THOSE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN

INSIDE THE WORLD OF ESPN

The massive, eagerly anticipated oral history of ESPN.

Journalist Miller and Pulitzer Prize–winning TV critic Shales (Live from New York: An Uncensored History of “Saturday Night Live,” 2003) chronicle the unfathomable growth of the self-proclaimed “Worldwide Leader in Sports.” In 1979, the entrepreneurial father/son tandem Bill and Scott Rasmussen hatched a hair-brained business plan: a 24-hour cable “entertainment and sports programming network”—or, as it came to be known, ESPN. The improbable rise from fly-by-night operation in the backwater of Bristol, Conn., to the world’s most powerful sports brand is an epic tale, replete with scandals and skeletons the authors dutifully cover. Many of these will be old news to fans of blogs like Deadspin that are dedicated to bringing down the ESPN juggernaut, but it’s the cutthroat negotiations with partners and sponsors, the ingenious (and occasionally disastrous) attempts to innovate and the ongoing clash of conservative company policy with flamboyant on-air talent that will hook readers. The interviewees—who include former chairman Steve Bornstein, current president George Bodenheimer, fan favorites Chris Berman, Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann, and dot-com star Bill Simmons—range from closely guarded to bluntly self-interested in their commentary, requiring the authors to find the right mix of breadth of opinion and storytelling acumen—a balance they strike with admirable consistency over the course of nearly 800 pages. Inevitably, repetition creeps in as subjects hammer home the same themes, and the authors sometimes shift topics when more commentary is called for on the prior one. These are minor quibbles, however, in a definitive account that not only manages to offer insight into a pop-culture phenomenon’s seemingly impossible success (sometimes in spite of itself), but also highlights how that success irrevocably altered the cable landscape. A championship effort by two men who can rightfully lay claim to having written the book on ESPN.

 

Pub Date: May 24, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-316-04300-7

Page Count: 764

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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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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