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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.


A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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Doesn’t dig as deep as it could, but offers a captivating look at the NBA’s greatest era.


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 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

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