Category Archives: Sports Books

Rus Bradburd speaks about Nolan Richardson at the No Exit Cafe

Rus Bradburd will be talking about his biography of Nolan Richardson tonight.

I won’t be able to make it tonight, but Rus Bradburd will be speaking about Forty Minutes of Hell, his well-written and enjoyable biography of Nolan Richardson, at the No Exit Cafe tonight from 7:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Following the book discussion will be a brief screening of highlights from the film Basketball in the Barrio, which deals with a program Bradburd directs in the “Segundo Barrio” neighborhood of El Paso, where Nolan Richardson grew up.

I’m disappointed I won’t be there to meet Rus in person, and I look forward to hearing from dear friend and uber-connector Danny Postel how it went.

Jackie Robinson biographies

Baseball great Jackie Robinson stealing home plate. Major League Baseball honors his memory every April 15.

In addition to being Tax Day, yesterday marked 63 years since Jackie Robinson broke the modern color line in baseball with his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Robinson’s number 42 has been retired from use by all teams, with the exception of Marian0 Rivera, who are grandfathered in, yet each year on April 15 all players in the major leagues wear a jersey bearing his number.

Robinson Cano, who was named after the baseball legend, hit two home runs against the Angels as the Yankees beat the Angels.

Robinson’s story has become a combination of fable and morality tale over the past six decades.  Dodgers’ owner Branch Rickey has become a saintly figure who worked to integrate the game out of the goodness of his heart, and Robinson has been represented by some as an apolitical martyr.

The truth is more complicated, and writer Jonathan Eig and scholar Arnold Rampersad work to tell it in their biographies about Robinson.

Continue reading

Bob Hurley’s Hall of Fame Selection, The Miracle of St. Anthony.

Adrian Wojnarowski covers a year in the life of Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley.

A broom evokes powerful images.

For some, it is inextricably tied to witches.  J.K. Rowling gave the broom a major boost in popularity by making it the vehicle for Quidditch, the top sport in the wizarding world she created in the Harry Potter series.  For many sports fans, it is the physical embodiment of a series sweep in which the opposing team does not win a single game.

For basketball coach Bob Hurley, though, the broom is not metaphorical, but practical.  He sweeps the tiny St. Anthony’s gym in Jersey City where has coached for most of the past four decades to maintain order, claim a space and show respect for himself, his program and his players.  The former probation officer sweeps even as the school’s funding is declining, its facilities are crumbling and its future is in doubt.  Over and over again, Hurley picks up the broom and cleans the floor where he has led his team to dozens of state championships, three national titles and 984 wins.

Last week, the 62-year-old Hurley joined basketball’s ultimate elite circle, joining DeMatha legend Morgan Wootten becoming the second high school basketball coach in history to be named to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Some have argued that Hurley’s recognition is long overdue, and this may be true.  Readers wanting to learn more about Hurley’s method and results should check out Adrian Wojnarowski’s The Miracle of St. Anthony, a chronicle of the 2003-2004 season.

Hurley’s picking up the broom and sweeping is the book’s opening and closing image. In between, one gets a year in the life of a scrappy, fearless, relentlessly working and fundamentally sound basketball team that was not expected to do well, but that ended up going undefeated, winning yet another state title and being ranked second in the nation.

Continue reading

Duke’s Championship, John Feinstein’s March to Madness.

John Feinstein's book gives some context to Coach K's latest championship.

 

It’s been three days since Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils won their fourth championship during his legendary tenure. 

Nine years after he last stood atop the college basketball world, Mike Krzyzewski’s team triumphed again Monday night, 61-59, over a gutsy and scrappy Butler Bulldogs team that captivated the nation’s hearts with their improbable run. 

The victory was only assured at the final buzzer, when a half-court shot by Butler star Gordon Hayward bounced off the rim and out, sparking a wild celebration among Duke fans and deep pain for Butler supporters. 

The championship puts Krzyzewski in elite company, tieing him with Adolph Rupp and trailing only UCLA legend John Wooden for the most championships in NCAA men’s college basketball history. 

Those looking to gain perspective and insight on the ingredients to Coach K’s success should consider reading John Feinstein’s A March to Madness. 

Continue reading

The roots of LeBron’s ascendance to become a Shooting Star

LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger collaborate on this memoir of James' early years and high school career.

These are exciting days for LeBron James.

