Sunday, July 21, 2024

Review of “Dream”

 Having read a previous biography written by this author, I was eager to pick up an advance copy of this on Hakeem Olajuwon and it did not disappoint. Here is my review of “Dream.”


“Dream: The Life and Legacy of Hakeem Olajuwon” by Mirin Fader 


5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review: In the 1984 NBA draft, Hakeem Olajuwaon was the first player selected, making him the first African native to be the first overall draft selection. How he became a legendary basketball player when his first sports love in his native Nigeria was team handball is a fascinating story, and author Mirin Fader tells about Hakeem’s life and basketball career in the excellent book. 

As was the case with her book on another NBA superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Fader writes with equal amounts of information and intrigue on both Olajuwon's basketball career and his personal life. The latter includes not only his upbringing in Nigeria but also how his Islam faith is very important to him as well as treating others with respect and his demeanor off the court, which is very different than on it.

Fader’s work on Olajuwon’s basketball career is also excellent in its completeness and detail.  She describes his inner test in basketball gaining traction and from encouragement from coaches, he starts playing in leagues in Nigeria. It is in these games where he started learning the basics and his exceptional athleticism gained in handball helped excel in this sport as well. He eventually lands a scholarship from the University of Houston where he was part of the exciting “Phi Slamma Jamma” teams. Then he stays in Houston with the Rockets and cements his place in the all-time greats by leading the Rockets to consecutive NBA championships in 1994 and 1995. 

It should be noted that the research and interviews by Fader are key to the outstanding writing she does because of the insight the subjects gave. This goes all the way from his Nigerian coaches to current NBA players to who Hakeem has provided workouts and tips, something he has done since ending his career with Toronto Raptors in 2002. Another nice touch by Fader is her writing about stories that may or may not be true, such as how he eventually decided to attend the University of Houston and how the spelling of his first name was eventually corrected in the press from “Akeem” to “Hakeem”. 

Whether the topic is basketball, African culture or Islam, the reader will learn much in this book on how important they were in the life of one of the greatest centers in the history of the game. 

I wish to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of the book via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own. 


Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Review of "The Last of His Kind"

 While I have never been much of a fan about the Los Angeles Dodgers, for some reason, every book I read about the team or one of their players always is a good one.  This book on Clayton Kershaw is no exception.  Here is my review of "The Last of His Kind."


“The Last of His Kind: Clayton Kershaw and the Burden of Greatness” by Andy McCullough


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


Clayton Kershaw has been one of the best pitchers in major league baseball since his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008.  By 2010, he was moving into elite status, eventually earning three Cy Young awards and also was the National League MVP in 2014.  As this review is written, he is still on the active list for the Dodgers but has not pitched in a game in 2024.  While his status as an active player may be in doubt, there is no doubt he has had an interesting baseball career and life, both of which are told in this excellent book by Andy McCullough.

The book is a good balance of Kershaw’s baseball life and his personal life.  He was a child of divorced parents and grew up without the financial security of many of his friends.  He and his mother did the best they could and in Clayton’s case, that included being the best baseball player he could be.  He was very focused on this, believing that a scholarship opportunity through baseball was the only way he could afford to go to college.  That plan got sidetracked when the Dodgers made him a first-round draft choice in 2006 and paid him a very good signing bonus.

This is where he developed his work ethic and the five day routine from which he never wavered during baseball season, all the way up to the Dodgers and through most of his career.  Injuries, mainly to his back, forced him to deviate from this later in his career, but the writing by McCullough about Kershaw’s routines is excellent and lets the reader know just how focused Kershaw can be, especially on the days he pitches.

From this description, one would think Kershaw is intense without much of a personality, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This was what really stood out to me while reading this.  Yes, there is plenty about his baseball career and the questions about his postseason struggles are addressed. However, when he is not pitching and either spending time with his family or even with teammates in the clubhouse or away from the ballpark, Kershaw comes across as a friendly funny guy and a man who puts his family first.  There are many passages in which his wife Ellen describes Clayton in such glowing terms.  While that may be expected, this is backed up by so many others in which Kershaw has had interactions.

