Fans of MLS will appreciate West’s perspective, and those who are not yet fans may be convinced by this brief, worthwhile...

THE UNITED STATES OF SOCCER

MLS AND THE RISE OF AMERICAN SOCCER FANDOM

A perfectly fine book about an adequate soccer league.

Compared to other leagues in Europe, Central and South America, and other regions of the globe, Major League Soccer, which emerged after the United States hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup, is fairly mediocre, certainly not one of the top 10 leagues in the world. Yet it has also improved on a steady trajectory, has become a port of last call for elite players from European and other leagues looking for a soft cushion into retirement, and has been partially responsible for a demonstrable rise in both the consistent quality of the U.S. Men’s National Team and in American fan support for the sport. Veteran soccer journalist West tells the intertwined story of the rise of MLS and its fan base in this reasonably crisp narrative. The author really knows the history and landscape of American soccer, and he conveys it well. Though his goal is not to advocate for MLS, he believes it warrants increasing respect, even if it does not match the level of play of the world’s elite leagues. West seeks to place MLS within a larger context of the development of soccer as a legitimate element of the American sporting landscape. The author is especially strong at addressing the politics, economics, and fan culture that have emerged as MLS has gone from its tentative inaugural steps to a solid second-tier presence in American sports. But it is perhaps telling that some of the least compelling parts of the book involve the game on the pitch, and the assertion that West makes in the last words of the book—that MLS “seems positioned to remain intact and supported”—is underwhelming.

Fans of MLS will appreciate West’s perspective, and those who are not yet fans may be convinced by this brief, worthwhile history.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4683-1241-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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