JACKIE ROBINSON

A BIOGRAPHY

Avoiding the sentimentality surrounding the 50th anniversary of Robinson's major-league debut, Rampersad compellingly projects his life against the backdrop of the persons and institutions that affected him and that he, in turn, helped to change. Jack Roosevelt Robinson's early life in Georgia and California was more or less defined by racial segregation. Tracing Robinson's journey through college, military service in WW II, professional baseball, marriage, fatherhood, and his later careers in business and public service, Rampersad (author of a two-volume biography of Langston Hughes) demonstrates how Robinson's determination was often both his greatest strength and his Achilles' heel. Nowhere was this more obvious than during his brilliant baseball career, where his combativeness occasionally put him at odds with fans, opponents, and even teammates. Robinson's transition from baseball to ``private'' life in 1957 was smooth—the game had left him modestly wealthy and socially well connected. However, he did encounter difficulties during these years. Quick to take to the stump for a cause or a friend, Robinson sometimes clashed with other civil rights and political leaders, including Malcolm X, whose appeals for black separatism frustrated the integrationist pioneer. During the tumult of the '60s, Robinson became estranged from his eldest son, Jackie Jr., who after being wounded in Vietnam, later fell into a cycle of crime and drug dependency. (Jackie eventually recovered and was reconciled with his father, only to die in a motor accident in 1971.) After Robinson's death in 1972, President Richard Nixon, a longtime friend and admirer, hailed him for having ``brought a new human dimension not only to the game of baseball but to every area of American life.'' A former opponent, Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, spoke another kind of truth, about Robinson, both as a ballplayer and as an idealist : ``He could beat you in a lot of ways.'' Somewhat languidly paced but nevertheless gripping, this oustanding biography is in every way worthy of its esteemed subject. (24 pages photos, not seen) (First printing of 200,000; Book-of-the-Month Club selection)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-679-44495-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997

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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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