Friday, December 2, 2022

Review of "The Blood and Guts"

I started this book on the Thanksgiving holiday, when football is on the mind of most sports fans who celebrate the holiday, and while it took a little time to complete, this was probably one of the more interesting and fun books I have read on the sport.  Here is my review of a book on tight ends, "The Blood and Guts"


Title/Author:

“The Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football” by Tyler Dunn

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

The position of tight end in football is one of the most challenging positions. For a player to excel in this position, he must have the strength to block defensive linemen who may weigh over 300 pounds, be smart enough to read pass coverage by linebackers and safeties, and also be quick enough to outrun 180-pound cornerbacks. But as any football fan knows, there are many who have not only played this position but have done so at a very high level.  Some of these exceptional tight ends are profiled in this entertaining book by Tyler Dunn.

It should be noted that this is not a ranking of the best players to play the position and it is not meant to be taken that just because a player is not profiled that he would not be considered one of the best to have suited up at tight end.  It starts with Mike Ditka, who began the change of strategy in the use of tight ends to be effective pass receivers as well as blockers.  Dunn interviews and shares the stories of 15 tight ends from Ditka to George Kittle and in between, there are so many interesting stories, on-field recaps and very personal memories.

Of the memories and stories, I felt the most emotional ones were for Dallas Clark (who lost his mother to a heart attack) and for Jimmy Graham, who was literally dropped off by his mother at a group home with his clothes in a garbage bag.  Those two stories both resulted in producing great tight ends who would stop at nothing to succeed.  The circumstances are very different and their paths were certainly not identical, but they both made for compelling reading.

That isn’t to say that every player profiled in this book had tragic or hard stories. Some were out of fear (hard to believe Tony Gonzalez didn’t want to play football because he was afraid of the hard contact), some were just from the “boys being boys” category (Jeremy Shockey’s battles with his siblings) and some were just fun (Rob Gronkowski is probably the most notable party animal). But they, along with all the other tight ends profiled, had in common an unquenchable appetite for success and an incredible work ethic to make sure he did his best to achieve that success.

It should also be noted that while the actual game text is not plentiful in this book, the plays and games that are covered are recapped in an excellent manner.  The most compelling of these is one of the most incredible individual performances in NFL history – Kellen Winslow’s performance in the 1982 playoffs for the San Diego Charges in their memorable win over the Miami Dolphins.  That is just one example of the in-game coverage that is very good when it is presented in the context of that player’s story.

Football fans who remember many of the great tight ends since the era of Ditka and John Mackey will love reading about these players, their stories and their performances.  For me, this book was much like Gronkowski’s early NFL career – just a lot of fun to read.

I wish to thank Twelve Books for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

Link: https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Guts-Tight-Ends-Football/dp/1538723743/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Review of “Together”

Admittedly, I was disappointed when North Carolina ended the miracle run of St. Peter’s in the 2022 NCAA men’s basketball tourney. But that was gone the next week when UNC and Duke had their classic game in the semifinals. The entire season for Carolina is captured in this book - here is my review of “Together” 


Title/Author:

“Together: The Amazing Story of Carolina Basketball’s 2021-2022 Season” by Adam Lucas, Steve Kirschner and Matt Bowers


Rating

4 of 5 stars (very good)


Review:

When the University of North Carolina’s men’s basketball team reached the Final Four in 2022, it was a complete surprise. It was the first year for coach Hubert Davis, a former Tar Heel player who reached the Final Four during his playing days. The story of how he and his players reached the Final Four is told here in this book co-authored by three writers.


This is more than just a game-by-game recap of the season, although there are brief write-ups of each game played by the Tar Heels, non-conference, conference play and the NCAA tournament. There were bumps along the way - some blowout losses were suffered by the team but they pulled together to have a very good conference record and a magical run in the tourney. Their last two wins are the most notable - ending the Cinderella run of the St. Peter’s Peacocks in the regional finals, then a classic game against arch rival Duke to make the championship game. While it ended with a loss to Kansas in that tilt, it didn’t diminish the team’s accomplishments and the book’s writing about Davis and some of his players confirms this. 

It is clear in the interviews with Davis that he infused confidence in his team and brought some innovation into Carolina basketball, such as utilizing his guards more, unlike the legendary coaches who made UNC famous for its use of centers. Although Davis even changed that a little as he drew up more plays in which his center Brady Manek (whose chapter made for great reading) took many three-point shots. The book was an excellent source of learning about the basketball sense of the first-year coach.

Manek was just one of the players whose backstory was told and while not every player had his own chapter, the reader will learn much about these players and how they played well together at the right time.  This book is completed by great photography and action shots for most of the games played by the Tar Heels and a reader can understand the story of the 2021-22 North Carolina basketball team through pictures as well as words. UNC fans will love this book about an unlikely run to the championship game.


