A landmark achievement in basketball journalism.

PLAY THEIR HEARTS OUT

A COACH, HIS STAR RECRUIT, AND THE YOUTH BASKETBALL MACHINE

In his debut, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist embeds himself in the sleazy underbelly of grassroots basketball.

Though Sports Illustrated senior writer Dohrmann is not the first to expose the seedy side of elite youth basketball leagues—a world in which middle schoolers are exploited by shoe companies and avaricious men intent on building fortunes without regard for the welfare of their charges—he is the most ambitious. Rather than profiling a single player, the author developed a relationship with an inexperienced, underqualified, but desperately determined young coach named Joe Keller and spent eight years chronicling his players’ struggles during their coach’s improbable rise from no-name youth coach to multimillionaire power broker. Before Keller, companies like Nike and Adidas fought over the most promising high-school prospects in the hopes of signing the next Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. Keller, however, set his sights on a previously taboo pool of players: still-developing nine- and ten-year olds. Despite his ambiguous morals, the coach displayed an impressive eye for talent, recruiting a team of young phenoms led by Demetrius Walker, who was soon ranked as the top player in his age group. Keller’s ascent within the grassroots community contrasts sharply with Walker’s struggles to live up to the hype generated by his power-hungry coach. Dohrmann’s account of Walker’s rise, fall and resurrection is more than a simple indictment of the grassroots system; it’s a warning shot across the bow of the basketball community to end the exploitation of good kids from difficult backgrounds whose opportunity to use their athletic gifts to forge a better life is stolen by morally bankrupt companies and shady middlemen. On the surface, it’s an easy story—unscrupulous white men making money off the sweat of undereducated urban youth—but in the author’s skilled hands, a potentially trite morality play becomes a powerful, nuanced chronicle populated with struggling parents, coaches both villainous and virtuous, and confused kids whose innocence is too readily exchanged for a long shot at glory before they understand the price.

A landmark achievement in basketball journalism.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-345-50860-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2010

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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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