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Review: Boom Town by Sam Anderson

Every once in a while you come across a piece of writing or art that feels like it was created just for you. For me, Boom Town was that book. Boom Town is a basketball book. Except it's not just a basketball book. It's also a history and an exploration of a place that for most of America flies under the radar–a book that deftly weaves together the disparate threads of the OKC Thunder, the Flaming Lips, Oklahoma's insane founding, and the 1995 Oklahoma bombing into something coherent that is more than the sum of its parts.

The book roughly alternates between a few main narratives:

  • The OKC Thunder from the fall of 2012 (the Harden trade) through the spring of 2016 (blowing 3-1 lead to the Warriors), with special attention paid to the 2012-2013 season.

  • Hanging out with Wayne Coyne, OKC native and eccentric frontman of the Flaming Lips.

  • A general history of OKC from its land-grab founding up to the present day.

As a big basketball fan, most of the facts related to the Thunder were not new to me; however, I'd never before put all these facts together to realize just how much the stars had to align for the Thunder to not win a championship. Further, Boom Town has a number of insider moments that Anderson catches as he follows the team. Most memorable of these is an anecdote where Anderson offers to abstain from writing about something Russell Westbrook doesn't want covered in exchange for Westbrook divulging one of his private nicknames for teammates. Westbrook's response is vintage Westbrookian-ness:

"You don't get to bargain with me, motherfucker."

The non-basketball parts of the book are perhaps even more interesting: from Oklahoma's land-run founding to its part in the civil rights movement to its failed urban planning to a detailed account of the OKC bombing. In addition to imparting lots of interesting facts and information, Anderson also does an admirable job of following a limited number of characters the reader is allowed to "get to know" (from Thunder benchwarmer Daniel Orton to civil rights activist Clara Luper) and then allowing the history of OKC to unfold through the lenses of those characters.

Would I recommend this book to everyone? Not necessarily. But if you love basketball (but don't just love basketball) then chances are you'll enjoy this read.


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