The author’s tribute is heartfelt, and Sweat is a worthy subject, but there simply isn’t enough material here for a...

THE HORSE GOD BUILT

SECRETARIAT, HIS GROOM, THEIR LEGACY

An earnest attempt to view championship racehorse Secretariat through the eyes of his African-American groom.

In 1973, “Big Red” became America’s tenth Triple Crown winner, setting track records at the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and romping over the finish line at the Belmont Stakes 31 lengths ahead of his closest competitor. During his two-year racing career, the thoroughbred was groomed by Edward “Shorty” Sweat. Considered one of the best in the business, he had back-to-back Derby winners in 1972–73 with Riva Ridge and Secretariat. Some 30 years later, Scanlan (Wild About Horses, 1998, etc.) decided to write generally about the groom-horse bond and specifically about Sweat, who died in 1998. Gathering memories from other grooms, exercise riders and Secretariat’s jockey, Ron Turcotte, the author discovered that everyone held the same opinion: Edward Sweat was a kind man and a superb horseman who loved Big Red. They didn’t have much to say beyond that, however, and Scanlan’s decision to mimic people’s speech patterns makes reading some of the interviews an embarrassing experience. (Exercise rider Charlie Davis, for example, speculates that if Secretariat could have talked, the horse would have told him, “I am the pilot. You is de co-pilot.”) Sweat should have had a larger share of Secretariat’s winnings, the author believes; his contributions to the thoroughbred’s victories have been overlooked by history. Yet in his heyday, the groom made the cover of such mainstream magazines as Essence and Ebony, and he was still being quoted extensively in racing publications at the time of his death. Lacking the kind of detail about Sweat’s personality that would make this more than just another biography of Big Red, Scanlan doesn’t add anything to the accounts of the racehorse’s career provided by Raymond Woolfe in Secretariat (2001) and William Nack in Big Red of Meadow Stable (1975).

The author’s tribute is heartfelt, and Sweat is a worthy subject, but there simply isn’t enough material here for a full-length book.

Pub Date: May 1, 2007

ISBN: 0-312-36724-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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