In the introduction the editors write, “this book is for the losers—which is to say, for all of us.” They deliver.

LOSERS

DISPATCHES FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE SCOREBOARD

Essays from the realm of competitive sports focusing on losing, which “reveals something raw about what it means to be human.”

A few of the bylines are well known, especially Gay Talese (his oft-anthologized 1964 Esquire profile of Floyd Patterson) and Arthur Conan Doyle (1908 Olympic marathon). Refreshingly, though, most of the contributors are less well known to general readers, and their subjects range from obscure to famous. Some of the essays were previously unpublished while others appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the Believer, and other venues. As a collection, the book holds together well even for non–sports fans, though some readers may wish for value-added material such as postscripts or updates. Pilon and Thomas, who both write for the New Yorker and other publications, each contribute an essay. In her piece for that magazine, Thomas focuses on the pressures of the professional tennis tour via a profile of Nick Kyrgios, the volatile Australian who cannot seem to reach his potential in front of tournament crowds. “At some point in every match,” she writes, “he tends to do something brilliant—or he snaps.” Pilon’s piece, published in 2013 in the Times, is set in the world of low-level mixed martial arts, “shadow fighting circuits” that are “far from the bright lights of professional matches.” For basketball fans, Charles Bock offers “The Sporting House,” about an ill-fated star in 1980s Las Vegas, a time when UNLV was the best show in town. Baseball fans will enjoy Bob Sullivan’s “Yankee Strike” and Abby Ellin’s “Larry and the Ball.” In “Banderillero,” Barry Newman writes about bullfighting, an endeavor relatively unknown to American readers. Mike Pesca investigates the many faces of losing and how many “come so close they can taste it, only to be left lapping at the dust of their rivals.”

In the introduction the editors write, “this book is for the losers—which is to say, for all of us.” They deliver.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-14-313383-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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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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