When writing about baseball on the field, McCullough gives excellent accounts of this part of Kershaw as well.  Whether describing Kershaw’s coaches and advisors working on developing his pitching arsenal, the Dodgers’ front office activities (including the disastrous time of Frank and Jamie McCourt’s ownership) or the joy Kershaw felt when the Dodgers finally won a World Series in 2020, this aspect of the book is just as good.  I particularly enjoyed the section when Kershaw learned his unorthodox delivery method in three steps. 

Whether you are a Dodgers fan, a baseball fan, or just want to learn about one of the best pitchers in baseball the last 15 years, this book is for you. 

I wish to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of the book.  The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own.

Link: The Last of His Kind: Clayton Kershaw and the Burden of Greatness: 9780306832598: McCullough, Andy: Books

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Review of "Rare Gems"

With the surge in popularity this year of the WNBA thanks to talented rookies like Caitlin Clark and Angel Reese, it is only fitting to review a book this summer on women's basketball.  This book concentrates on a state where the game has grown, helped by the Minnesota Lynx winning 4 WNBA championships.  Here is my review of "Rare Gems." 


Title/Author: “Rare Gems: How Four Generations of Women Paved the Way for the WNBA” by Howard Megdal


Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Having been a fan of women’s basketball, especially players and teams with a connection to my home state of Minnesota, I was eager to read this book by Howard Megdal about the many women who have helped shape the game to the level of popularity it is now enjoying in the North Star State.  For the most part, it lived up to my expectations.

Getting the one downside of the book out of the way now, it would have been nice if some of the stories had more details.  For me, this is especially true for two of the early pioneers Megdal profiles, Elvera “Peps” Neuman and Vicky Nelson.  Both of their stories are great, especially Neuman, who found a way to build a career out of basketball in an era where there was no WNBA and no Title IX so that women had more opportunities to have that dream basketball career. While the stories are good, more detail about their struggles and how they overcame them would have made good writing even better.  Also, some more details on players named in later eras, such as important players for the Minnesota Lynx who weren’t stars such as Candice Wiggins and even current stars like Napheesa Collier, would have made a very good book even better.

The stories and information that IS shared in the book is excellent for any fan of women’s basketball.  This is especially true for fans of the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Lynx of the WNBA.  The best writing and story of how far a woman can go in the sport is about the power couple for the Lynx – head coach Cheryl Reeve and her wife Carley Knox, currently the President of Business Operations for the Lynx.  They met while both were working for the Detroit Shock – Knox in the office and Reeve as an assistant coach.  Not only did they grow together in their respective roles to become cornerstones of the Lynx franchise, it is also how they met and from there their relationship grew to marriage and starting a family with their son Oliver. 

But for me, the best part of the book, no matter how much or little material may be wanted, was to learn about Neuman and her determination to play the game she loved.  From starting off with a hoop in her parents’ driveway to playing for a barnstorming professional team when there was no organized professional women’s basketball, I loved reading about her enthusiasm and positive vibes.  No matter what hurdles she encountered - and women basketball players encountered many of them, some of which still exist today – she always made sure to remain upbeat.  The tale of her blanket that she waves at University of Minnesota games was excellent.

Other Minnesota stars such as Paige Bueckers, Maya Moore, and of course Hall of Famer Lindsay Whalen are featured.  While some of the information may leave readers wanting to know more about some of these women, it is still a very good source for the important women in Minnesota basketball.

I wish to thank the publisher for providing a review copy of the book.  The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own.

Link: Rare Gems: How Four Generations of Women Paved the Way For the WNBA: Megdal, Howard: 9781637271988: Books

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Review of "Surviving to Drive"

This is another example of a book that I am glad that I chose the audio version instead of the print or electronic version.  Guenther Steiner's humor and colorful language made this book a fun listen - I doubt it would have been as good just reading it.  It's a shame he left F1 before the 2024 season.  Here is my review of "Surviving to Drive." 



“Surviving to Drive” written and narrated by Guenther Steiner


4 of 5 stars (very good)


Buoyed by the popularity of the Netflix series “Drive to Survive”, Formula 1 (F1) racing has enjoyed a surge in popularity and one of the personalities who fans both old and young alike is Guenther Steiner.  This audiobook written and narrated by Steiner is a very good recap of his 2022 F1 season with the Haas team.

Haas is one of the smaller teams in F1 and doesn’t have the same amount of money, resources, or personnel that some of the bigger teams do like McLaren or Red Bull Racing.  Nonetheless, they make do with what they have in order to compete and earn points each week on the circuit and Steiner’s stories give the reader/listener great insight into the workings and issues faced by a team of this size.

