A gripping, informative blend of memoir and cultural history.

RICKEY & ROBINSON

THE TRUE, UNTOLD STORY OF THE INTEGRATION OF BASEBALL

The author of the classic The Boys of Summer (1972) and numerous other titles about the national pastime returns with a personal account of the fracturing of the racial barrier in Major League Baseball.

Kahn (Into My Own: The Remarkable People and Events that Shaped a Life, 2006, etc.), born in 1927 (the heyday of the Yankees’ Murderers’ Row), a journalist during the Branch Rickey/Jackie Robinson era, knew the principals personally. Numerous times throughout this important narrative, he alludes to his experiences with them during and after their active days in baseball. (In the early 1950s, Robinson, with Kahn’s participation, launched a short-lived publication, Our Sports, which focused on black athletes.) Kahn shows all the ugliness of the pre-Robinson era and the ugliness of many of the Hall of Famers’ experiences while with the Dodgers, especially during spring training travels in the Jim Crow South. Kahn names names—those players and others associated with the team who did not welcome Robinson (Dixie Walker and Carl Furillo) and those who were more welcoming (Eddie Stanky). Most came around, especially when Robinson’s myriad talents contributed to Dodger success. Kahn waxes lyrical in several places about Robinson’s athletic gifts, and he also has some harsh words for journalist Dick Young, whose writing he admired but whose views he often found offensive. But Kahn has almost nothing but kind words for Rickey, who orchestrated the signing and development of Robinson but who, later, was eased out of the Dodger organization by Walter O’Malley—who does not come off as an admirable character in this compelling drama. Along the way, the author offers much cultural and diamond history—the Black Sox scandal of 1919 (he quotes from The Great Gatsby), the tenure of commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the racial situation in Canada, where Robinson began his Dodger career.

A gripping, informative blend of memoir and cultural history.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-62336-297-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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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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