Makes it clear that boxing sure could use an Ali today—or any day. (Photos)

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FACING ALI

15 FIGHTERS, 15 STORIES

Canadian sportswriter Brunt fills in the background as boxers tell of their experiences in the ring with Muhammad Ali.

“In boxing, as in everything else, only one side of the story tends to be told,” writes Brunt, and when that story involved Ali, one voice was certainly heard above the others. So the journalist takes it as his task to tell Ali's opponents’ stories: how they felt about facing him, and how these fights altered the course of their careers. The writing is hard and ungussied, much like the men. Some of them, like dementia-afflicted Tunney Hunsaker, can't speak much, and other significant opponents have been permanently silenced. (Readers will regret the absence of Sonny Liston, whose death left two unanswered questions that nag at every fight fan: What was on his gloves that blinded Ali? And did he dive in their second fight?) But Sir Henry Cooper makes some bright quips, and Joe Frazier vivifies his antipathy to Ali: “Lord . . . I want you to help me kill that scamboogah,” Frazier would pray. More than one boxer knew he was in way over his head. Brian London says, “I gave me best for two or three rounds. But then I realized that I was going to get one hell of a hiding.” According to Jean-Pierre Coopman, “It was never a question of winning or losing. Just surviving.” Chuck Wepner, later immortalized as Rocky, tells the funniest story. He had bought his wife a negligee the day of the fight, announcing with swagger, “tonight you're going to be sleeping with the heavyweight champion of the world.” When he shuffled in after the pulping he received, she asked, “Do I go to Ali's room? Or does he come to mine?” George Foreman, always the canny operator, understood well that he and most of the other guys were financially and professionally lucky just to step into the ring with the Champ.

Makes it clear that boxing sure could use an Ali today—or any day. (Photos)

Pub Date: May 1, 2003

ISBN: 1-58574-829-3

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Lyons Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2003

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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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Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading...

CONCUSSION

A maddening, well-constructed tale of medical discovery and corporate coverup, set in morgues, laboratories, courtrooms, and football fields.

Nigeria-born Bennet Omalu is perhaps an unlikely hero, a medical doctor board-certified in four areas of pathology, “anatomic, clinical, forensic, and neuropathology,” and a well-rounded specialist in death. When his boss, celebrity examiner Cyril Wecht (“in the autopsy business, Wecht was a rock star”), got into trouble for various specimens of publicity-hound overreach, Omalu was there to offer patient, stoical support. The student did not surpass the teacher in flashiness, but Omalu was a rock star all his own in studying the brain to determine a cause of death. Laskas’ (Creative Writing/Univ. of Pittsburgh; Hidden America, 2012, etc.) main topic is the horrific injuries wrought to the brains and bodies of football players on the field. Omalu’s study of the unfortunate brain of Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster, who died in 2002 at 50 of a supposed heart attack, brought new attention to the trauma of concussion. Laskas trades in sportwriter-ese, all staccato delivery full of tough guyisms and sports clichés: “He had played for fifteen seasons, a warrior’s warrior; he played in more games—two hundred twenty—than any other player in Steelers history. Undersized, tough, a big, burly white guy—a Pittsburgh kind of guy—the heart of the best team in history.” A little of that goes a long way, but Laskas, a Pittsburgher who first wrote of Omalu and his studies in a story in GQ, does sturdy work in keeping up with a grim story that the NFL most definitely did not want to see aired—not in Omalu’s professional publications in medical journals, nor, reportedly, on the big screen in the Will Smith vehicle based on this book.

Effectively sobering. Suffice it to say that Pop Warner parents will want to armor their kids from head to toe upon reading it.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8757-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2015

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