Feinstein writes with warmth and enthusiasm of a beloved sport in a book that will grab any fan.

THE BACK ROADS TO MARCH

THE UNSUNG, UNHERALDED, AND UNKNOWN HEROES OF A COLLEGE BASKETBALL SEASON

A rousing account of the 2018-2019 college basketball season, a time of surprises and rising stars.

Longtime Washington Post sportswriter Feinstein, author of such sports classics as A Season on the Brink and A Good Walk Spoiled, comes by his indefatigable love of basketball honestly: In the late 1960s, his father took him to NIT championship games at Madison Square Garden, seated a few yards from the boards. “There were no Spike Lee seats in those days,” he writes, gamely, “so this was about as good as it got.” The author is a sympathetic observer, fan, reporter, and scholar all at once, and he delivers reams of information about how the game has evolved in the decades since his childhood. Today, he notes, there are more than 350 teams in Division 1 college basketball, with the first game of the season involving more action than any one person could ever hope to comprehend, all on the path to “March madness.” The best parts of this book focus on the people who are involved in shaping the young players, such as the fellow who “gave up an $800,000-a-year job as a lawyer and CEO to become an assistant basketball coach for $32,000 a year—and couldn’t be happier.” Among Feinstein’s other subjects—notwithstanding such giants as Mike Krzyzewski, Tom Izzo, and Jim Calhoun—are coaches from historically black institutions, schools that are well represented throughout the season at every level of play; an episode involving a game between Howard and Harvard reveals coaching worthy of a championship NBA team. The narrative closes steadily in on victory by a school that had never enjoyed a national championship (Virginia) and the defeat of Feinstein’s alma mater: “I watched the Duke kids—and they were kids—heads down, tears of shock in their eyes, after the final buzzer on the last day of March and felt badly for them. But, being honest, not that badly.”

Feinstein writes with warmth and enthusiasm of a beloved sport in a book that will grab any fan.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54448-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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