Perhaps not the soul of basketball but certainly the wallet. A fine work of sports journalism and a must for every bookish...

THE SOUL OF BASKETBALL

THE EPIC SHOWDOWN BETWEEN LEBRON, KOBE, DOC, AND DIRK THAT SAVED THE NBA

A blow-by-blow account of the 2010-2011 NBA season, which reshaped the face of pro basketball in a flurry of big money.

There was no end to the talent assembled when the teams lined up to play out that season, but it had opened on a note that was sour to many ears when LeBron James aired a “curious vanity show” meant to promote his brand and “extend his reach further into the entertainment mainstream.” He did that, taking his free agency option to leave his home-state Cleveland Cavaliers and sign on with the Miami Heat. As fans will remember, and as NBA.com contributor Thomsen (Flutie!, 1985) painstakingly reminds us, James was but one of an extraordinary group of free agent players whose movements shook up long-settled lineups. There were Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Bosh, and Amar’e Stoudemire, among many others, joining contract-bound players like Kobe Bryant, who had lately emerged as the league’s chief bad guy: “Instead of emulating the likability of [Michael] Jordan, Kobe appeared to be following the controversial path of Jordan’s adversary Isaiah Thomas.” Everyone wanted to be Jordan, and by moving to Miami, aside from raking in a fat paycheck, James would find himself on a squad whose combined talent was guaranteed to crush all comers. It didn’t quite work out like that. Thomsen goes deep behind the scenes into locker rooms, conference rooms, and boardrooms to follow what often amounts to a nonstop clash of egos—and a few friendships, too. Notable was the rancor between old-school owners like Detroit Pistons owner Bill Davidson and arrivistes like Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. “Whereas his rivals tended to see pro sports as a secretive society of sacred traditions,” writes the author, “Cuban viewed the NBA as an entertainment industry that needed to evolve.” Evolve it did, and with sometimes unintended consequences.

Perhaps not the soul of basketball but certainly the wallet. A fine work of sports journalism and a must for every bookish roundball fan.

Pub Date: April 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-547-74651-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2018

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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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