THE LAST SHOT

CITY STREETS, BASKETBALL DREAMS

Expanding the Harper's piece that won a National Magazine Award, Frey deepens his devastating indictment of big-time college basketball's recruiting circus and the long shot at redemption it offers four talented New York City high school players. The flirtations of college coaches who promise TV exposure and a shot at the NBA might seem merely pathetic: One coach makes his play with inept card tricks; another signs a fawning letter to a recruit ``Health, Happine$$ and Hundred$.'' But for the young men Frey follows through their senior year at Abraham Lincoln High School, home is the projects of Coney Island, an end of the line literally, because it's a subway terminus, and metaphorically, because young black men seeking their fortunes have two options: drug-dealing or basketball. In a neighborhood where gang members rain beer bottles and taunts on players on the court and where turf wars lend an air of necessity to the style of basketball called ``run-and-gun,'' the father-figure pitches and broken promises of college coaches (many of whom have six-figure salaries and million- dollar endorsement deals with sneaker companies) are nothing less than abject. Harper's contributing editor Frey dishes the inside dope—the slave-market atmosphere of summer basketball camps, the corrupting influence of companies like Nike, the winks and nods with which coaches skirt the ``byzantine'' NCAA recruiting rules. And he does it without self-righteousness, simply letting coaches skewer themselves. Eventually the NCAA (which fares no better under Frey's blistering scrutiny) banned him from recruiting sessions. But what gives the book its powerful emotional punch is the bond between the players and the community of family, fans, and local coaches who support them—and between Frey and the kids. He captures—in lean, lyrical prose—the psychological drama and physical beauty of the game, and the joy it brings those who play it and see it played at its best. A heartbreaking, gritty piece of work.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-395-59770-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1994

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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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