Some quibbles aside, this is sports escapism brought to new and entertaining heights.

UPON FURTHER REVIEW

THE GREATEST WHAT-IFS IN SPORTS HISTORY

More than 30 what-if stories that reinvent sports history, and perhaps the greater national history.

Former NPR sports reporter Pesca, host of the Slate podcast The Gist, asked his contributors to give the full trajectory of the what-if, not just how one game may have played out had Bill Buckner not booted a routine ground ball or Drew Bledsoe not gotten hurt and given way to Tom Brady. The author wants the bigger picture: how it might have changed the sport, a life, the politics of a nation, or paved over major cultural roadblocks, like racism. That is a tall order for rather short fantasies—roughly five to 10 pages—but a surprising number pull it off. “What If Nixon Had Been Good at Football?” by Julian Zelizer, is a wonderful little psycho-sporting profile that presents Nixon as a confident, honest, comfortable-in-his-own-skin man. “What If Roger Bannister Trained Today?” asks Liam Boylan-Pett. Instead of squeezing in a few hours per week between medical school classes, what if he had followed today’s rigorous training regimens? Probably a new world record. What if Muhammad Ali had gotten his draft deferment? What if professional football were invented today? With what we know about head trauma, we might have very different play and players. For those readers who are intimate with a particular event—e.g., what if Billie-Jean King had lost to the huckster Bobby Riggs? What if Brady hadn’t stepped in for the injured Bledsoe?—these counterfactual stories may feel thin on the bone. There are, for instance, lots of reasons besides Brady that the New England Patriots are the dynasty they have become, and it does feel like coaches, other players, and the general state of the sport at the time get short shrift. Other notable contributors include Leigh Montville, Jeremy Schaap, Will Leitch, and Mary Pilon.

Some quibbles aside, this is sports escapism brought to new and entertaining heights.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4555-4036-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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