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

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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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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