges. Some stats and career highlights with colour photographs. They take up space and give the appearance of substance. Literally nothing you haven’t seen or read about LeBron James 1,000 times before.
THE SIXTH MAN: A MEMOIR
Andre Iguodala & Carvell Wallace
2019 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
Andre Iguodala, the sixth man of the Golden State Warriors, offers up his autobiography in 8th place. The man is respected both on and off the court and his life story makes for an entertaining, affecting read.
We learn about who Iguodala is in his heart and how he was able to push himself ever further in the pursuit of excellence. The Sixth Man tells us the story of Andre Iguodala’s journey from his Illinois hometown childhood to his stellar career and luxurious life in the Bay Area.
As with so many NBA autobiographies, the spectres of racial tension and inequality are ever-present. This is a powerful book that holds a mirror up to the society that provided him with the opportunity to make the best of his talents while simultaneously treating him and his family as second-class citizens. Compelling.
(Image credit: Tim Shelby)
TIP-OFF: HOW THE 1984 NBA DRAFT CHANGED BASKETBALL FOREVER
2007 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
To this day, the 1984 NBA draft remains one of the most controversial events in NBA history. Tanking wasn’t a term that anybody had ever had to address before but in 1984 teams were losing a suspicious number of games during the regular season. It just so happened that this improved their NBA Draft positions accordingly. Go figure, as they say.
This happened to be a season when, not only was Michael Jordan up for grabs but so were John Stockton, Charley Barkley, and Hakeem Olajuwon. All 4 are now in the top 50 NBA players of all-time. Michael Jordan is at the top…
It was a crazy experience all round. Houston picked Olajuwon over Jordan. Portland Trailblazers fans then witnessed their selectors choose Sam Bowie. They already had Clyde “the Glide” Drexler on their roster so I guess they figured it was a good move to take the injury-prone Bowie. Wow
In this recounting of that whole crazy story, Bondy talks to general managers, coaches, and players. He gives us the entire back story of the NBA Draft and talks about events we may have missed.
Trades that never happened. Assesments of players like Barkley and Stockton that were wildly inaccurate.
All-in-all it makes for fascinating reading. Maybe not if you’re a Trailblazers fan…
LEGENDS: THE BEST PLAYER, GAMES, AND TEAMS IN BASKETBALL
2017 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
A book about the best of the best. It features top ten lists. A timeline of key moments in NBA history and lots and lots of snippets and interesting facts and figures. All the biggest names are here. ESPN’s Howard Bryant gives us a snappy, easy read that can be picked up again and again.
WALK-ON WARRIOR: DRIVE, DISCIPLINE, AND THE WILL TO WIN
2018 – ESTIMATED 10K+ COPIES SOLD
Walk-on warrior takes the reader on a unique basketball journey. It is the story of John Willkom and gives us his first-hand account of some remarkable life events From spending a season at Marquette college to a summer with Hall of Fame coach, Rick Majerus.
Willkom watched, listened, and learned. He soaked up everything he could. Sitting courtside with the Milwaukee Bucks and learning their workout routines and health regimens. It was all exciting and new for a rural Wisconsin boy who had only ever heard that he would never get anywhere near that world.
As John’s hard work and diligence began to pay off, he found himself moving among the elite of the NBA and his life and mindset changed forever. This telling of his story will leave you feeling inspired to create your own journey. To go that extra distance when you feel defeated. Face your fears. Become tough and emotionally stable. This account will help you to do those things and entertain you while it does so. Recommended.
WHERE TOMORROWS AREN’T PROMISED: A MEMOIR OF SURVIVAL AND HOPE
Carmelo Anthony & D. Watkins
2021 – ESTIMATED 20K+ COPIES SOLD
In 4th place, we find Carmelo Anthony’s autobiography. For our detailed thoughts on this (clue, it’s in our list of favorite basketball books) please read our article – ‘NBA players who wrote books‘. Here we will simply say that this is at times an uncomfortable read. But it is an essential, uplifting one.
SHOOT YOUR SHOT:
A SPORT-INSPIRED GUIDE TO LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE
Vernon Brundage Jr.
2018 – ESTIMATED 20K+ COPIES SOLD
This book takes a close look at the steps that the most successful NBA players of all time took to elevate themselves to superstardom. The principles that they followed and the mental and physical disciplines that were required to do so.
