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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Book Review: "30 su 30" by Riccardo Pratesi

Image credit: Amazon.it and
Libreria dello Sport.
Synopsis:

Italian journalist, Riccardo Pratesi, takes a road trip across the United States to provide a detailed look at each NBA franchise. He also discusses his in-person coverage of the NFL, NCAA football and NCAA basketball, respectively.

My Review in Brief:

With a prime focus on the NBA, and peripheral coverage of the NFL, NCAA college basketball and football, acclaimed Italian journalist Riccardo Pratesi embarked on a rare journey into the soul of American sport.

This book is a valuable NBA reference about each franchise from an insider's perspective, an important look into American sporting culture and its collective psyche, along with an enlightening US travel guide. "30 for 30" is a journalistic slam dunk.

--- Steve Amoia, World Football Commentaries


Contents:

1. Introduction
2. Organized Format
3. Writing Style
4. A Few Notable Quotes
5. About the Author

Translated excerpts from the Italian by Steve Amoia of World Football Commentaries.
(c) 2017 Libreria dello Sport and Riccardo Pratesi.

1. Introduction:

"The 30 NBA arenas as a photograph of the sporting profile of America. Their visits as a pretext for recounting the different ways in which basketball has transpired in the cities of each franchise, in their state, among the 50 in the USA.  From the historic Madison Square Garden in New York, to the AT&T Center of San Antonio, Texas, land of the pigskin. From the Oracle Arena of the Warriors, in the Bay Area, to LeBron's home in Cleveland. A red VW Beetle to accompany the reader on the road, with a media credential dangling from his neck to allow him access inside NBA locker rooms. Where he became acquainted with the real men beyond their media portrayals.

Then the anecdotes, the behind-the-scenes look at American basketball. The concept of 'movable' franchises based upon business interests, the salary cap system as an 'equal opportunity,' a league of players surrounded by coaches. Indeed a league of stars, those with a guaranteed whistle. The show business approach for fans at the games, between hot dogs and soda pop, the money-making fantasy sports machines, and the sports betting cycle that will make your head spin. The American media, those with podcasts, but also the politically-correct ones.

Life in San Antonio and Sacramento where the Spurs and Kings are emblematic of their respective cities. They are the first and last daily conversational topic. And then the focused interviews: Marco Belinelli, Danilo Gallinari, Gigi Datome, Ettore Messina and Gianluca Pascucci describe their 'roundball' in America. Where they have lived, played, coached and worked in the front office. And also the accounts of Riccardo Fois, the Sardinian assistant coach at Gonzaga University, and Alberto Cessell, a young Tuscan who played high school ball with Tracy McGrady, in North Carolina.

A complete portrait of America and not only the one experienced by the millionaires. In addition, college football and basketball as told in person on their campuses. NFL games from their stadiums: To conceptualize the sporting reality of the NBA giants in every city. A chapter per team, for the 30 NBA franchises. A real take, informed, on a daily basis, as an insider, without any filters. With direct sources, behind-the-scenes looks after having seen things up-close with your very own eyes. Without any five-star hotels to the occasional virtual reality or blind-folded fanaticism. For those who are passionate about the NBA and American sport in general. For those who are passionate about America or also only about traveling. For those who want 30 for 30. Without missing a shot."

--- Riccardo Pratesi, Author of "30 su 30" (30 for 30). A Voyage in NBA arenas. The behind-the-scenes words of the stars. Quoted on pages seven and eight in his introduction. Published by Libreria dello Sport in November 2017 with a list price of EUR 15,21.


"Articles I wrote on the NBA Finals in the Sunday edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport: The Warriors dynasty and the future of LeBron James."

I have followed Riccardo Pratesi's excellent work for many years. He had been one of the top soccer writers for the hallowed rose-colored gold standard of Italian sports journalism, La Gazzetta dello Sport. A few years ago, Riccardo embarked on a new journalistic journey. For a man who once described himself as a "gypsy journalist," it was a road trip for the ages.

Full Immersion

Although the author had visited the USA 17 times to cover diverse sporting events (along with a few personal trips) for Italian media, as he chronicled in this book, he made a career-changing decision in 2014. Pratesi came to America to live as a resident and not merely as a visiting journalist. He immersed himself in mainstream American sports, but also in the culture of his adopted land. Pratesi went well outside of his comfort zone. He could have easily stayed in Italy and remained an acclaimed writer of Italian and world football. Or segued into NBA and NFL coverage from afar with visits for The Finals or Super Bowls in person.

Pratesi yearned for a new challenge. Instinctively, he knew that such an endeavor could not be realized solely via live streams from the Internet or Italian TV broadcasts. He went "all in" in both a journalistic and personal sense. "Get your kicks on Route 66". Signor Pratesi probably traveled down that iconic American highway, along with many others, in his red VW Beetle. His was a voyage that covered 37 American states and 50 college campuses mostly by car. But also in buses, planes, subway cars, taxis, and trains.

