Elegant, even Plimptonesque at points—top-notch sports history.

READ REVIEW

THE RIVALRY

BILL RUSSELL, WILT CHAMBERLAIN, AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF BASKETBALL

Taut, well-crafted account of the fierce decade-long rivalry and odd friendship between two (literal) giants of basketball.

It’s a long-standing conundrum for sports fans: Do we cheer for the virtuoso prima donna who plays by his own rules, or do we cast our lot with the exemplary team player who plays fair and wins all the same? The question animates Esquire writer Taylor’s (The Count and the Confession, 2002, etc.) portrait of the race between Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain to dominate the NBA, a race that proved so newsworthy, and so freighted with drama, that it helped make basketball a major sport. Boston Celtics center Russell played, after all, for a team that was “a purely commercial afterthought in a sport without strong roots in the city’s culture,” and in an arena that was seldom more than half full; Chamberlain, playing for the Philadelphia Warriors, came aboard a team that had been an afterthought, too, until he brought his impossible-to-defend fadeaway shot. Well over seven feet tall (he would not allow himself to be measured), Chamberlain was a star, and he acted the part; the marginally smaller Russell played as part of a well-tuned team. From the time they first faced off, in 1959, each knew that the other was the competition. Chamberlain—hailed as “probably the greatest athletic construction ever formed of flesh and blood”—got the better press, especially after Russell began to espouse black nationalist views; yet Russell neatly matched Chamberlain in ability, so well, in fact, that Boston was “the only club in the league that did not feel it necessary to double-team Chamberlain.” In their final showdown, a decade later, Chamberlain behaved very oddly, Russell denounced him and their rivalry took a bitter turn for years after either figured on the court. Taylor’s account of this singular contest is a highlight of a book full of fine moments.

Elegant, even Plimptonesque at points—top-notch sports history.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6114-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more