As a guide to emulating their styles, and hopefully achievements, Shoot your shot identifies those key principles and breaks them down. It is entertaining and addictive to read.
The principles contianed in the book aren’t only suitable for gaining basketball superiority. They can easily be applied to all aspects of one’s life and are suitable for almost anyone. Age, gender, background notwithstanding.
WHO WAS KOBE BRYANT?
Ellen Labrecque, Who HQ & Gregory Copeland
2020 – ESTIMATED 20K+ COPIES SOLD
This biography of one of the most famous sporting superstars ever to walk the Earth sits at number 2 on the list of best-selling NBA books of all time.
Kobe Bryant was a young basketball player, only 18 years old and still in high school when he entered the NBA Draft. He was the 13th pick by the Charlotte Hornets. They traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers. The rest, as they always say, is history.
20 straight seasons at the top of his game. A world leader in the psychology of sports. How to focus. How to stay motivated. His work ethic is something that will stand as one of his greatest legacies.
5 NBA Championship rings. Twice NBA Finals MVP (most valuable player). 2-time scoring champion. 18 time NBA All-Star. The list just goes on and on. Bryant was, without question, one of the greatest players ever to step foot on a basketball court.
The authors lead us through the most impactful moments and games of Bryant’s career here. All the important milestones are present and correct.
The intensity of focus on Kobe Bryant was always going to be huge. Of course, that increased exponentially due to his untimely demise in 2020.
Does this book set to cash in on that added interest? Possibly, but there is clearly a market for it so who are we to complain?
BASKETBALL JUNKIE: A MEMOIR
Chris Herren & Bill Reynolds
2012 – ESTIMATED 50K+ COPIES SOLD
Profiled by Rolling Stone magazine. Interviewed by 60 minutes. Adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated. Heavily coveted and recruited by major universities. Written about in an acclaimed book.
This was the life of Chris Herren
WHILE HE WAS STILL A TEENAGER…
It’s almost impossible for most of us normal folks to imagine what it’s like to attract that kind of attention as a teenager. If you’re old enough, look back at who you were then and ask yourself if you would have been able to handle it? We certainly wouldn’t.
Chris Herren wasn’t able to handle it either and this is his story of the madness.
The Boston Celtics eventually acquired him on their roster and he lived the dream. Except it wasn’t a dream, it was a nightmare. His alcohol and drug abuse spiralled into chaos. Even though 20 years later, he was married to his childhood sweetheart with 3 kids, he was also a heroin addict. His basketball career was finished. Ravaged by his addictions. Jobless and without skills, he was a man on the slide towards an undignified and wasteful death. In fact, Herren did die for a few minutes until he was resuscitated by paramedics and revived.
In this powerful, moving account, Chris Herren tells us in graphic detail how he nearly lost everything and everyone he loved. Luckily, this is a tale of redemption and recovery. Herren fought his way back from the brink of total destruction and found a way to reclaim and cope with his life. This is a brutally honest book but one that will grip you from start to finish.
MICHAEL JORDAN: THE LIFE
2015 – ESTIMATED 50K+ COPIES SOLD
Basketball journalist Roland Lazenby spent the better part of 30 years covering Michael Jordan’s career. From his dominance in college to his rocket ship rise to stardom and invincibility in the pros.
He saw Jordan transform from the skinny rookie he was at the beginning to the global brand in just a few short years.
There’s never been a biography that so fully and analytically explored the 2 sides of Jordan’s character and gave us such an honest view of the icon.
Michael Jordan: The Life explores this in-depth but also shows us the side of Jordan’s personality that we are less familiar with seeing. There can be few, if any, journalists with a closer relationship with Michael Jordan and that is very apparent here. This is a detailed, full and robust analysis of the greatest player of all time and is fascinating from start to finish. Lazenby draws from interviews with friends, family members, and Jordan himself.
We all feel as if we know Jordan intimately. Nobody walked away from The last dance feeling as though they didn’t know MJ intimately themselves but this is different. Lazenby clearly adores Jordan. He talks glowingly of his achievements and accolades. Yet this is so much more than mere toadying. He gives us a view of the man and his drive and appetite for competition and success like no other.
