A solid introduction to an important sportswriter.

READ REVIEW

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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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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