Monday, February 28, 2022

Review of "We the North"

While not the most recent NBA champion, this book on the Toronto Raptors was an enjoyable read and their second round win in game 7 against Philadelphia is a moment etched in my basketball memory.  Here is my review of a book on the Raptors, "We the North"

Title/Author: “We the North: 25 Years of the Toronto Raptors” by Doug Smith

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:  When one thinks of sports in Canada in general and Toronto in particular, the first one that comes to mind is hockey.  Yet, while the city’s NHL team has not won a title since 1967, the Toronto Raptors of the NBA won the Larry O’Brien Trophy in 2019 and in doing so, made it be known that basketball has a place in the country as well.  Doug Smith has been reporting on the Raptors for every year of their existence and shares his stories in this book.

It is easy to see that Smith is not only very knowledgeable about the Raptors, but also about the game itself.  His writing about the early days of the Raptors and how they came about illustrate not only those years about the team, but about the NBA in general.  For that time frame, his accounts of what first Damon Stoudamire and later Vince Carter meant to the team and the city.  It was especially nice to read about how Carter gave credibility to the team – not only for his individual achievements but also for how the team improved as well, going from the expansion growth pains to making the playoffs.

Smith is equally good when he writes about the post-Carter years and how the team seemed stuck despite finding talented players such as DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.  He writes glowingly about both of these players.  It was really evident how much DeRozan felt a connection to the city and the team when he was crying when learning that he was traded to the San Antonio Spurs in 2018 for Kawai Leonard.  Smith’s writing about DeRozan almost felt like a love fest – but I won’t call it over the top because it is an accurate description of the city’s relationship with him.

The subsequent single season that Leonard spent in Toronto, capped off by the 2019 NBA championship, is covered well, but the reading is not quite as good as the human interest type of stories that fills this book.  However, the best basketball writing is in this part, with a passage that compares two buzzer-beating shots in game 7’s 18 years apart in Raptors history.  In 2001, Vince Carter launched a shot in game 7 of the second round series against the Philadelphia 76ers.  In 2019, Leonard did the same thing, in the same round of the playoffs against the same team.  In 2001, the shot was close, but not good.  In 2019, the ball hit the rim four times before going in.  The comparison between the two was excellent – even better than Smith’s writing about the championship and subsequent celebration.

Overall, this is an enjoyable book for any basketball fan, but especially Raptors fans.  Smith certainly knows the Raptors and the NBA and it shows throughout the book.

Link:  We the North: 25 Years of the Toronto Raptors: Smith, Doug, Carter, Vince: 9780735240360: Books


Monday, February 21, 2022

Review of "The Cup They Couldn't Lose"

With the weather getting warmer, golfers are getting the itch to head back out to the course - at least those in colder weather areas.  Since the courses here in upstate NY are not ready yet, I am satisfying that urge by reading about golf.  This was a terrific choice as it's an excellent book on the Ryder Cup.


Title/Author: “The Cup They Couldn’t Lose: America, the Ryder Cup and the Long Road to Whistling Straits” by Shane Ryan

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Considered to be the premier team event in golf, the Ryder Cup tournament started as a contest between the best golfers in the United States and England.  Later in its history, the England team was expanded to include all of Europe and the matches always generate a large amount of interest by golfers, fans and the media.  The 2021 Ryder Cup was no exception.  The work of US captain Steve Stricker to get his team to pull out a victory is the major topic of this excellent book by Shane Ryan.

Reading just the title may make one believe the book is just about the 2021 Ryder Cup, which by itself makes an interesting story especially when one considers it was delayed by a year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  However, the book is MUCH more than that – it is basically a history book of the Ryder Cup and much of this information is helpful in understanding the strategy involved in the decisions made by Stricker.

This history can best be described as a roller coaster as for nearly 50 years, the event was dominated by the Americans – so much so that it was nearly ended on multiple occasions.  But in the 1980’s, primarily through the innovative thinking by European captain Tony Jacklin and also helped by one of the best players in Ryder Cup history, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, Europe started winning the event regularly and even won tournaments on American soil, something that was never done before Jacklin changed the European strategy.