I wish to thank University of North Carolina Press for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.


Link: https://uncpress.org/book/9781469672762/together/ 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Review of "The Education of Kendrick Perkins"

 While I usually review books closer to or after their release date, this February release was picked for me in a reading challenge, and I met the challenge.  I am glad I did as this is one of the better sports memoirs I have read, and I have read plenty.  Here is my review of "The Education of Kendrick Perkins."


Title/Author:

“The Education of Kendrick Perkins: A Memoir” by Kendrick Perkins with Seth Rogoff 

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

Kendrick Perkins has made the most of his opportunity to become a professional basketball player at the age of 18.  He left his home in Beaumont, Texas for Boston as a high school player who was going to attempt to make the leap to the NBA.  He was successful in that goal, but not without bumps along the way.  He may not have become as big a star as other players who made that leap such as Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett, but he did enjoy a good playing career and is now one of the more recognizable commentators on ESPN.  He not only talks about basketball but also social and racial issues.  He tackles all of those, plus his thoughts on fatherhood in this excellent memoir.

He starts the book by describing his departure from Beaumont and just from that chapter, the reader will know that this is not going to be the typical memoir, describing the author’s life from childhood to the present.  Perkins reflects on many different issues as well as basketball.  He concentrates on those issues that are important to the Black community.  That doesn’t make this book or even this memoir that unique, but it is the manner in which he speaks to those issues that makes it special.

One example of this is his comparison of the literary character Biggie Thomas to the struggles many Black men face in real life.  He also talks about these issues from a position of either a well-considered opinion or makes statements with factual evidence.  This not only lends credibility to his work, but it also shows how much he cares about the issues.  It should also be noted that he stays away from generalized statements accusing groups of people and instead concentrates on either the results of racial inequality or what needs to be addressed instead of assigning blame.  It makes for better reading even if some material may make some readers uncomfortable.

For his writing on basketball, he concentrates more on the personal relationships he had with players, coaches and management for the teams he played on – the Boston Celtics, Oklahoma City Thunder and New Orleans Pelicans.  He talks most about the first two of those teams.  He was part of the Celtics teams that made the NBA finals twice in three years and winning the title in 2008.  Notably, the teammate he talks most about during those years is Garnett, another high-school-to-NBA success story.  Perkins also doesn’t just talk about points and rebounds in his basketball sections.  As one example, his explanation of what a team must do to play effective defensive basketball was excellent.    

As one of the better sports memoirs I have read, I believe the title is a little misleading.  While Perkins may have gained an education in his life experiences, I believe this book will also provide an education to the reader, especially about the experiences of Blacks.  This is highly recommended for not only basketball fans, but also for readers who want to know more about racial issues affecting the United States.

I wish to thank St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Link: The Education of Kendrick Perkins: A Memoir: Perkins, Kendrick, Rogoff, Seth: 9781250280343: Amazon.com: Books

 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Review of "Warrior"

As I am always on the lookout for good boxing book, I was happy to see a request come from the publisher of this book for a review.  I did remember that Matthew Saad Muhammad had some of the most punishing bouts I saw in the era of great boxing in the 1970's and 1980's.  Here is my review of his biography, "Warrior." 


 

Title/Author:

“Warrior: Matthew Saad Muhammad: A Champion’s Incredible Search for His Identity” by Tris Dixon

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

The story of Matthew Saad Muhammad, a former boxing champion with some of the most brutal bouts in the history of the sport, is quite fascinating.  This is true whether one is interested in his childhood and rise to stardom, his boxing career with many high points and the inevitable decline or his story after that career is over.  Each part of his life is covered in great detail in this book by Tris Dixon.

Saad Muhammad was born as Maxwell Loach and he was sent to be raised by his aunt when his mother died while he was an infant.  Then the aunt ordered Maxwell’s brother to get rid of him.  He was eventually raised in an orphanage where he was given the name Matthew Franklin.  That story alone would be worth the price of the book had Dixon decided to just write about that, but fortunately for the reader, he went well beyond that.

For books on boxers, while I enjoy their personal stories, I prefer to read the pages on their boxing careers, from when they start out with the four-round bouts up to their rise to contender or champion and even their eventual downfall (unless the name is Rocky Marciano).  Here is where this book shines.  Dixon does a masterful job of researching and writing about Matthew’s rise in the ranks and eventual light heavyweight championship.  The descriptions of his first bout in 1978 with Yaqui Lopez (an 11th round knockout) and the bout with Marvin Johnson in 1979 where Matthew won the title are just as good in this book as if the reader is following along while watching those bouts on any classic sports streaming service or YouTube. 