"The mythical blue field of Boise State."

Pratesi first lived in San Antonio, Texas, then moved to Sacramento, California, and now resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The result is an expert's knowledge of the NBA and NCAA along with great strides in NFL and college football coverage, respectively. The Italians have a word for a soccer player who can play many positions: "Il jolly." Pratesi is a journalistic jolly par excellence.

An Excellent Understanding of America and Americans

Pratesi is a foreign journalist who genuinely likes America and Americans despite our hypocrisies, contradictions, "the customary 1000 rules, the procedures you must follow to the T in every type of job," (page 204) regional rivalries along with the current economic, social, political, racial and journalistic divisions. He recognized that you learn more about a person, or in this case a people, by close observation. And that sporting culture is often an accurate barometer of a country's pulse as a nation: "Trust the Process is the most American slogan there is." (Page 204)

The author now understands America in a unique way. His first-hand perspectives about various American cities and locales are an excellent resource in and of themselves. This book goes well beyond sporting themes which lends a significant educational aspect:

A True Reporter 

"Celebrating the New Year at Viking Stadium."

Pratesi is an old-school reporter at heart. He presents facts and not his personal opinions. He writes about protagonists and does not desire to be one. There were no Selfies in this book with famous athletes or coaches. The only picture was one with the author and the Maggiolone rosso: His beloved red VW Beetle.

This type of book would have been a rigorous journalistic effort for a domestic writer let alone a foreign one. He knows the players and coaches that he covers inside out and not only the big names. Pratesi learned where these athletes came from, the familial, societal and sporting environments that shaped them, to present a complete portrait. The author can recite NBA history with the same verve as his Italian football counterpart, La Serie A. This book is a deep look into the culture of the NBA on and off of the court.

Pratesi also provided an enlightening look how NBA beat writers do their jobs to provide their readers with the best sources of information. He witnessed how journalistic political-correctness was a sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of American reporters and commentators. Pratesi also graciously gave credit to his fellow NBA reporters, and other journalists who he has encountered during his many travels, with mentions by name in this book. 

Let's take a longer look at this book's detailed, informative, entertaining and unique content.

2. Organized Format
"If you would like to read the focused accounts of Marco and his experiences with the Warriors, Raptors, Pelicans, Bulls, Spurs, Kings, Hornets and Hawks, but also those of Ettore Messina, of Danilo Gallinari, Gigi Datome, Giannis Anteokounmpo, Gordon Hayward and 50 other NBA stars whom I spoke with for this book, you know what to do."

Italian superstar, Marco Belinelli, with Pratesi's book.

There is a table of contents, an introduction by the author, 30 concise chapters presented in alphabetical order by each NBA club, along with an author synopsis. The length of this book is 288 pages in the hardcover edition. A Kindle edition has not yet been released.

The format of this book lends itself to being read in segments. You can select your favorite team as an appetizer and then dive into the rest. It also will serve as a valuable reference guide for fans and media alike. 

3. Writing Style

"Covering AC Milan also presents an opportunity to get in touch with NBA enthusiasts such as Davide Calabria. I interviewed him (the video will come out later this afternoon) and we spoke about Italian football and basketball. And also about "30 for 30", of course."

Davide Calabria of AC Milan during a visit to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in July 2018 where he faced Tottenham Hotspur in the International Champions Cup. He also learned about American football with the Minnesota Vikings. In an interview for La Gazzetta dello Sport with Pratesi, Calabria compared the Italian soccer club to the Philadelphia 76ers: "Trust the process." AC Milan is now owned by an American investment group, Elliott Management, as of July 2018.

The author goes into great detail, in an engaging fashion, about each city he visited well beyond an NBA and/or NFL profile. He clearly wanted to take a pulse of these cities instead of only reporting the results or perfunctory post-game interviews from the 224 NBA games he has seen live as of this writing. For example, he gave a culinary tour of Boston:

"And then the suggestion of Quincy Market, the clam chowder, watch out, you'll get addicted to it... Boston hits you with its elegance but you never forget its working-class roots." (Page 19)

Pratesi has a journalist's instincts for the deeper story yet also exhibits the ability of a novelist to set up a scene quickly to entice his reader. Here he describes the locker of LeBron James at the Quicken Loans Arena:
"I wanted to see him in his own element, on a typical day, to study his routine. He occupies the area farthest away from the entrance. And like a great majority of the superstars in this league of giants, he has nobody next to him. He also occupies the closest locker. On the other side, he is bordered by a wall.
He is not there before the game when the media enters for their usual window of time before the tip-off. He is almost never there: Massages and focused concentration far from prying eyes, as usual. He's missing, but his essence can be felt, at his locker. A doll that resembles The Shining, a horror film, as a remembrance of Halloween, is in full view. With a king's crown on its head and that famous phrase on its little sweater. 'Just a guy from Akron.' Then a gigantic gold watch and a book. I peek at the title: 'The Godfather.'
His personal effects give me a virtual 'welcome to LeBron's house.' They ring out more authentically than a mat under the front door with the trivial message of  'Welcome'." (Pages 51 and 52)
Pratesi might be the only foreign journalist ever to experience the "Friday Night Lights" phenomenon of Texas high school football:

