A Byzantine tale of sports, commerce and politics, nimbly shuffled by the astute journalist Larmer.

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OPERATION YAO MING

THE CHINESE SPORTS EMPIRE, AMERICAN BIG BUSINESS, AND THE MAKING OF AN NBA SUPERSTAR

Newsweek’s Shanghai bureau chief tells dynamically the story of two Chinese basketball stars who made their ways to the NBA through the thickets of Middle Kingdom politics.

By the mid-1980s, writes Larmer, sports was a critical resource for the Chinese government. Unlike the wholesale revamping of the country’s economy, athletics provided a fast track to the global stage, raising China’s stature and projecting a sense of national ambition. As the rest of the country careened down the capitalist path, sports prodigies were viewed in the old Maoist way as state assets, destined to live and work for the glory of the motherland. Two of the most valuable were Wang Zhizhi and Yao Ming, both over seven feet tall, who between them revitalized Chinese basketball. Larmer begins with a short recounting of recent Chinese history, mainly as it affected the families of the ballplayers, and a sketch of the character of China’s sports establishment: long on duty and stoicism, short on fun, exemplified by the credo that athletes must learn to “eat bitterness.” He then turns to the gathering confrontation between the elephantine Chinese bureaucracy and global capitalism, in which sports plays a conspicuous role. When America came calling for its basketball stars, China was reluctant to lose complete control over Wang and Yao by letting them play in the NBA. Authorities eventually agreed in hopes of currying U.S. support for the 2008 Olympics bid by Beijing. Wang ultimately crashed and burned in both the U.S. and China; Yao moved on to stardom, still playing for his Chinese team in the NBA off-season. The NBA was tickled to have a bridge to the vast Chinese market; Nike thought it had one in Yao, nurturing his development for six years before blowing it by alienating his mother and her trusted Chinese-American confidant.

A Byzantine tale of sports, commerce and politics, nimbly shuffled by the astute journalist Larmer.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2005

ISBN: 1-592-40078-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2005

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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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