Lost in the Game: A Book about Basketball

(Duke University Press, 2022)


Jacket Copy

For players, coaches, writers, and fans, basketball is a science and an art, a religious sacrament, a source of entertainment, and a way of interacting with the world. In Lost in the Game Thomas Beller entwines these threads with his lifetime's experience as a player and journalist, roaming NBA locker rooms and city parks as a basketball flaneur in search of the meaning of the modern game. He captures the magnificence and mastery of today's most accomplished NBA players while paying homage to the devotion of countless congregants in the global church of pickup basketball. He shares his own stories from the courts, meditating on basketball's role in city life and its impact on the athlete's psyche as he moves from youth to middle age. Part journalistic account, part memoir of a slightly talented player whose main gift is being tall, Lost in the Game charts the game's inexorable gravitational hold on those who love it.




Along the journey of our life half way I found myself again in a dark wood wherein the straight road no longer lay.
Dante, The Divine Comedy (1472)

We said, "Hey, let's just go out there and get lost in the game and we will live with the results. Confidence and momentum is a real thing."
Lou Williams, after leading the Los Angeles Clippers to victory after being down 31 midway through the third quarter against the reigning Champion Golden State Warriors (April 15, 2019)

We go to the playground in search of our fathers.
John Edgar Wideman, Hoop Roots (2001)



"This is a love song to basketball and its players. At turns fascinating and funny, tenderness beats at the heart of this book in the finely wrought portrayals of the characters: an assassin here, a trash-talking big man there, who transcend and become gods on the court before descending to the page."
-Jesmyn Ward

"With vivid language, analytical intelligence, and a richly affecting humanism, Thomas Beller deftly alternates between the high-wire, virtuoso professionals of the NBA and the thrills and humiliations shared among amateurs jostling each other on the playground. This radiant book is as much about city life and its requirement to partake in the adventure of being thrown in with strangers as it is about basketball. It is also about learning to embrace solitude, as the protagonist reverts again and again to playing hoops by himself or wandering the backrooms of sports arenas after everyone else has gone. All of which is to say that this is a book about learning how to live with one’s limitations and, beyond that, how to live."
-Phillip Lopate

"Anyone who played basketball for the Vassar Brewers hardly needs my endorsement, but this book is well-reported, fully felt, consistently observant, and held together by Thomas Beller's love of the game."
-David Shields

"Lost in the Game is a beautiful book about playing and watching sports, and getting older, though you still feel like a kid. Its subject is basketball but its context is New York City, its playgrounds and the strange and various characters who battle there, a cross section of trash talkers and jump-shot artists, the sort who, though playground friends you can identify only by nickname, leave a lasting impression. A hymn to the greatest city and the style of street ball that’s been that city’s gift to the world sung by a 6-foot-5 Division III hoops star (size matters in basketball) who understands and heeds the code of the schoolyard—loser walks—and whose writing is as effective as James Harden’s step-back and as plush as Latrell Sprewell’s yacht. This is the best book I have ever read about what it’s like to play on after age, knees, position in life, and spouse have all told you to hang 'em up.
-Rich Cohen