Ryan writes about these people and so many more who are important in Ryder Cup history for both sides from a position of knowledge and ability to obtain inside information.  As a result, any golf fan is in for a real treat when reading this as it is a book that will grab your attention and hold it for the duration.  While one does have to have a serious interest in the game to truly enjoy the book, it is certainly worth the time to invest to learn about the history and specifically the challenges for the American team in the 2021 version of the Cup.  An outstanding book for any golfer’s bookshelf.

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

Link:  The Cup They Couldn't Lose: America, the Ryder Cup, and the Long Road to Whistling Straits: Ryan, Shane: 9780306874413: Books

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Review of "Pinnacle on the Mound"

It's only fitting to read and review a baseball book during Super Bowl weekend, correct?  Needing a break from all the Bengals and Rams talk, this book was a very good, quick read on some of baseball's best pitchers from the last 50 years.  Here is my review of "Pinnacle on the Mound."

Title/Author: “Pinnacle on the Mound: Cy Young Winners Talk Baseball” by Doug Wedge

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Given each year to the outstanding pitchers in the American and National League, the Cy Young award is the culmination of an outstanding season and the hard work that goes into achieving this honor.  Ten winners of this award, spanning a time frame of 50 years, shared their stories and the keys to their success with author Doug Wedge.

From the two winners in 1967, Jim Lonborg and Mike McCormick to the 2017 American League winner Corey Kluber, each of these men talk about the people who helped and supported them on their way to the award as well as the changes and the particular pitches that each one threw that made them so tough for the hitters.  Each pitcher’s story is interesting in its own way.  This reviewer was especially riveted to the story of R.A. Dickey, the 2012 National League winner and his use of the knuckleball.  Pitchers who use that pitch as the main one in their arsenal are rare and when he won the honor, Dickey dedicated that award to all of the knuckleball pitchers before him, such as Hall of Famer Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, and Tom Candiotti.

It should be noted that the pitchers interviewed for the book had various degrees of career success.  While there are some who only had that one season of greatness (Dickey, Randy Jones), most of the pitchers portrayed had consistently good major league careers, with one of them (Dennis Eckersley) becoming a Hall of Fame inductee.  However, there were stages for all of them when they had a defining moment that either made a mediocre career better or a good one even better because of that coach, veteran pitcher or change in their mental games in order to achieve the crowing glory that one can earn for the course of a season. 

While each of these ten men may have earned the Cy Young with different pitches or different mentors, they all have the same characteristic of knowing that they had to do something special or something different in order to become better pitchers and help their teams achieve more success.  This is a book that baseball fans will want to read to gain some nuances into pitching and learning from Cy Young award winners is a good place to do so.

I wish to thank Rowman and Littlefield for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.



Friday, February 11, 2022

Review of "Giannis"

After winning their first championship in 50 years, the Milwaukee Bucks and their star player Giannis Antetokounmpo piqued my interest and finding this book was a way to learn more about the "Greek Freak" - which really is not a great nickname for him as a reader will grow to admire this man, whether or not they are a Bucks fan.  Here is my review of his biography. 

Title/Author: “Giannis: The Improbably Rise of an NBA MVP” by Mirin Fader

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:  Giannis Antetokounmpo is currently one of the biggest stars in professional basketball. He is the best player on the Milwaukee Bucks, the 2021 NBA champions and Giannis was named the MVP of the Finals as well as being the league’s MVP the previous season.  His rise to fame is a very inspiring story and this biography by Mirin Fader is a wonderful telling of Giannis’ story.

His story starts in Greece, where he and his brothers Alex and Thanasis were raised by loving parents who were refugees from Nigeria.  The family was poor – at times it was hard to read about how little food they had.  When Giannis started playing basketball and had the drive to continuously work on his game, he started to get noticed by first Greek coaches and then scouts from other nations as well. Through it all, Giannis remained humble but focused solely on improving his game.

He did so enough that the Bucks decided to take a chance on drafting him after meeting him in Greece.  His story soon after signing a contract for more money than he could imagine was very interesting reading as well, as he had trouble adjusting to living with the privileges being an NBA player and the associated money brought him.  It was enjoyable to read about him not only sending money to his family (and eventually brining them to the United States) but also how he would still live frugally after being used to doing that for so long.  Giannis’ manners and polite but firm discussions with his coaches also are frequently documented to give the reader a complete picture of his personality.

