Book review of The Sixth Man

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Buy your copy from The Sixth Man: A Season Inside the NBA Playgroundstarstarno starno starno star Author: Chris Palmer
Publisher: ESPN Books (2006)
Genre: Non-Fiction/Humor

On its dustcover, “The Sixth Man” is described as an “astonishingly intimate portrait of the 2004-2005 NBA season,” where reporter Chris Palmer, “a teammate without a jersey,” is able to step “inside the closely guarded inner circles of five NBA stars to reveal the soul of the modern athlete.” While it’s true that Palmer has some interaction with Elton Brand, Rip Hamilton, Tracy McGrady, Luol Deng and Damon Jones (among others), he only spends significant time with the affable Brand. In the rest of the book, he describes his life as a sportswriter, which isn’t all that exciting.

Throughout, Palmer relates his frustration about the inaccessibility of NBA players. They usually don’t return phone calls, and when they do, they want to meet at a time and place that is generally inconvenient for the writer. He spends a good portion of the book describing how he’s constantly waiting for players to return his call, coming off as a pimple-faced teenager waiting for the cheerleader to call him back. It’s not going to happen, dude.

So, to fill the book’s 214 pages, Palmer relates stories like this one, about how he saw Paris Hilton at a Knicks/Cavs game:

Every so often, I catch her looking in my direction. At first, kind of casual-like. Then more blatantly. Now she’s literally staring at me…with The Heiress flipping her hair and staring holes in my forehead, I’m moments away from folding under the pressure. I try to steady myself by watching LeBron. When I look up, Ms. Hilton has vacated her seat.

No, no, wait, she’s coming back. And, as she sits down, she gives me (and about 5,000 other people) an eyeful. Now I can say I’ve seen Paris Hilton’s underwear. The sideline photographers are going berserk. I peer over the shoulder of a perverted-looking fellow who’s spinning the click wheel on his digital camera searching for the money shot.

That’s when it hits me: Paris wasn’t looking at me. She was posing for the cameras. What a fool I am!


A few pages later, Palmer tells the banal story of how he got digits from a girl at a Clippers game. The tale is so boring that it’s not even worth quoting. I’m sorry I even mentioned it. Moving on…

The book’s best moments involve Elton Brand, who actually lets Palmer in to his life as an All-Star (and record producer). A few years ago, Brand signed an offer sheet with the Heat and it was looking like he would be heading to Miami to play for Pat Riley. Brand loves the city and South Beach, so he was pretty excited about the move. A few days later, he got the news that the Clippers – one of the cheapest franchises in the league, historically speaking – had decided to match the offer, keeping Brand in L.A. When Palmer asks Brand about this, the forward is surprisingly candid:

“The week I was down there [Miami] I was totally loving it,” he says. “The thought of playing in Miami was unbelievable. But when the Clippers matched, I just kind of got over it. Was I disappointed? I mean, I’ve never been the type to complain. Shit, they’re paying me $80 million dollars to be the man and play in sunny L.A. What’s there to complain about? When they matched, I knew it was done. That’s how the league works. If they match, it means they want you. That was it.

“When I got back to L.A., I made up my mind instantly that I was going to take this team places. I knew that’s what I had to do. Miami was gone and I was upset, but the Clippers were still here. But you know what the funny thing is? If the Clippers hadn’t matched, I’d have been the one playing for the Lakers this year, not Lamar Odom. Think about it. Miami would have traded me right back here for Shaq in a heartbeat. Either way, I was destined to be here.”

That’s some good stuff. Palmer provides detailed insight into one of the more interesting free agency stories of the past few years. The problem is: there isn’t enough of that in the book. Most of the players simply won’t let him in. And who can blame them? They’ve got everything to lose, and very little to gain.

In the end, “The Sixth Man” simply fails to meet the expectations of its own dustcover. It’s a decent read for hardcore NBA fans who dream of flying from town to town, covering the league, but for those that are looking for real insight into these players’ lives, there just isn’t enough to go around.

~John Paulsen