Like in the book, this review uses “Matthew” often when referring to the subject of the book as he changed his name to Matthew Saad Muhammad after winning the title and converting to Islam.  It is noteworthy to do so as that made it easier while reading the book, not having to concern oneself as to what time frame Dixon is referring to in the description.

Lastly, Matthew’s life after boxing is covered in very good detail as well.  As often happens to boxers once they no longer are considered invincible, their personal life takes a decline as well – in Matthew’s case, it went all the way to becoming homeless for awhile. He eventually was able to make his final years meaningful with his campaigns for homelessness awareness.  This, too, is covered in very good detail by Dixon.

Boxing fans who recall the exciting and hard hitting bouts of Matthew will want to read this one – every exciting fight for the man many considered to be the toughest fighter at any weight class in that era will be excited to relive some of those great fights.  Anything that a reader wants to find out about him will be found in this book.

I wish to thank Pitch Publishing for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link: Amazon.com: Warrior: A Champion's Incredible Search for His Identity: 9781801500708: Dixon, Tris: Books

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Review of "Barkley"

As one who has always admired Charles Barkley, whether on or off the basketball court, I was very excited to pick up this book.  It was quite good.  Here is my review of Timothy Bella's biography of Barkley.

Title/Author:

“Barkley: A Biography” by Tim Bella

Rating: 

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

Whether one is familiar with Charles Barkley as a basketball player or as a broadcaster for TNT’s coverage of the NBA, he is sure to be entertaining and possibly controversial, but always refreshingly honest.  Those traits are on full display in this very good biography of Barkley by Tim Bella.

The amount of material on Barkley, even without the direct participation by the subject, that was obtained by Bella through research and interviews was amazing. The sections on Barkley’s childhood and youth was especially impressive given these limitations.  From those beginnings, a reader will see why Barkley became the person he did, given the strength and guidance he received from his mother and grandmother.  Like many other biographies of Black athletes, sadly Barkley had to grow up in Leeds, Alabama without a father figure in his life, but he was able to discover basketball to not only avoid crime, but also to eventually earn a college scholarship to Auburn University.

While at Auburn, not only did Barkley become a superstar college player and make the War Eagles noticed in the basketball world as well as football, but it was also here when his weight was as big a story as his scoring or rebounding. His appetite for fast food seemed to be as big as his thunderous dunks and it was always a source of contention for coaches and the press, from high school to the NBA.  Some of the anecdotes about this aspect of Barkley’s personality are hilarious, some are dead serious, but all are important to understanding the type of person Bella is portraying. 

The same goes for Barkley’s many controversial statements and incidents.  The most famous, and the one that Bella explores in depth, is the Nike commercial in which Barkley declares that he is not a role model.  Bella does an excellent job of covering all aspects of this topic, as both supporters and detractors of this statement are interviewed. The same type of balanced writing is present in Barkley’s other issues, such as when he meant to spit at a heckler while playing for the 76ers, but instead it landed on an 8-year-old girl.  That incident, and Barkley’s reaction and treatment of the young girl well into adulthood for her, showed the gentler side of Barkley, which Bella also portrays well.

Of course, there is Barkley’s time on the basketball court and his time with three teams.  It was in Philadelphia where his NBA fame started and grew with the 76ers.  When he wanted out of the City of Brotherly Love, he won even more accolades, including being named the MVP of the NBA while leading the Phoenix Suns into the NBA Finals in 1993. The Suns fell short of winning a championship and while they were still a formidable team, they never reached the Finals again during Barkley’s time there, which ended in 1996 when he was traded to the Houston Rockets for one last shot at a title, that didn’t happen.  He was forced to retire due to injuries, playing his last game in 2000. This is the heart of Bella’s writing and there is a great deal of detail on Barkley’s time with all three teams as well as his college career with Auburn and both Olympic teams Barkley was a part of while a professional player.  The Dream Team of 1992 is covered as well as the 1996 team that also won a gold medal.  Whatever portion of Barkley’s basketball career a reader wants to know about, he or she is sure to find new material in this book.

While I generally enjoy this level of detail about the sport in any type of book, here it was so detailed that it made the story of Barkley’s life slow down and at times I wasn’t sure which season was being described, especially during his time with the Suns and Rockets.  It is still the most complete book on Charles Barkley that one can read right now, even more than his two memoirs.  This is recommended for all Barkley fans.