After some minor early season struggles adjusting to playing with fading superstar Shaquille O’Neal, his Cleveland Cavaliers are riding an 11-game winning streak and sit  atop the league’s standings.

He is putting up video-game like statistics on a nightly basis, often bringing out even more jaw dropping dimensions to his game in the process.  His most recent revelations: channeling Michael Jordan’s “spectacular move” in the 1991 finals against the Los Angeles Lakers when he started going for a right hand dunk, switched gears in mid-air, and went to his left hand off the glass; and putting on a three-point shooting display against the New York Knicks that saw him draining shots from closer and closer to half court and had the Knicks admit later that they were standing around and watching him in awe.

And he’s looking at possibly the most lucrative contract in league history this summer, when he could become a free agent.

The “smart money” says James is headed to the bright lights of New York, the nation’s cultural capital and the base for close friend Jay-Z.

I’m not so sure.

The Cavaliers are built to maintain their elite status for the foreseeable future. James already has all the exposure he could possibly want.

Above all, he’s deeply tied to Ohio and his hometown of Akron.

James and Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger explain just how deep the bond runs in Shooting Stars, James’ memoir of growing up in Akron and forging unshakable times with his basketball teammates and brothers as they set out on their quest to win a national championship.

James comes from humble roots, and writes openly about moving around many times during his early years after his then-16-year-old mother Gloria gave birth to him.

He also talks about learning to play basketball and his dawning awareness of his emerging talents.

But Shooting Stars is at base a paean to the brotherhood he formed with Dru Joyce, or “Little Dru”, burly big man Sian Cotton, hard-headed Romeo Travis, and mature role player Willie Cotton during the course of their years playing first on an AAU team, and then later for Catholic School St. Vincent-St. Mary.

In a move that basketball fans will recognize as typical of how James plays the game, he shifts a lot of the attention to his teammates.

Other reviews have criticized the book for James’ venting at the media and for giving insufficient insight into James’ inner thoughts, and I will say that I found the language a bit stilted and unnatural sounding at parts.   His articulation of, and movement toward, the realization of the dream the teammates hatched also feels a tad formulaic.

That said,  James writes openly about how he is haunted by his failure to deliver in a precious few games during the course of his record-setting his school career, and how he remembers those moments far more vividly than the myriad successes he achieved.

I could relate to that.

I still remember poor decisions I made at the end of two YMCA League games on a team with my brother Mike and our dear friend Arthur Sneider in 1993.

Beyond that, James also speaks about the arrogance and dissension that gripped the team during its junior year and contributed to that being the only season in which they did not win the state championship.   To some degree, this disharmony came about due to the coaching change from the fiery Keith Dambrot,  a white coach whose use of a racial epithet had led to the implosion of his NCAA coaching career, to Dru Joyce, or Big Dru.

As Shakespeare famously wrote, though, all’s well that ends well, and the reader can rest assured that life on and off the court has a happy ending, at least through the end of high school.

Shooting Stars may not be great literature, but it is an entertaining look at one of the sporting world’s greatest stars, who is possibly heading toward his first of many NBA championships and who faces a possibly career changing decision this summer.

Super Bowl Sunday, Dart Resources, Post-Katrina books

People hungry for Super Bowl Sunday reading should check out Neal Thompson's Hurricane Season.

As everyone in America who has not been a recluse the past 13 days knows, tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday.

The match up has the makings of a classic, even as the games have all too often ended up as overhyped blowouts that leaves companies that paid more than $2.5 million per slot frantically hoping viewers don’t start channel surfing.

Personally, I’m rooting for the Saints to topple the Colts and win their first Super Bowl in the franchise’s 43-year history.

Already profound, the meaning the team has had for the town and Gulf region has only deepened since Aug. 28, 2005, the day that New Orleans life changed permanently due to the wreckage and devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.

The Dart Society, on whose board I am proud to serve, has strong ties to New Orleans.

Photographer and 2009 photographer John McCusker was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team that documented life after the hurricane.

The work and the dislocation took its toll, and McCusker had an episode that some called “suicide by cop.”

Fellow Board Member Mike Walter tells the story of McCusker’s recovery and the Society’s effort to contribute to rebuilding the region in Breaking News, Breaking Down, a documentary film that has been shown worldwide and garnered multiple prizes.

Natalie Pompilio, a Dart Fellow in 2001 who eventually moved back to New Orleans for several years after the hurricane, also appears in Walter’s film.

