Comic, compassionate and thought-provoking.

AGAINST FOOTBALL

ONE FAN'S RELUCTANT MANIFESTO

A provocative, thoughtful examination of an “astonishingly brutal” sport.

Almond's (God Bless America: Stories, 2011, etc.) lifelong devotion to football has never wavered, but he calls for its overhaul because he can no longer in good conscience ignore the cumulative and catastrophic results of repetitive injuries to players' bodies or the prevalence of cognitive brain damage among NFL retirees. The author is not a scold or curmudgeon; he honors the sport and writes expressively that football is “a faithful reenactment of our fundamental athletic impulses…to run, leap [and] catch.” Football is astoundingly popular—“Americans now give football more attention than any other cultural endeavor”—and Almond quotes critic William Phillips regarding its popularity, much of which is “due to the fact that it makes respectable the most primitive feelings about violence, patriotism, manhood.” Almond shares comical recollections of football's role in his life and anecdotes of how fandom brings people (particularly parents and children) together. Two of his proposed remedies to the current merciless state of football are a mandatory parental discretion warning before games and the revoking of the NFL’s nonprofit status, which soaks taxpayers for as much as 70 percent of the costs of new arenas while the multimillionaire (and some billionaire) team owners often pay little. The author posits that fans are ethically obligated to push for change because “We’re consumers. Our money and attention are what subsidize the game,” and he presents a compelling argument that Americans' “allegiance to football legitimizes and even fosters within us a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia.” Almond rightfully anticipates significant push back for this book, which raises difficult, uncomfortable questions about fandom—e.g., “What does it mean that millions of white fans cheer wildly for African-American men in the context of a football game when, if they encountered these same men on a darkened street, they would reach for a cellphone?”

Comic, compassionate and thought-provoking.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61219-415-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Melville House

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 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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