I wish to thank Hanover Square Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Link: Barkley: A Biography: Bella, Timothy: 9781335484970: Amazon.com: Books

 

Monday, November 7, 2022

Review of "Uphill"

This was not a book that I sought - a request to review this came to me unexpectedly and also unexpectedly, I enjoyed it immensely.  Her candidness was what made this memoir an excellent read.  Here is my review of "Uphill"


Title/Author:

“Uphill: A Memoir” by Jemele Hill

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

It isn’t often that a sports broadcaster will be the main topic in a debate on social issues, but Jemele Hill became one in 2017 when she named then-President Donald Trump in a series of tweets.  She was a host on ESPN’s SportsCenter at that time and while her tweets set off a firestorm of responses in the media, it was not that surprising that she took the action that she did from those that know her.  In her memoir “Uphill”, she shows readers how she came to be the outspoken person that viewers saw.

This review is not going to engage in whether or not her opinions are right or wrong, nor will it turn into a discussion about the issues she raises in the book on race and inequity.  Instead, it will focus on the quality of the writing and the authenticity a reader will see into Hill’s life.  In both cases, this is excellent.  For the writing, Hill does so in an engaging manner that is both easy to digest and makes her opinions clear.

As for coming across as genuine, Hill does that as well.  There really is nothing phony about her opinions. This has always been her style, no matter the sport or the topic, from her days studying journalism at Michigan State to her work for various newspapers, for ESPN and currently for the Atlantic.  Even though she is mostly known for her work on television (which also resulted in her highest salary), she does state that she enjoys writing much more than television work.  That is clear in these pages.

What was also an unexpected positive while reading this book was how she was also showing her vulnerability, especially when it came to her personal life.  Her relationships, both romantic and familial, are on full display here. She talks about what was good and wasn’t.  She also talks about her spiritual life and how her experiences shaped her life.  Something that should be noted is that while she gained notoriety because of her outspokenness on racial issues, if one reads this book with an open mind then one will appreciate how she came to her conclusions whether that reader agrees or disagrees.

There isn’t a lot of sports talk in this book despite her career success in sports journalism.  That doesn’t mean there isn’t any sports discussion, but they are usually the background or the set-up for a larger discussion on her life or issues in which she has passion.  This was one of the better memoirs that I have read this year and it was so because I was able to put aside any pre-conceived notions I had of her work and just let her tell her story. 

I wish to thank Press Box Publicity for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Link: Uphill: A Memoir: Hill, Jemele: 9781250624376: Amazon.com: Books

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Review of "The Fireballer"

Continuing my goal of reviewing more fictional sports stories, I was able to obtain an advance copy of this novel due out in January 2023 and it was fantastic.  It was a very moving story about a pitching phenom and an event that has been on his mind for many years.  Here is my review of "The Fireballer."

Title/Author: “The Fireballer: A Novelby Mark Stevens

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: The best way to begin a review of this book is to ask a few “what if?” questions.  What if a rookie pitcher for the Baltimore Orioles has set the baseball world abuzz with pitches that exceed 105 miles an hour?  What if batters are so helpless trying to get a hit off this pitcher that Major League Baseball is contemplating rule changes to limit the speed of pitches?  What if this pitcher has a dark secret that has been haunting him since his days of Little League Baseball?  These questions, and many more, are the heart of this outstanding baseball novel by Mark Stevens. 

Frank Ryder has an amazing fastball, an uncanny means of keeping an even keel both on the mound and at a press conference but an unfortunate event when he was 12 has been weighing heavily on his mind.  For such a complex character, Stevens does a wonderful job of portraying Frank in a manner that every reader who picks up this book will be cheering for him, baseball fan or not. 

That is because while the book is full of baseball (more on that later), the non-baseball parts of the book and Frank’s life are wonderfully written and the reader will find out a lot about the pitcher whose fastball is unhittable, but whose psyche is very fragile. Other characters in the book such as Frank’s long distance girlfriend Maggie, his brother Josh (a minor league catcher) and the owner and manager of the Orioles are also well developed and characters the readers can connect with, even if they are not baseball fans.

However, with the many chapters that talk about baseball, specifically the games in which Frank pitches and the pennant race that involves his Orioles team, a baseball fan will truly enjoy this book.  It addresses many issues that the game faces today – the “unwritten rules” that must be followed, the use of analytics, the lack of offense as pitchers are becoming faster, and even media coverage of the game.  For a fictional book on the game, it has an authentic feel to the state of the sport.  Even how one of those “unwritten rules” are discussed and handled by players, which is at the core of why Frank is facing his demons from that time long ago in the middle of a spectacular season.

This review cannot do justice for how much I enjoyed reading this book.  Not just for the baseball, but for the various messages it tells about self-reflection and the care and compassion shown to Frank by those who either are close to him or whose thoughts were sought out by him.  The book is just as big a winner as Frank’s won-loss record.

I wish to thank Lake Union Publishing for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Link: The Fireballer: A Novel: Stevens, Mark: 9781662505638: Amazon.com: Books