AND IT IS GLORIOUS
A TO Z: AN UNCENSORED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LIFE, BASKETBALL, AND EVERYTHING IN-BETWEEN
Kevin Garnett & David Ritz
2021 – ESTIMATED 50K+ COPIES SOLD
NBA champion, fifteen-time All-Star Kevin Garnett gives us one of the most unfiltered autobiographies we’ve ever read. Famously outspoken as a player, he has ramped that up a thousand times here. Endlessly controversial. Always entertaining.
Garnett looks back over his career and does not mince his words here.
Garnett first blew up in the headlines with his decision to skip going to college and become the first player in 20 years to join the NBA Draft straight from high school. This paved the way for the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to do likewise. He became somewhat of a ground-breaking player for the NBA, as his ability to both a) be big and b) play on the perimeter evolved into a strategy that almost every NBA team now has in their pocket tactically.
Kevin Garnett has stories galore here. Tales of playing against some of the legends of the game and, of course, the zenith of his career, an NBA Championship win with the Boston Celtics.
No topic is off bounds for Garnett. He gives us his feelings on other aspects of his life and American society in general. From the importance of family values and the sometimes dangerous trappings of fame and fortune to the constant blight of racism and economic disparity.
Kevin Garnett has managed to transfer some of that exciting, inspirational energy he displayed on court onto the pages of this book.
THE MAMBA MENTALITY: HOW I PLAY
Kobe Bryant, Andrew D. Bernstein, Phil Jackson & Pau Gasol
2018 – ESTIMATED 100K+ COPIES SOLD
It should come as no great surprise to anyone to find this book sitting at the top of the best selling list. Given the sheer athletic class of Kobe Bryant and his sporting legacy, it is a small wonder that this hasn’t actually sold more copies.
For our detailed look at his autobiography, please see our article ‘NBA players who wrote books‘.
Here, we need only say that this is a handbook on how to think and behave like a winner. There is no better guide on how to approach a basketball game. How to build a career and a strong mental attitude. Kobe Bryant reveals his methods and his feelings in a way that can continue to inspire and lead long after his death.
ELEVEN RINGS: THE SOUL OF SUCCESS
Phil Jackson & Hugh Delehanty
2013 – ESTIMATED 200K+ COPIES SOLD
This fantastic book also makes it to our list of favourites in the article ‘NBA players who wrote books‘ and the full review and synopsis can be read there. Here, we will just add that there will be few occasions in life where you can get a true glimpse into the mindset of a truly great coach.
Jackson had a plan and he executed it. Again and again. Yes, he had one of the greatest rosters that professional basketball has ever seen. But he had to guide the players and give them vision.
And that’s what it comes down to.
PHIL JACKSON WAS A VISIONARY
He saw things that no coach had ever even considered looking at before. He treated his players as fellow humans that needed to be communicated with and understood as such. Not just as assets to be assessed and given instructions. ‘Wind them up and let them go’ was never a part of Phil Jackson’s coaching mantra. Help them to prepare mentally and the world is your oyster.
Read all about it in the number one best-selling basketball book of all time.
Books about topics as popular as basketball are a curious thing.
There are those written by the main protagonists that offer a look behind the curtain that almost nobody else can offer.
There are those that opportunists write when they see an angle that hasn’t been exploited. Or just piggyback on the fame of others and try to squeeze some juice out of them.
Not all are well-written. Not all are interesting. But they are all about our favorite topic and just about any basketball books interest us more than those on any other subject. Basketball fans will find something here to hit the spot because the choice is so diverse.
You want to read about bad guys that turned good? Check.
Successful pairings and locker room bromances? Check.
Big game team players and those who let NBA stardom affect them adversely? Check.
Those who made NBA history winning three straight championships? Check
Those who play basketball for the sheer love of it and despise losing games? Check
That’s why we love to read about sports history so much. NBA history is our favourite by default because it is our game of choice. But the struggles and principles displayed by those who have been made and broken by the sometimes brutal world of professional basketball are often the same as in other walks of life.
Perhaps it is just that in the rarified atmosphere of the elite sports world they are intensified and highlighted to a degree that most of us simply cannot begin to imagine.
Whatever the reason, they continue to fascinate and engage us.