As for his basketball, his rise to fame also came with bumps in the road.  His determination to play against the best players in the league came at a price, especially early in his NBA career before building up his muscles.  I loved reading about Giannis’s determination and insistence on guarding Carmelo Anthony in his rookie year.  That he wanted to test himself against, at that time, one of the best players in the league said volumes to his work ethic – something that Fader writes about frequently.

Like Giannis himself, the Bucks also saw their play and their fortunes rise, culminating in their 2021 championship.  While this book was written before that occurred, it doesn’t diminish the quality of writing in this book and the complete telling of the story of one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game today.  A must read for today’s basketball fan.

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

Link: Giannis: The Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP eBook : Fader, Mirin: Kindle Store

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Review of "Unguarded"

While I cannot call myself a fan of the Chicago Bulls' run of championships in the 1990's, I did enjoy watching them.  So when I saw that Scottie Pippen has written his memoir, I wanted to pick up a copy, but waited a little while for the hype to die down and see what other readers thought.  Those reviews didn't affect my decision - still picked it up and I am glad I did.  Here is my review of "Unguarded"

Title/Author: “Unguarded” by Scottie Pippen

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: To state the obvious, when the Chicago Bulls won six NBA titles in eight years during the 1990’s, they were led by one of the greatest players in the history of the game, Michael Jordan.  However, there was also another Hall of Fame player on those teams who at times felt like he was not given his proper due.  In this memoir, Scottie Pippen gets to tell his version of the Bulls’ championship years as well as other stories from his life and career.

This book may come across to some readers as whining, complaining or bitterness because of Pippen’s criticism of several people. These include the general manager of the Bulls during that time, Jerry Krause; his first coach in Chicago Doug Collins and his future teammate in Houston Charles Barkley. There is also criticism of Jordan – that is how the book starts out with Pippen’s account of how he felt upon the airing of the documentary “The Last Dance” in April 2020. It is true that Pippen did feel that the team and his teammates slighted him many times, on and off the court. Because he did not deny this and instead explained why he was upset about certain issues was something I liked about the book and Pippen’s stories.

This does not necessarily mean that I would agree with everything he said or that because of his explanation I would change my opinion of what he did, but the honesty is refreshing.  He doesn’t care whether one agrees or disagrees with him, whether they like it or loathe it, he just tells his version. This does clarify some things, most notably his decision to sit on the bench instead of inbound the ball with 1.8 seconds left in a 1994 playoff game.  It is something that so many remember about Pippen (which is a shame because he was so much better than this one incident) that he dedicated an entire chapter of the book on this, titles “1.8 Seconds.”  Just like the rest of the book, he simply describes his version and why he did what he did.  Let the reader draw their own conclusion.

His relationship with Jordan is also explained honestly, in Pippen’s viewpoint. Yes, they did not always come across as the best of friends, but to call them enemies would not be accurate, at least according to Pippen. His explanation is basically that Jordan is his own person and so is Pippen. There was respect, even with the anger Pippen felt after “The Last Dance” but there was never any overt hostility.

One other aspect of this book I really liked was his writing about the important games with the Bulls, especially those in their playoff runs.  He mixes play-by-play accounts with his vision of the game on the court and some of the more memorable occurrences.  One story that I thought would generate more text but was really kept short was Pippen’s famous remark to Utah Jazz great Karl Malone in the NBA Finals that the “Mailman” (Malone’s nickname) doesn’t deliver and that made Malone miss a key free throw.  He downplays that event but does play up other key moments whether he was involved or another teammate.

Pippen does write about other teammates as well, such as Dennis Rodman, Horace Grant and Charles Oakley.  He is just as frank with his opinions of them as he is very grateful for those who helped him get to the NBA.  He speaks reverently about his parents, his high school and college coaches (even if one of them was very tough on him) and others who helped steer him on his path to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

This book won’t change one’s mind about Pippen whether a reader liked him or not, or felt that he would complain too much or that he was not given his proper respect for his role in the Bulls dynasty.  Regardless, if one is a fan of the Bulls dynasty or of professional basketball at that time, this is an excellent read.

Link: Unguarded eBook : Pippen, Scottie: Kindle Store