AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN

KENTUCKY, TEXAS WESTERN, AND THE GAME THAT CHANGED AMERICAN SPORTS

An admirably researched account of the barrier-shattering championship game that slam-dunked segregated college basketball. Outside of Jackie Robinson’s baseball debut, perhaps no single sporting event had so profound a social effect as the 1966 NCAA basketball championship. The competitors were the upstart Texas Western (now University of Texas, El Paso) Miners and an established power, the University of Kentucky Wildcats. More than a battle between teams, however, the game pitted two ways of life. The Miners fielded their five best players, who also happened to be African-American; it was basketball’s first all-black starting roster. The Wildcats, coached by Adolph Rupp (whom the author compares to the infamous Birmingham, Ala., police chief Bull Connor), were defiantly all-white. Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Fitzpatrick balances present-day interviews with the former players and surviving coaches with contemporaneous accounts to expose the sporting fraternity’s subtle and not-so-subtle biases. Texas Western fielded a roster of formidable athletes whose brand of basketball was predicated on fundamentals’smarts, stifling defense, superior conditioning, and intimidation—not on the undisciplined, high-flying “playground” game then associated with black athletes (a misperception Fitzpatrick addresses throughout the book). Nevertheless, sportswriters and coaches across the nation dismissed the team’s chances, assuming that they would fold under pressure (another persistent clichÇ about black athletes). Defying stereotypes and shrugging off tremendous stress, the Miners controlled the game and won; it was the Wildcats who were flummoxed. The game’s “message” was lost on Rupp, who, despite a loss that would haunt him to his grave, remained steadfast in his defense of racial segregation and held out against recruiting black players until the 1970s. Although Rupp has his apologists’some of his former players try to soft-pedal his interdict on nonwhite players—he comes across as a small-minded bigot who set race relations in Kentucky back several years, if not decades. Fair but devastating in its portrait of persistent prejudice, this is a landmark account of a landmark event.

Pub Date: March 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-684-83551-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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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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