THE ERA: 1947-1957

WHEN THE YANKEES, THE GIANTS, AND THE DODGERS RULED THE WORLD

An agreeably digressive and anecdotal trip, with a perceptive guide, down a remarkable span in baseball's memory lane. Drawing on experiences gained as a young sportswriter during the post-WW II period he resurrects here, Kahn (Games We Used to Play, The Boys of Summer, etc.) hits the high and low points of nearly a dozen seasons. The author's golden age began with Jackie Robinson's arrival as the first black to play in the major leagues and ended with the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants heading west to California, momentarily making the Yankees the only game in town. In between, the Big Apple's three clubs dominated the national pastime, winning nine out of eleven World Series (as often as not, from one another). During these years, moreover, triborough baseball had an almost perfectly marvelous cast of characters- -including Yogi Berra, Leo Durocher, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Walter O'Malley, Pee Wee Reese, Branch Rickey, Red Smith, Duke Snider, and Casey Stengel. In telling detail, Kahn recalls the notable achievements of lesser lights who frequently outdid their superstar teammates in championship contests. Cases in point range from Bobby Thomson's pennant-winning homer through Don Larsen's perfect game and the ninth-inning double by Cooky Lavagetto that broke up a no-hit bid by another Bronx Bomber (Bill Bevens). The author also sets the record straight on what the storied Joe DiMaggio was like off the field; the identity of the player who was Brooklyn's first choice to break baseball's color barrier; Larry MacPhail's alcohol-accelerated retirement; and the impact of the emerging medium of TV on ballpark attendance. While Kahn covers a lot of well-trampled ground here, he does so with an elegant authority that—without false sentiment or excessive nostalgia—puts certain of the diamond game's good old days in clear and compelling perspective. (Photographs—not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 1993

ISBN: 0-395-56155-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1993

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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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