"The pagan rite of Friday night. I was bewitched by the story of the Dillon Panthers, and pointed my VW Beetle in the direction of West Texas: Deserted, shovels that blow in the wind, with oil rigs positioned like hunched scarecrows. You see highway signs, in Crane County, such as this one: 'Our town is so small that in order to be a city with a horse we'd have to borrow one'...

Odessa, the most conservative part of Texas, where all of the stereotypes that distinguish the Texans are legitimized with an XXL size. At Ratliff Stadium, they have a big screen that replays every single play of the game. Just like in the NFL. And the stars are only teenagers. They arrive at the game in two throngs of crowds but with their yellow school bus. Odessa, 100,000 inhabitants in the middle of nowhere, is stuck between Lubbock and El Paso. They live for oil and football. And not necessarily in that order." (Pages 67 and 68)

4. A Few Notable Quotes

"He seems pretty happy to me..."

Stephen Curry in the Warriors locker room after their 2018 NBA Finals triumph over the Cavaliers.

On playing for Michael Jordan with the Charlotte Hornets:

"His telephone call made me very emotional. Just as my first game as a Hornet, with him sitting in the first row. Now he is a businessman also in his approach to basketball. But he still is Michael Jordan." --- Marco Belinelli quoted on pages 41 and 42.

On Mark Cuban and Dirk Nowitski of the Dallas Mavericks:

"Everything is bigger in Texas, as those who live there say, including their egos. And the one of Mark Cuban, the fabulous owner of the Mavericks, surely is no exception... (Page 61)

Cuban, the millionaire: Volcanic, brilliant, and argumentative. He wears fitted tee-shirts and has the body of a 30-something gym rat even if he is almost 60... He has an opinion about everything. And also about Dirk Nowitski's record (the most points scored in the NBA by a foreign player)... Even to an Italian reporter with European-accented English." (Page 63)

"He (Cuban) has a theory:

'Dirk is better than Akeem Olajuwan. During Hakeem's career, the NBA was dominated by big men. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had the sky hook as his lethal weapon. The African had the Dream Shake. But Nowitski did more: He changed the way his position was played. He changed this sport'."

--- Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, during an interview with Riccardo Pratesi in Dallas, quoted on page 64.

On life in Denver after New York City for a young foreign athlete:

"Coming from New York City, which was my first NBA experience, to Denver was like going from a large city to a hamlet due to the vastness of America. Everything is much more calmer here. I'm doing very well here and even bought a house. I live downtown in the heart of the city. Being the face of the franchise is a role that I like. It's what I have always wanted." --- Danilo "Gallo" Gallinari quoted on page 69.

On an intriguing observation of "Motown":

"In all the years that I lived in Detroit, there was rarely an animated and loud atmosphere at The Palace... The titles hung from the ceiling, along with the retired jerseys of champions such as the caliber of Isaiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman, also gave you the sensation of being a part of something bigger than the actual Pistons. But at the same time, they transmitted the frustration of so many years in a row of not making the playoffs. There was an almost indifference even in one of the most proudest sporting cities in America.

The recent calamitous financial crisis didn't help to remove the emotional coldness of the city towards the Pistons. During my time there, there were very few healthy suburbs that really expressed a well-being on a social level. Royal Oak, Birmingham, and Troy, centers of the metropolitan area, but they resembled the clean and ordered towns from the 'Truman Show'. While only three-quarters of a mile away, there was the celebrated '8 mile' chronicled in the film by the famous rapper, Eminem." --- Gigi Datome, who played for the Detroit Pistons, quoted on pages 80 and 81.

On Mike D'Antoni and James Harden of the Houston Rockets:

"Harden in attack is the whole package. He's very tall for a playmaker and very strong physically. He hands out assists and scores with the same ease. He is learning his craft, how to manage the flow of a game, but I don't see any problems." --- Coach Mike D'Antoni quoted on page 100.

"No, I don't have a fratic rhythm, on the floor, such as Westbrook. But it does not mean that I want to win any less than he does. I play to my own rhythm." --- James Harden quoted on page 100.

On Kobe Bryant's Farewell Tour:

"It is a point of pride to hear the affection of the home fans. And even from rival fans. I'm surprised by it; however, I worked very hard over the years to obtain this recognition. Thanks..." --- Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers quoted on page 129.

