An astute if youthful take on a violent, timeworn subject.

FALLING HARD

A ROOKIE’S YEAR IN BOXING

Entertaining if glib account of a neophyte journalist’s year on the boxing circuit.

Jones’s prologue recounts how he started writing on a whim at age 25, covering boxing for a new Canadian newspaper, the National Post. Such insouciance informs this narrative; Jones adheres to the greenhorn’s tactic of inserting himself unnecessarily into the action (as at Muhammad Ali’s birthday reception: “He casts his wide eyes toward me. ‘Happy birthday, champ,’ I say. Even though he can’t hear me, I’m sure he feels the reverence. My present to him”). Fortunately, Jones’s prose moves crisply in this spare volume, and often registers clever or darkly amusing hits, as in his interpretation of boxing’s corrupted priorities: “Break a man, that’s good. Break a rule, that’s bad. . . . [Mike Tyson] can fall as far as he likes, because his woe makes for stories that sing.” Jones is at his best when examining the sport’s many overlooked or over-the-hill contenders, like Trevor Berbick, a rough-hewn 48-year-old journeyman who seems washed up, yet knocks out Shane Sutcliffe in a brutal Canadian championship. Jones covers seven major fights during his year of boxing journalism, and detects an unsavory pattern in which soulful, dedicated athletes are doubly undermined, by the sport’s physical toll and by the chicanery of promoters like Don King (whom Jones even questions, about whether he’d rigged the first of two contested Lennox Lewis–Evander Holyfield bouts). He’s also attuned to the sport’s uneasy multiracial future, represented by “Prince” Naseem Hamed, a grandstanding Yemeni-English featherweight who fights Mexico’s Cesar Soto in a blasted Detroit, once a major boxing town, now dependent for an economic boost on this infrequent bout which turns “disappointing, brutish, and inelegant.” Overall, Jones offers crisp portraits of contemporary boxing’s noirish desperation (he even finds the fellow who recovered Holyfield’s ear after Tyson’s infamous chomp), but is too often preoccupied by the lesser personal dramas of a young reporter on the road.

An astute if youthful take on a violent, timeworn subject.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 1-55970-621-X

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2002

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS

NBA legends Bird and Johnson, fierce rivals during their playing days, team up on a mutual career retrospective.

With megastars LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and international superstars like China’s Yao Ming pushing it to ever-greater heights of popularity today, it’s difficult to imagine the NBA in 1979, when financial problems, drug scandals and racial issues threatened to destroy the fledgling league. Fortunately, that year marked the coming of two young saviors—one a flashy, charismatic African-American and the other a cocky, blond, self-described “hick.” Arriving fresh off a showdown in the NCAA championship game in which Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans defeated Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores—still the highest-rated college basketball game ever—the duo changed the course of history not just for the league, but the sport itself. While the pair’s on-court accomplishments have been exhaustively chronicled, the narrative hook here is unprecedented insight and commentary from the stars themselves on their unique relationship, a compelling mixture of bitter rivalry and mutual admiration. This snapshot of their respective careers delves with varying degrees of depth into the lives of each man and their on- and off-court achievements, including the historic championship games between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, their trailblazing endorsement deals and Johnson’s stunning announcement in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV. Ironically, this nostalgic chronicle about the two men who, along with Michael Jordan, turned more fans onto NBA basketball than any other players, will likely appeal primarily to a narrow cross-section of readers: Bird/Magic fans and hardcore hoop-heads.

Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-547-22547-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

BACK FROM THE DEAD

A basketball legend reflects on his life in the game and a life lived in the “nightmare of endlessly repetitive and constant pain, agony, and guilt.”

Walton (Nothing but Net, 1994, etc.) begins this memoir on the floor—literally: “I have been living on the floor for most of the last two and a half years, unable to move.” In 2008, he suffered a catastrophic spinal collapse. “My spine will no longer hold me,” he writes. Thirty-seven orthopedic injuries, stemming from the fact that he had malformed feet, led to an endless string of stress fractures. As he notes, Walton is “the most injured athlete in the history of sports.” Over the years, he had ground his lower extremities “down to dust.” Walton’s memoir is two interwoven stories. The first is about his lifelong love of basketball, the second, his lifelong battle with injuries and pain. He had his first operation when he was 14, for a knee hurt in a basketball game. As he chronicles his distinguished career in the game, from high school to college to the NBA, he punctuates that story with a parallel one that chronicles at each juncture the injuries he suffered and overcame until he could no longer play, eventually turning to a successful broadcasting career (which helped his stuttering problem). Thanks to successful experimental spinal fusion surgery, he’s now pain-free. And then there’s the music he loves, especially the Grateful Dead’s; it accompanies both stories like a soundtrack playing off in the distance. Walton tends to get long-winded at times, but that won’t be news to anyone who watches his broadcasts, and those who have been afflicted with lifelong injuries will find the book uplifting and inspirational. Basketball fans will relish Walton’s acumen and insights into the game as well as his stories about players, coaches (especially John Wooden), and games, all told in Walton’s fervent, witty style.

One of the NBA’s 50 greatest players scores another basket—a deeply personal one.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1686-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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