News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
In This Issue: Spring Break Reading, When Saturday Comes Turns 30, The Fall of Johnny Football, A Midwestern Art Deco Basketball ‘Jewel’
Perhaps it was the switch to daylight savings time in the U.S. Or perhaps it was glorious sunshine and temperatures in the 80s. And there’s the start of the NCAA basketball tournaments, always the favorite event on my sporting calendar.
For those and other reasons, I pulled back a little bit on the blog this week, taking a “spring break” from fresh posts to get ahead of forthcoming Sports Biblio content plans, including reviews of new sports books, and to recharge my creative batteries.
As I explained in a post on Wednesday, this need to step away stemmed from a sense of depleted energy and misplaced focus on a previous blog. In last week’s newsletter I felt some of those same pangs return when I waxed on far too long about the 10th anniversary of the Duke lacrosse scandal.
The “30 for 30” film about that case aired Sunday on ESPN, and the injustice done to those players, aided by some abysmal journalism, made my blood boil even more.
But my aim here is to give readers what I’ve been billing since I started this blog and newsletter: A deep dive into the best sports books, and great reads about sports history, arts and culture. I veered away too much from that mission last week, and for anyone taken aback by what I wrote here, I apologize.
I also got away from something that Ray Bradbury, one of my writing heroes, spelled out in “Zen in the Art of Writing,” his excellent and essential essay collection: “For the first thing a writer should be is—excited.”
I’ve also got several review books-in-waiting, and that’s another reason for the break this week from a posting new review. I did compile a list of other reviews, interviews and news about new sports books.
Stay tuned here for new reviews of “The Selling of the Babe,” “Redskins: Insult and Brand” and “Players,” a book by Matthew Futterman of The Wall Street Journal about how the business of sports—especially the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and the Olympics—grew to become so big, starting in the 1970s.
They’re all fascinating, interesting reads for so many reasons, and I can’t wait to sort them all out in the coming weeks.
Next week I’m posting about baseball history, including a look at Lawrence Ritter’s classic oral history “The Glory of Their Times.” If spring training can’t get a writer, or a fan, excited, then nothing can.
‘When Saturday Comes’ Turns 30
Earlier this week I also posted about an anniversary for the British soccer magazine “When Saturday Comes.” It was launched in March 1986, at a critical juncture for the sport in that country and Europe. This was right around the time of the Heysel and later Hillsborough stadium tragedies, and right before the creation of the English Premier League and the expansion of continental club competition.
WSC remains resolutely independent and iconoclastic in an age when slick and occasionally cynical media entities have popped up to cash in on the money and celebrity that have poured into the game.
I first saw the magazine at my nearby Barnes & Noble in the early 1990s, as the U.S. was preparing to play host to the World Cup, and it fed my interest in the game. WSC also produced several excellent books, collections of magazine pieces and other writing, that I’ve found invaluable.
Nothing tops the comical and witty magazine covers, which the WSC crew has collected in this excellent gallery. If you’ve got a print subscription, you’ve also got free access to this amazing archive.
Contributor Barney Ronay sums up what he thinks the magazine has been and continues to represent, against what I think are some long odds.
News About New Basketball Docs
With March Madness underway, college hoops gets its rare window in the American sports spotlight. On April 2, during the weekend of the Final Four, CBS and Turner Sports will air a documentary about the popular color analyst Bill Raftery.
The title of the film is “With a Kiss,” one of the affable Raftery’s many signature lines, and is produced by his son. At the age of 73, Raftery’s better than ever. During a very long day on Thursday, calling four games on the first day of the NCAA tournament, he was actually singing a little. The game was a blowout, with Kansas torturing poor little Austin Peay, but I just closed my eyes, listened, and let out a belting laugh.
Former Providence College player God Shammgod was known as much for his name as his patented crossover dribble. A forthcoming mini-documentary, “The Ascension of God” (trailer), chronicles his time as the New York City playground legend of his youth. Born Shammgod Wells, he played in the NBA for just one season, then had a long professional career overseas before “crossing over” into coaching.
A Few Good Reads
- Johnny Manziel was released, as expected, by the Cleveland Browns this week, prompting another glut of hollow, clickbait-driven stories with nothing new to reveal about the troubled former Heisman Trophy winner. At MMQB, Emily Kaplan’s piece, “The Fall of Johnny Football,” is well worth your time. Instead of exploiting the tragedy of a troubled young man, Kaplan details what was happening in his inner circle, and how his life could conceivably become even more difficult;
- More about the art and history of the jump shot at The Sporting Scene, the sports blog of The New Yorker’s website, riffing off Shawn Fury’s newly released “Rise and Fire.” Yes, it’s mostly about Stephen Curry, but Pasha Malla writes about Julius Erving, Larry Bird and more in this nifty little post;
- South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley is gradually becoming the face of her sport on the sidelines, as she was during her glittering college days at Virginia, and as an Olympic gold medalist. Good work here by Dan Wolken of USA Today;
- My friend George Vecsey writes about the 50th anniversary of Texas Western’s monumental win over Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA basketball championship game.
Sports History Files
• Another acquaintance, Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star, notes the 80th anniversary of the opening of Municipal Auditorium, an art deco masterpiece that still plays host to small-college basketball tournaments and local teams from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. I covered the Big 12 women’s tournament there a few years ago and marveled at how well-preserved the building remains;
• Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is planning to sell most of his basketball memorabilia, with the proceeds designated for charity, saying he’s “not in the museum business;”
• Seven rare Ty Cobb baseball cards, dating from 1909-1911, have been discovered by a family that wishes to remain anonymous. Forbes has more on the controversy over the ‘Lucky Seven;’
• At The Allrounder, Canadian professor Mark Norman, an editor at the Hockey in Society blog, writes about how the National Hockey League is caught between heritage and hard cash as it eyes expansion;
• There’s a new FIFA museum that has opened in Zurich, but Paula Dupraz-Dobias writes at Vice Sports that it glosses over the Sepp Blatter era;
• The University of New Mexico and Texas Tech University have received the sports broadcast collections of Connie Alexander, who called Albuquerque Dukes minor league baseball games in the 1940s and 1950s and was the longtime radio voice of the Southwest Conference.
New Sports Books News
- Longtime Chicago Sun-Times columnist Rick Telander, author of the acclaimed books “Heaven is a Playground” and “The Hundred Yard Lie,” has been named the guest editor of the 2016 edition of the “Best American Sports Writing” book to be published in the fall;
- Wayne Gretzky is publishing a hockey history book this fall to mark the 99th year of the National Hockey League;
- A couple of books of note that are being published on Tuesday in the U.S.: “Back from the Dead,” Bill Walton’s new memoir; and “When the Braves Ruled the Diamond,” by Dan Schlossberg and former manager Bobby Cox. As a longtime Braves fan, I had to wince a little about that title. Hope may spring eternal in the month of March, but my “rebuilding” team’s last season at Turner Field may feel very wintry once the games start counting in the standings.
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books, history and culture. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 33 published March 20, 2016. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website, which is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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