THE JUNCTION BOYS

HOW TEN DAYS IN HELL WITH BEAR BRYANT FORGED A CHAMPION TEAM AT TEXAS A&M

Legendary college football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant comes alive in this rollicking story of his time at Texas A&M during the mid-1950s. Dent, a Texas journalist (King of the Cowboys, not reviewed), focuses on Bryant’s first-year attempt at putting together the team and pays particular attention to the grueling training camp held in Junction, Tex., during the first weeks of September 1954. The boys at this camp played under extreme conditions and most would leave after succumbing to Bryant’s intensity or suffering bad injuries and near-death exhaustion. But what The Junction Boys tries to show is how Bryant and his training regime, despite all types of obstacles, did succeed, in just a few years, in creating not only a winning team (including an undefeated season in 1956), but a greatness in all the Aggies that would work to their advantage even after their playing days were over. The reader may have trouble keeping track of who’s who among the many players, and Bear Bryant himself is presented rather one- dimensionally as unrelentingly tough, despite some attempts to show his kind and caring side. What the book does convey is Bryant’s overwhelming passion for the sport, for the job of coaching, and for his team. Many of his famous quotes appear at the head of the various chapters and throughout the narrative, including “What matters . . . is not the size of the dog in the fight, but of the fight in the dog” and “A tie is like kissing your sister.” College football enthusiasts will enjoy reading about Bear Bryant and about a time when the sport was such a big part in the lives of many Americans, especially poor Texans. As one player explains why he doesn’t quit: “For one thing, I ain’t got the guts to face him [Bryant]. Second, I ain’t got the energy to walk to the bus station. Third, they’d throw me out of Texas.” (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-312-19293-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

Did you like this book?

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

WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS

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 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2009

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more