There were a host of books written about New Orleans, many of which appeared just around the year anniversary.

Those looking for a football-oriented book to match tomorrow should think about checking out Neal Thompson’s Hurricane Season, a book that tells the story of the team at the John Curtis Christian School.  A comparatively diverse private school, John Curtis’ team is lead by J.T. Curtis, son of the school’s founder and one of the winningest high school football coaches in the country.

His entire family is involved with the team, and the commitment only intensifies in Katrina’s aftermath.  Thompson writes with insight and emotion about the team’s struggle to come together as a team after the hurricane while also dealing with unimaginable loss.

Those looking for a more panoptic look at Katrina should check out Jed Horne’s Breach of Faith.  A Times-Picayune metro editor, Horne brings outrage to this meticulously reported and deeply felt account of the massively bungled response to the catastrophe.  The strength of this book lies in Horne’s portraits of people like Ivor van Heerden, a climatologist who openly criticized the Bush Administration’s response.

The Epic Life of Satchel Paige

Larry Tye tells the story of the colorful and ageless Satchel Paige.

Growing up in Boston during the 70s and 80s, I was a die-hard Celtics fan.

The 70s saw the Cs earn their first-two titles after the glorious and unprecedented 11 rings in 13 season known simply as the Russell era.

Toward the end of the decade, though, the team was in serious decline-a period that reached its nadir during the 77-78 and 78-79 seasons.  Under the ownership of former Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown, the once proud franchise stumbled through two of its worst seasons and a selfish brand of basketball that for many was epitomized by Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe.

Tom “Satch” Sanders was the coach during part of the first of those seasons.  I did not realize, and was quite skeptical when my father told me, that the soft-spoken bespectacled man had played on half a dozen championship squads during the heyday and waning years dominated by Russell.

I also did not realize that his nickname came from a baseball player.

The Alabama-born, rubber-armed and ageless Leroy ‘Satchel’ Paige had earned his place as one of America’s sporting legend decades before my birth.

Larry Tye has written Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend, a biography of Paige that my dad and stepmother gave me and that tells the story of Paige’s fabulous life

I use the word fabulous deliberately because Paige seemed to obfuscate just about every significant detail about himself: his age; the number of teams he played for; the number of women he dated and married; and other more and less important information.

Certain stories from Paige changed from the first of his two memoirs to the second.

Tye spends a certain amount of time trying to uncover the truth in all of these accounts, and Satchel is more devoted to extolling Paige’s durability, his antics on and off the field, and the charismatic persona he cultivated.

By any standard, Paige had a remarkable career.

Whatever date one uses for his birth, there is little doubt that he joined the major leagues in his 40s, when he pitched effectively for the World Series-winning Cleveland Indians.

He also pitched three innings of scoreless ball at age 59, when he tutored then-rookie Jim “Catfish” Hunter in pitching ins and outs.

His persona was nearly as important as his pitching ability.  An inveterate prankster and storyteller who loved to be at the center of attention, whether he was pitching in Cuba, the United States, or anywhere else, Paige had a magnetic charm that few could resist.

Satchel is not just the tale of a genial sports icon, though.

Tye presents a generally admiring portrait of Paige that includes a warts and all element with his detailing the pitcher’s constant infidelity and erratic attention to other family members.

Tye argues that Paige is an unsung pioneer in the struggle for baseball’s racial integration-a feat that many know happened in modern times when Jackie Robinson broke the color line by playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947.

Robinson’s selection hurt Paige deeply. 

The two men had little regard for each other: Paige thought he had been unfairly bypassed and derided Robinson’s playing abilities, while Robinson considered Paige little more than an Uncle Tom figure.

Tye maintains that Paige’s captaining black teams that barnstormed against white stars and his integrating a team in the 30s in one of the Dakotas constituted putting the key in the door that Robinson ultimately opened.

Jim Trapp, our IT head and resident expert on all things baseball, does not agree, and I must say that Tye’s argument was less than fully convincing.

Tye explains that he began the work’s germination came during his research for Rising From the Rails, his book about Pullman porters.    I enjoyed the previous work more, and found myself at times laboring to get through the Paige book. 

I did end up learning more about a unique American whose influence clearly extended beyond baseball.  Still, to paraphrase the master himself, I wouldn’t criticize you if you put this book down and didn’t look back.