The Soul of Basketball: Book Notes

Tomiwa with Soul of Basketball Book
Tomiwa with Soul of Basketball Book
Tomiwa with Soul of Basketball Book

The Soul of Basketball is about the 2010-11 NBA season from the perspective of Lebron James in Miami Heat, Doc Rivers coaching the Boston Celtics, Kobe Bryant in the Los Angeles Lakers and Dirk Nowitzki with the Dallas Mavericks.

You can find all my book notes here or on my Github book notes repo.

I find the NBA to be such a fascinating league. I have recently become very interested in media, culture and where humans are spending the most attention. The NBA has done such an impressive job of innovating to stay culturally relevant and creating a platform for NBA players to be the most culturally relevant athletes with the most leverage in the modern era.

This is such an important article that I will be writing a full blog post abut it called The Age of The SuperHuman. That URL is currently pointing to an empty space but you can subscribe to my blog to get notified when it’s finished.

Lebron’s Innovation in the NBA


  • Biggest takeaway from this book is the idea of leverage and the “player empowerment” movement in the NBA
  • Biggest difference between NBA and most other team sports leagues (except for maybe soccer) is that players have more control and leverage
  • This is a VERY important topic, that is affecting all aspects of society which I will be writing more about in a separate blog post.
  • Lebron is arguably the most influential player in the NBA from a player’s perspective
  • Lebron’s generation was the “AAU” generation: players who were told they were great and already had a platform in high school BEFORE they played an NBA game [12, 26 74,] [tk page quotes on AAU see index]
  • Dramatically different from previous stars like Michael and Kobe who only got acclaim after their first couple seasons in the league
  • You see that trend picking up now with superstars like Zion Williamson, Lamelo ball with 4 and 5 instagram followers respectively in high school
  • It’s funny how we can forget that Lebron’s move to Miami is truly an iconic moment in NBA history
  • First time that a superstar left his drafted team as a free agent to team up with other superstars
  • First time that a superstar chose what team they were going to play for, introducing the “control my destiny” narrative
  • Lebron’s “The Decision” is really what set the stage for the NBA Summer 2019 Trade bonanza where 40% of All-nba players were in different teams
  • Before that superstar players in their time didn’t really leave the team that drafted them
  • People talk about balance in the league but NBA (and most sports) has never (and likely never will be) truly balanced
  • NBA talent like most social things in life follow a power law distribution Source tweet

  • In simplest terms: the best 20 players in the NBA probably have 80% of the market value or 80% of the “championship winning talent”
  • In other words if you can get 2 or 3 All NBA (top 20 players) on your team it doesn’t matter who else you put on the team, you have very good chance of winning a championship.
  • Conversely, even if you have a starting lineup of top 20-30 players but no All NBA guys it doesn’t really matter
  • Interesting picture on page the last 31 championships have been hoarded by 11 elite stars[224] [tk add picture of list]
  • People hated on Lebron and now he’s arguably the most loved player in the league
  • My prediction is Giannis will be the next person to have a villain moment, then once he emerges from that he will enter the GOAT debate, right beside Lebron and Jordan,

Mark Cuban The Visionary

  • Mark Cuban is a very interesting guy: showed some pretty smart (lucky?) timing in selling his startup to Yahoo for $5.7 Billion, subsequently wrote down to $X billion
  • Immediately flipped it to buy Mavericks in 2000
  • A lot of very interesting anecdotes on how Mark Cuban “disrupted” the NBA in terms of bringing more transparency to NBA officiating, and marketing as owner of Dallas Mavericks [96].
  • Reading this now he seems like he was ahead of his time. For example, the fact that the NBA now announces missed calls that referees made I think Mark Cuban deserves some credit for that. [96]

Other Random notes

  • Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki wouldn’t talk to each other at 2007(?) All-star game after DWade said that Dirk wasn’t assertive enough as a leader and that is why they lost [246]. The irony is that in 2019 All-star game they were co-mvps in their final season in the league
  • Very poignant but short quote by Pat Rile about how most succseful people have to deal with some degree of loneliness [258]. A recurring theme I have heard a couple of times elsewhere. Gary Vee talks about this a lot.
  • Pat Riley used to keep statistics on calls that NBA referees used to make and how some refs are more likely to make certain calls in cetain games. Its interesting because recently Houston Rockets has been getting a lot of praise/criticism for doing this.


  • Interesting look at the stress involved in being a coach or manager of an NBA team [217]
  • Noticed that professional sports coaches always seem to be under the most amount of stress (noticed this in soccer as well)
  • I feel like a lot of this is unnecessary because the reality is that coaches feel responsible for wins and losses but really 90% of the outcome is due to the players on the field and coaches have no control over that
  • Reminds of Jeff Bezos Quote about how: “stress is a result of thinking about something but not actively doing anything to address it”

Referees [tk add page numbers]

  • Interesting story about why most referees miss travels, “travelling is a misdemeanour, hand-checking is a felony”. They don’t look at feet but look at body so they can catch hand-checking
  • Why do superstars get more fouls called. They are more explosive so they are more likely to draw contact:

“Some players you need to see live Lebron is one of them”

  • Self-awareness by Referee to realize that he didn’t have to be so “my way or the highway”, part of my theory that the days of “my way or the highway” authority figures is almost over
  • In the “good old days” referees used to have a lot of powers and blatantly make calls against people they didn’t like as told by Joey Crawford [266]
  • Another example of how in today’s society we are giving power back to the individual


Overall, The Soul of Basketball is a fairly decent book. The most important thing for me was getting data points I can reference in my talk about players and individuals have more leverage in modern society.

Also, speaks to a theory I have that the reaction to the event is more than the main event. The players, their stories, NBA twitter, Reddit, podcasts etc. are what people spend most of their consuming and thinking about, more than the games itself.

A lot of interesting anecdotes like what Rondo is like as a teammate, or Dirk Nowitzki struggling to adapt to American culture. It’s crazy because some of these things happened almost 10 years ago and it feels like it happened 20 years ago, society seems to move on so quick.