SHOOT OUT THE LIGHTS

THE AMAZING, IMPROBABLE, EXHILARATING SAGA OF THE 1969-70 NEW YORK KNICKS

Spitz attempts to cash in on the 25th anniversary of the New York Knicks' first NBA championship in 1969 in a style that combines the worst elements of rock criticism, celebrity tell-all, and all-sports radio. To read this book cover to cover, one would think Spitz (Dylan: A Superstar, 1988, etc.) was the 13th man in the Knicks rotation. However, a quick glance at the sources tells a different story: This is nothing more than a cut-and-paste quickie in a classy cloth binding. It's not that he gets his facts wrong—after all, he's cribbed from the best in describing how general manager Eddie Donovan built the squad; how the team grew as a unit, especially after adding power forward Dave DeBusschere; how they finally surpassed the Boston Celtics (league champions in 11 of the previous 13 years); and the unfolding of their 196970 run at the NBA crown. But the way he tells this story, implying a familiarity with events and people that he seems not to have had, will get under the skin of anybody who's even seen a photograph of the Knicks' championship team. Spitz's character studies—of Rhodes Scholar, small forward, and future US senator Bill Bradley; stoical team captain and center Willis Reed; superfly guard Walt ``Clyde'' Frazier; role players like Dick Barnett; and rookie benchwarmer Johny Warren—are long on detail but conspicuously lacking in substance. A similar cursory approach makes the author's windy explanation of the realpolitik of the City Game (as urban playground hoops is known) fall somewhere between pathetic and unintentionally hilarious. Further compounding this lazy effort are the numerous anachronisms (such as referring to a 747 taking off in 1969, when 747s didn't go into commercial use until 1970). A curious footnote, considering the author (who has profiled Woodstock I as well as Bob Dylan) appears to be stuck in 1969.

Pub Date: March 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-15-193116-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1995

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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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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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