There is plenty of material on the two main drivers for Haas that year, Kevin Magnussen and Mick Schumacher (son of legendary driver Michael Schumacher), as well as Haas and of course, Steiner himself.  His unfiltered recall of the races, trials and tribulations of his team are great reading.  The audio version, which I listened to, was even better as you can tell through Guenther’s voice when he was elated, or he was frustrated.  

His insight and language (not the accent, but also the colorful words he used which are not safe for children) make the stories even better.  This is especially true about the days between races.  Whether it was a story about the travel, the amount of work to get the cars ready or just venting, Steiner made the recollection of a F1 season very entertaining.

Link: Surviving to Drive by Guenther Steiner - Audiobook -

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Review of “The Umpire Is Out”

It is only fitting that on this last day of Pride Month that I share my review of an excellent memoir by Dale Scott, a very successful and openly gay major league umpire.  

 Title/Author: “The Umpire is Out: Calling the Game and Living My True Self” by Dale Scott with Rob Neyer


5 of 5 stars (very good)


Dale Scott worked as a MLB umpire between 1986 and 2017 when a concussion suffered in an early season game made him decide to retire. In 2014, he publicly announced that he was gay, becoming the first openly gay umpire in MLB. This memoir written with Rob Neyer tells Scott’s story of not only his umpiring career but also how he dealt with the need to hide his sexuality from becoming public. 

Given the title, I expected the bulk of the book to be mostly about his private life, but there is more about his life as an umpire than his personal life. That doesn’t mean the book was a disappointment - indeed, I felt that both topics were very interesting and no matter what part of his life Scott was sharing, I found the stories and the writing to be great. 

Scott didn’t set out to have a career in umpiring right away - he had a good gig at a radio station and was an official for basketball and football games as well as a baseball umpire. He decided to enroll in an umpire school and when he did well enough to be offered a minor league job, he took it. His description of life at the school and in the minor leagues is not unlike many of those stories of minor league players but there are unique elements of being an umpire versus being a player.

His stories, and there are many, of games, arguments and ejections during his time in the majors are excellent. As a Twins fan, my favorite story is one he shared about a time Tom Kelly, then manager of the Twins, was actually telling him he made a great call but was making it look like an argument to the fans. He devoted an entire chapter to “TK” and said he was one of the best managers when it came to temperament with umpires. Of course there are plenty of stories that were true arguments, including a great one with Billy Martin.

The reader will learn a lot about the life of an umpire and also some of the issues with their union and MLB. A particularly interesting piece in this area was the mass resignation plan by then-union head Richie Phillips in 1999. The actions taken and the fallout from that scheme read like a drama novel and Scott’s part in it made for very interesting reading.

Like the players, an umpire will spend a lot of time away from home. This took Scott away from his long time partner and now husband Mike. How the two of them met was one of my favorite passages where Scott talks about his personal life. It wasn’t so much of a “love at first sight” story that drew me in, but when describing that first encounter, Scott explained how the gay men community would signal that they are interested in a guy. I felt that was important for readers who are heterosexual to know so they get a better understanding of the LGBTQ+ community lives. 

It is important to note that when Scott realized his sexuality he was completely comfortable in who he was. He had concerns, like many LGBTQ+ individuals, about how he should hide this and when he could tell others. His stories about coming out to his family, to friends who may not have known and even fellow umpires were mostly positive. Some people thought so and this was a confirmation. Probably the most telling was when he came out to his father via a letter instead of a conversation or phone call. Reading about this was quite emotional and having his father eventually come to accept and love his son (after saying he needed time to process this, which Dale understood) was a very powerful passage.

This was a book that I started and finished in one sitting, something I rarely do. It is a terrific memoir of not only the life of a successful umpire but also one of the many hurdles a gay person may face until they, as the book’s subtitle says, can live their true self. 

I wish to thank the author and University of Nebraska Press for providing a review copy of the book. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own. 


Sunday, June 23, 2024

Review of “My Home Team”

 I was interested in this book mainly because of the author and recognition of the name - but it turned out to be something more powerful. Here is my review of “My Home Team.”


