Gracefully written and compellingly argued, this is one of the best books of the year and one of the best sports books ever...

THE GAMES

A GLOBAL HISTORY OF THE OLYMPICS

A tour de force history of the Olympics in romanticized myth and politicized reality.

As thousands of athletes and hundreds of thousands of spectators and tourists prepare to descend on Brazil for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games this summer, sports fans are getting a daily dose of information about potentially toxic waters clogged with human waste and tales of how facilities will not be completed on time. This all takes place against a backdrop of political and economic chaos in Brazil. There is nothing new in this intersection of Olympic planning gone awry and controversial political machinations in host countries. Indeed, as Goldblatt (The Game of Our Lives: The English Premier League and the Making of Modern Britain, 2014, etc.) shows in this fantastic history of the Olympics, far more rare were the instances of smooth planning and a lack of political chaos. The author traces the games back to their Hellenic roots, but he also places them in the context of the myths that emerged around them in the 19th century, as various efforts to revive Olympic-style games picked up pace, finally gaining a foothold with French aristocrat Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a self-mythologizing romantic who laid the foundation for many of the Olympic ideals that in most cases embody little more than invented traditions. Goldblatt, best known for his unparalleled books on soccer, has a fine grip on sports in general and an even better understanding of the politics of sport. He shows the myriad ways in which the attempts by International Olympic Committee power brokers to separate sport from politics were themselves deeply entrenched in conservative political mindsets, and he reveals the barrenness of most demands that participating athletes be pure amateurs.

Gracefully written and compellingly argued, this is one of the best books of the year and one of the best sports books ever written.

Pub Date: July 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-393-29277-0

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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