SOLE INFLUENCE

BASKETBALL, CORPORATE GREED, AND THE CORRUPTION OF AMERICA'S YOUTH

An blistering exposÇ of the sneaker industry’s current role in amateur basketball. The 1984 Nike endorsement signing of Michael Jordan became arguably the biggest story in the history of sports marketing. When Jordan became the star of his era, Nike reaped a financial payoff big enough to kick off a business war with its arch-rival, Adidas. Although stars of other sports and genders have been signed (golf’s Tiger Woods and WNBA’s Chamique Holdsclaw), the companies’ focus is generally on men’s basketball, as they leave no stone unturned in their attempt to find “the next Mike.” Wetzel (managing editor of Basketball Times) and Yaeger (associate editor of Sports Illustrated) show how the sneaker giants have worked to control much of the summer recruiting and grassroots basketball programs. Nike and Adidas also solicit young prospects— allegiance by giving out free footwear, offering contracts, and working their connections with top colleges. The end result is a climate in which, according to one player, the college coaches look over prospects “like they’re owners. ‘Look at his teeth. Are his teeth good?’ You just feel like cattle.” This culture generates rich but troubled players unresponsive to authority and uninterested in team play. Talented young players like Marcus Taylor and Gerald Wallace, supported by their parents, sometimes fight the lure of the big bucks, but most grab the brass ring if they can. Wetzel and Yaeger dish blame to all involved: the sneaker companies, the NCAA, coaches, the nation’s education system, the players themselves. But what is sadly clear after reading the details is that the problems are too epidemic to admit of easy, clear-cut solutions. An alarm about the state of amateur sport, and about what a society addicted to sports and money is doing to the mindset and future of the nation’s youth. (8 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52450-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1999

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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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