A smug, wearisome catalogue.

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF SPORTS IN THE UNITED STATES

250 YEARS OF POLITICS, PROTEST, THE PEOPLE, AND PLAY

Sportswriter Zirin (Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics, and Promise of Sports, 2007, etc.) looks through the eyes of the left at the political forces shaping the history of American sports.

Americans who care little about sports probably know something about track stars Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe and Wilma Rudolph; baseball players Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente; football greats Paul Robeson, Jim Brown and Pat Tillman; basketballers Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson; tennis giants Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova; boxing champions Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and Muhammad Ali; and soccer standout Mia Hamm. We know these biographies precisely because of the political stands each has taken on behalf of racial, sexual, economic or religious fair play. Even a casual sports fan knows something about the story of baseball’s Negro Leagues, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the Black Power demonstrations at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, or the all-black, 1966 Texas Western NCAA basketball champions, largely because of their still-reverberating social implications. Zirin’s purpose, then, is somewhat of a mystery. Can there be anyone besides the ghost of Grantland Rice and possibly the Chinese Olympic Committee who believe sports can be severed from politics? Chronologically, with serial entries of seemingly arbitrary length, Zirin covers all this, as well as many other, genuinely obscure tales that serve his unrelenting, Howard Zinnian take on sports history. The cast of villains includes capitalism, patriotism, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley and executive Al Campanis, Olympic czar Avery Brundage, Don Imus, longtime Redskins owner George Preston Marshall and, of course, George W. Bush. Zirin’s selection of rebel athletes is worthy, but he does them no honor by comparing them to his political heroes—the Rosenbergs, the Jena Six—for whom he has unreserved admiration.

A smug, wearisome catalogue.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-59558-100-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2008

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more