Good-natured, intelligent, funny, and less bombastic than the title suggests.

BACKYARD BRAWL

INSIDE THE BLOOD FEUD BETWEEN TEXAS AND TEXAS A&M

A savvy sportswriter uses the football rivalry between the University of Texas and Texas A&M to paint a lively, partial portrait of the Lone Star State.

The two schools conclude their Big 12 regular season with a passionate game over Thanksgiving weekend. Stratton builds to the 2001 climax gradually, beginning at an August Aggie football rally in College Station. Formerly a men's army college, the conservative and rural A&M maintains its military traditions. Female cheerleaders are banned in favor of the all-male Yell leaders who guide the crowd through the emotional and highly structured program of music and yells. A statue of school founder and Civil War hero Sul Ross rises over the campus. Reveille VII, the canine mascot, prowls the stadium field near where her six predecessors are buried. Ninety miles away in Austin, the urban, more liberal Texas Longhorn partisans wonder why anyone would have to practice yelling. But the condescending UT fans have Bevo, the steer mascot, take pride in their huge marching band, and love to beat the Aggies. The impartial Stratton amiably digresses as he covers the season. He wanders briefly into state politics and geography. Before the UT-Oklahoma game in Dallas, he makes an odd trip through the Texas state fair. He portrays former coaches D.X. Bible and Bear Bryant and writes a short history of the Chicken Ranch, a.k.a. The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In 1999, the Aggies' 80-foot bonfire collapsed during construction, killing 12 students; Stratton reviews the causes and profound effect on the community. Coaches Mack Brown of UT and R.C. Slocum at A&M talk football and life between games. In the end, with the shock of September 11, the painful memory of the bonfire disaster and both teams having good but not great seasons, Stratton appropriately presents the November game anticlimactically.

Good-natured, intelligent, funny, and less bombastic than the title suggests.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2002

ISBN: 0-609-61053-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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