Bill Simmons put hundreds of hours of research into his new 700-page project about basketball, and what he found out about Washington Bullets stars Wes Unseld and Elvin Hayes is part of the essential fabric of his book.
In “The Book of Basketball,” Simmons delves deeper than customary statistics like points and rebounds to find out which players were truly important and which ones might have been a bit overrated during their time.
Unseld is one of the players Simmons promotes the most, deciding that while he might have been overrated early in his career (and didn’t deserve the 1969 MVP), Unseld was ultimately underrated because his conventional statistics did not stand out.
“He’s one of those guys that’s the reason I wrote the book,” Simmons said. “If you look at his career stats, they suck. This is a guy who averaged eight points a game over the second half of his career, but his teammates swore by him. He did all the little things, and he’s one of those guys that stats couldn’t really measure.
“He was the best enforcer of that decade. He set the best picks; he was the best clubhouse guy - in my mind that stuff really matters, and that’s what a lot of the book is about. You have to dig and find out which guys matter beyond the stats, what are things that people did that make them matter beyond just numbers and is there a way to measure that?”
Then there is Hayes, Unseld’s high-scoring teammate. He is definitely one of the players Simmons targets in the book as a player whose place in history is overstated.
There are other players in the book Simmons picks on more, but there are few he more effectively picks apart than Hayes.
“On the flip side of that is Elvin Hayes, who is regarded as one of the best forwards ever, and that is just a complete fraud,” Simmons said. “He’s a classic stat guy who people didn’t like playing with, got traded five years into his career really for nothing. Near the end of his career, his own coach was telling Ralph Sampson to stay away from him. The one time the Bullets won the title he fouled out in Game 7 with 10 minutes left. The guy was really overrated.
“I went into the book knowing that maybe he was a little sketchy because my favorite writer growing up was really down on him. I always thought, ‘Wow, I wonder what Elvin Hayes did. I wonder why Bob Ryan always killed him.’ You research him and watch the tapes, and you realize, ‘Wow, this guy was a dog.’ ”
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