OCTOBER MEN

REGGIE JACKSON, GEORGE STEINBRENNER, BILLY MARTIN, AND THE YANKEES’ MIRACULOUS FINISH IN 1978

The commanding, silver-tongued Kahn (The Head Game, 2000, etc.), baseball chronicler extraordinaire, takes an enjoyably circuitous route to an ultimately dazzling account of the 1978 Yankees.

The year was one of outbursts and outrage, when New Yorkers first got a taste of George Steinbrenner's “creative terrorism”; when Billy Martin, a man who never met a drink he didn't like, quit as the season was coming to a wild close; when the team fielded the likes of Reggie Jackson, Thurmon Munson, Bucky Dent, Ron Guidry, Catfish Hunter, Goose Gossage, Sparky Lyle, Craig Nettles; and when the New York media went after the team as if the number of rude bites really mattered. The team’s smashing, clashing egos performed their personal passion play for all to see, to be followed by a cordon sanitaire lasting to this day. Never again would we get to hear the vibrant narrative between star player and manager. (Billy Martin: “I ought to kick your fucking ass.” Reggie Jackson: “Who the fuck do you think you're talking to, old man?”) There are almost too many personalities to corral here, too many important references to include, but Kahn gets them all standing in the same place at the same time for a wonderful snapshot: keen-edged profiles of the players, a huge supporting cast of managers and owners, innumerable barroom encounters both amiable and fraught, the longstanding club ownership woes, and a host of wicked digs at fellow sportswriters. Yes, 1978 was a special year for the Yankees, but it’s clear that Kahn could make any year a compelling one with his storytelling acumen, ease and mastery of the material, instinct for the good stuff, and ability to keep it rolling despite all the color commentary.

Hits it out of the park.

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-15-100628-8

Page Count: 392

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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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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