A solid introduction to an important sportswriter.

GREAT MEN DIE TWICE

THE SELECTED WORK OF MARK KRAM

Edited by his son, Kram Jr. (Like Any Normal Day, 2012), this is the first collection of work from one of the more literary sportswriters of the 1960s and ’70s, whose mixed legacy leaves a hole at the center of this volume.

As one of the stars of Sports Illustrated during its golden era, Kram became most closely associated with boxing in general and with the fierce rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in particular. His Ghosts of Manila (2001), expanding on his coverage for SI a quarter-century earlier, putting the fight in context, was criticized by some who revered Ali because it showed his darker, meaner, bullying side against an adversary who deserved better in the public eye. The early sections of this anthology seem to write all around that fight without ever zeroing in on it. Kram shows what a complex figure Ali was and is outside the ring, both as a man and as a larger-than-life symbol. As he writes from the champion’s hospital bed, in the epigram that gives the book its title, “Great men, it’s been noted, die twice—once as great, and once as men.” It also applies to Kram, who saw the greatness of his legend tarnished by the effects of alcohol, domestic and money troubles, and charges of ethical misconduct. After SI let him go, he wrote pieces for magazines such as Esquire and GQ on topics other than sports—including an essay on Marlon Brando that ranks among the book’s most provocative. Yet boxing and “blood sports” in general brought out the poet in him. He’s particularly evocative in a piece on cornermen and in a challenging assignment to profile Ali’s Muslim manager Herbert Muhammad, about whom he is warned, “You can sum up Herbert in three words…dull, dull, and dull.” He isn’t, of course, the way Kram writes about him.

A solid introduction to an important sportswriter.

Pub Date: June 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-06499-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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