Unfocused and repetitive, though the Mites’ story is inspiring.

TWELVE MIGHTY ORPHANS

THE INSPIRING TRUE STORY OF THE MIGHTY MITES WHO RULED TEXAS FOOTBALL

The latest work from Dent (Monster of the Midway, 2003, etc.) describes the rise of a group of orphans who defied the odds to become a power in Texas high-school football.

The parentless denizens of the Masonic Home in Fort Worth were looked down on by many of their neighbors as second-class citizens. Their status changed in 1927, however, with the arrival of Rusty Russell, a visionary young coach determined to make his mark on the high-school football landscape. An unassuming World War I veteran, Russell was confident he could make his players winners despite the fact that they were severely undersized, giving up inches and pounds at every position (hence the nickname “Mighty Mites”). Faced with a student body that barely exceeded 100 and a team of only 12 players, Russell countered with a 700-page playbook and the determination of his players to prove their doubters wrong. In only five years, Russell built the team into a powerhouse that clawed its way to the Texas high-school championship game. Outweighed and out-manned, the Mighty Mites would remain one of the state’s elite football teams for the next dozen years. But they never won a championship, and lacking such a ready-made climax, the narrative meanders. Dent describes many seasons and provides a great amount of detail about individual games; he also profiles some of the team’s more talented stars. (Hardy Brown, later feared as one of the NFL’s most violent players, joined the Masonic Home after seeing his father, a bootlegger, murdered by rivals.) The author clearly intends this to be an uplifting Depression-era sports tale similar to those of racehorse Seabiscuit or boxer James Braddock. However, since the Mighty Mites didn’t capture the same kind of national attention, the level of detail seems excessive.

Unfocused and repetitive, though the Mites’ story is inspiring.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-312-30872-8

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2007

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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

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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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