Reviewer's Note: Kobe Bryant responded to a question in Italian from Pratesi during a press conference in Sacramento, California.

On an interview with The Greek Freak and a response by Coach Steve Kerr:

"Los Angeles dedicated a Bryant Day to Kobe. Perhaps one day, Milwaukee will do the same for me...

I don't want to put pressure on myself as an objective. Why would I? The title or the finals? Surely, I think about it, but the only thing that I ask is to fully play with this group. Getting back Parker, getting back Middleton. And in the interim, getting better every day. Always taking a step forward. We want to be the hunters; not the prey." --- Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks quoted on pages 154 and 155.

"As often happens, Steve Kerr is ahead of everyone, when he responds to a question from a Greek journalist who tried to send him down a road even more dangerous than some in Oakland after midnight:

'You are asking me if Antetokounmpo represents an oxymoron, which is a Greek word, that as a black man representing Greece? I'm not sure how you want me to respond or even if I should respond. But I can say one thing: As an athlete, he resembles Kevin Durant. And when LeBron and KD get older, he will become the best in that position'." --- Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors quoted on pages 155 and 156.

On a brief interview with Kevin Durant in December 2014:

"Durant had told me, replying to a specific question, how much it was 'really tough for me to stay far away from the basketball court.' He lives for that. Phenomenal. Obsessed. Then, in the elegant OKC locker room with wooden-adorned finishing touches, I was flabbergasted by his tattoo with the script, 'Maryland', all over his back. --- Kevin Durant, then with the Oklahoma City Thunder, quoted on page 189.

On Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns:

"He first reminds me of (Kevin) Durant, defensively. As a teammate (from 2007 to 2009 with Seattle then Oklahoma City), it could be frustrating on that side of the floor, do you know what I mean? To learn how to defend in this league as a young player becomes dangerous if you only had one year of college ball. Devin in attack is much more advanced for his age. But in defense, he shows his 20 years of age. It will take time. He'll improve... This league represents the parabola of life. You want to get better, make progress every day, to then be the best: The NBA." --- Coach Earl Watson, formerly with the Phoenix Suns, quoted on page 217.

On the inner fire of Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers:

"Have you and CJ (McCollum) become the second best offensive backcourt tandem after (Stephen) Curry and (Klay) Thompson? 'Why did you put Steph and Thompson above the law?' His proud Oakland roots came out. Lillard doesn't feel inferior to anyone especially with CJ at his side. When we spoke again in Oakland, at the Oracle Arena in 2017, after absorbing another lesson given by the Warriors, he told me:

'We lose too much. We have to have a fire inside of us every second. But the locker room, my locker room, is in place. We don't accuse each other. I have faith in my teammates. To go into battle, you have to be certain about what you bring with you. We need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are ready to do everything to win'." --- Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers quoted on page 229.

Reviewer's Note: Pratesi also interviewed Lillard's high school coach, Orlando Watkins, for this chapter of the book.

On the environment in San Antonio and the influence of Coach Gregg Popovich:

"The passion of this environment is comparable to that of an elite college basketball program. The affection of the people regardless of getting good results. They wait for you in the airport to applaud and thank you. Even if you are eliminated from a play-off series... Five NBA titles are not the norm...

(Gregg) Popovich is the key. Just as Dean Smith was at North Carolina. Just as Coach K is at Duke to continue with a college basketball analogy. He is the historic leader of the basketball program. The entire franchise is modeled after him." --- Assistant Coach, Ettore Messina, of the San Antonio Spurs, quoted on page 260.

On John Wall and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards:

"(Bradley) Beal and I have improved as leaders compared to last season. And now we know how to close out a game. We realize that if we play together, we can have special seasons ahead of us." --- John Wall of the Washington Wizards quoted on page 280.

5. About the Author

Image courtesy of
Riccardo Pratesi.
All rights reserved.




Courtesy of The Dane Moore NBA Podcast on July 22, 2018.

Riccardo Pratesi was born in Siena, Tuscany, and is an acclaimed Italian sports journalist. He has lived in the USA since 2014 where he focuses on the NFL, NBA, along with NCAA basketball and football, respectively. Previously, Riccardo covered the Italian national soccer team and Juventus FC for the largest sports daily in Italy, La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

Riccardo is now based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, as the NBA correspondent of the Timberwolves specifically, and the league in general, for La Gazzetta dello Sport and Sky Sport 24, respectively. He also is a contributor to Buckets. You can follow Riccardo on Twitter @rprat75.

Please Note:

I did not receive a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, Libreria dello Sport. I was not financially compensated by the author, publisher or any party who would benefit from a positive review. 


Related Reviews
Previous Translations of Riccardo Pratesi at World Football Commentaries
Translations of the NBA legend, Kobe Bryant, at World Football Commentaries

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer and translator based in Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries since 2006 and published The Soccer Translator from 2008 to 2015. 

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