Shea Serrano talks about ‘Basketball,’ and some other things
Earlier this year Shea Serrano wrote about former Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley playing wonderfully after his grandfather had died. “Sometimes basketball feels like something else entirely,” Serrano wrote, a line as beautifully simple as it was profound.
Serrano this week offers a new book with lengthier meditations on the game he loves: “Basketball (and Other Things),” which is about basketball and other things, but mostly basketball.
The best-selling author of “The Rap Year Book,” Serrano offers meditations on the sport, some of which are deeply insightful and others comedic. Sometimes the lightbulbs illuminate over a sentence after a punchline. That’s how the Houston-based writer works.
The San Antonio native offers some interesting research and memories in segments titled “What happened in the moment before ‘The Moment,’ ” which looks at the plays that preceded some iconic shots in NBA history. And he also ponders “If 1997 Karl Malone and a Bear Swapped Places for a Season, Who Would be More Successful?”
Serrano and artist Arturo Torres - who does the essential gillustrations that accompany the written thoughts and musings - will appear at Cactus Music Saturday to talk about the book.
But first, Serrano answers a few questions about professional basketball.
Q: You had to grow up with some lean years as a Spurs fan. Do you remember being aware of their struggles?
A: Yeah, those early-’90s and late-’80s teams were when I started watching. It was tough but at the same time, I was a kid and didn’t really understand. I just knew it was cool to go to a game. They were so bad the tickets were basically free. I didn’t really feel any of that fan frustration until they started losing to the Lakers. The Spurs won in ’99. Then the Lakers had that run in the early 2000s. So it went from, “This is cool,” to not winning the next three years and, “This is not cool.” But as a kid it was just a fun thing to do. You got to stay up late if you went to a game.
Q: People in Houston sure love James Harden. But you’re unafraid to give him some grief.
A: Yeah, the only reason he’s fun to mess with is because he’s so good. It’s no fun to pick at somebody who can never do anything good. Harden will absolutely flame you and throw you into the ocean if you’re on the other team. Last season he put up some ridiculous fifty-something point triple double. You watch something like that and how can you not be impressed? So it’s fun to watch. When he plays the Spurs and loses, I run my mouth a bit.
Q: Do you have a specific approach to writing? The tone is very conversational, but I suspect it’s not as easy to pull that off as somebody might think.
A: Whenever I’m writing stuff my plan is usually to present the information in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m throwing it down from a mountain top. So a trick I learned years ago is to sit and talk to somebody about it. More times than not, it’s with my wife because she’s there. I did it just a few minutes ago. I’m writing a thing about Jackie Chan. So I walk through the ideas I want to get through in the article. Have a 10 to 15 minute conversation to figure out pace, what stuff I want to say, figuring out what’s important. And I sort of see which words had some impact and worked. That way it feels more like a conversation on paper. And she’ll say something back that might lead me to a point I hadn’t considered. And I think that helps when I write. It feels more like a conversation with the reader. Almost like transcribing a conversation.
Q: Do you remember your first basketball piece?
A: The first thing I got paid to write was about a high school basketball game. It was for Houston Community News, I pitched something for a football game. It was fun, and they asked if I wanted to write about basketball. I wrote it in a similar way to how I write now. I wasn’t so much interested in recapping the game. I wanted to make heroes out of the kids. The game was terrible, so it was this normal game but with this dramatic writing.
Q: A season’s about to start. Any thoughts?
A: Oh I think it’s going to be one of the best seasons in a long time. You have all the new player movement. A few teams you just know will be good. Golden State will be good. Not sure what Cleveland will look like. The Celtics, not sure, but probably good. The Rockets, I’m hoping they’ll be great. Y’all got Chris Paul, one of the greatest point guards of all time. But he’s also the opposite of what Mike D’Antoni and James Harden do. But he’s one of the smartest players in basketball, and those two guys are smart, too. But you never know.
I can’t forget how excited y’ll were when you got Dwight Howard. And that turned to ash. So who knows? New phases, new rivalries out there. It feels like every week there’s going to be a big game. First game of the season there’s Cavs and Celtics, now with Kyrie on the Celtics. It’s like holy (expletive). Nuclear war.
So I’m excited.