Occasionally dry but mostly colorful examination of an early meeting of international sports, culture and celebrity.

BANZAI BABE RUTH

BASEBALL, ESPIONAGE, AND ASSASSINATION DURING THE 1934 TOUR OF JAPAN

A detailed look at the 1934 tour of Japan by an All-Star team of American baseball players including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

Fitts (Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, 2008, etc.) brings an academic’s thoroughness to his topic, with an eye on the gathering storm clouds that would soon lead to war between the two nations. Organized by a Japanese newspaper publisher as a promotional stunt and supported by American and Japanese politicians who hoped to mend increasingly difficult relations, the tour was a rousing success on the first count, and a resounding failure on the second. Fitts provides context on the history of baseball in Japan, as well as on the country’s political situation at the time, with various nationalist groups hoping to restore true power to the imperial throne. Though the information on the coup and assassination attempts by these groups provides insight into the state of Japanese politics and culture, the link between them and the baseball tour is tenuous. The tour itself provides some entertaining culture-clash moments and interesting background on some of the Japanese players, even if the outcome of most of the games is a foregone conclusion. The Babe is, as ever, the star of the show. Reluctant to participate at first, he eventually embraced the experience, helped no doubt by the adulation of a whole new set of fans during the twilight of his career. Perhaps the tour’s most lasting contribution to history is its part in helping create a professional baseball league in Japan, which remains massively popular to this day. Any goodwill engendered by the American players’ 1934 visit quickly vanished into the fog of war, however, with the spectators’ cries of “Banzai Babe Ruth” replaced by Japanese soldiers’ shouts of “To hell with Babe Ruth!” as they rushed American positions during World War II.

Occasionally dry but mostly colorful examination of an early meeting of international sports, culture and celebrity.

Pub Date: March 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8032-2984-6

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Univ. of Nebraska

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

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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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