“My Home Team: A Sportswriter’s Life and the Redemptive Power of Small-Town Girls’ Basketball” by Dave Kindred


4 of 5 stars (very good)


Dave Kindred was a well-known and respected sportswriter in the late 20th century with his work in Washington and Atlanta being his most read articles and columns. When he wanted to stop writing and spend more time with his beloved wife Cheryl in their home state of Illinois, that plan was waylaid- sort of. 

That is the main topic of this book - Kindred’s writing about the Morton Potters, a girl’s basketball team that was very successful and often reached the Final Four of their state championship. Kindred was asked to do so to keep the twin’s fans updated - and he would be paid in Milk Duds. This “assignment” turned into a great match as the Kindreds became as much a part of Potters basketball as the players, coaches and parents. 

After the first section of the book that is a recap of Dave Kindred’s writing career - Act I - the story of the Potters and the Kindreds relationship really takes off. This section - Act II - is a basketball junkie’s dream as Kindred writes about many of the Potters games in great detail. This part of the book is far into the minutiae of the games, which felt like it was a little too much. This is true even for a reader like me, who normally loves reading this level of detail on the game. Here is it was good - almost too good. 

Where the book shines, and will tug at the heart of even the most hardened reader, is Dave’s passages about his love for wife Cheryl. It took a tragic event for this to really stand out - Cheryl suffering a debilitating stroke. During this time, which included the worst of the COVID pandemic, Dave did his best work on this book. His devotion to his wife during his visits when Cheryl had good and bad days are clearly evident here. When Cheryl finally passed away, the love expressed by both Dave Kindred and the girls basketball team the Kindreds adopted was quite touching. 

I admit to have been ready to mark this as a DNF early in Act II, but I am glad I stuck with it as it’s a book that is very touching and a different typ of love story, heavy on the basketball.

I wish to thank Public Affairs for providing a review copy of the book via NetGalley. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own. 


Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Review of "Just Add Water"

Just in time for the Paris Olympics, swimming champion Katie Ledecky has published her memoir.  For someone who is only 27, it contained a lot of memorable material.  Here is my review of "Just Add Water."



“Just Add Water: My Swimming Life” written and narrated by Katie Ledecky


5 of 5 stars (excellent)


It isn’t often that I want to get a book immediately on the date of publication as I usually prefer to wait at least a couple weeks and see what the initial reviews look like.  But when it came time to get this memoir by Olympic and world swimming champion Katie Ledecky, something told me that I needed to read or listen to this ASAP.  And I am glad I did as it was a very enjoyable listen.

Something to note is that this memoir follows the tried-and-true format of talking about the author’s youth, their family and those who inspire them and their rise to the top of their sport or profession.  Ledecky talks in great detail about her family, especially in the early chapters.  Her brother Michael and she were both attracted to swimming early and while Michael hit the proverbial “wall” in his teens, Katie kept on swimming.  There are also chapters about her parents and grandparents.  The story of her grandfather who was from the Czech Republic was especially inspiring.

What made this memoir so good was the positivity expressed by Ledecky throughout the book.  This was quite refreshing when she talked about her experiences during the worst of the COVID pandemic in 2020 that led to the postponement of that year’s Olympic games in Tokyo.  Any disruption like that will lead to issues for Olympic athletes but between good fortune, good luck and a positive attitude, Ledecky was able to continue her training.  No matter the subject, even when it is a very hard training session, she keeps an upbeat vibe to the book.  One part of this attitude that I really enjoyed is when she was questioning why so many reporters were asking her about “disappointed” she was when winning a sliver medal in Tokyo instead of gold.  She asks how can one be disappointed when you realize you are the second-best athlete in this race in the world? 

I am glad that I listened to the audio version of this book instead of reading the physical copy or the e-book.  Hearing Ledecky’s story in her own voice was powerful, energizing and meant a great deal more than simply reading the text.  One will even learn more about the sport of swimming – great material for those who only follow the sport during Olympic years.

Link: Just Add Water by Katie Ledecky - Audiobook -

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Review of "Macho Man"

This book was selected as me as part of a reading challenge - one person picks books for another person to read.  This one was selected for me to read from a list of various books, all on sports or entertainment.  I guess this one is good since it included both!  Here is my review of "Macho Man."  


“Macho Man: The Untamed, Unbelievable Life of Randy Savage” by Jon Finkel

Rating: 5 of 5 stars (excellent)


Any wrestling fan knows about Randy “Macho Man” Savage (real name Randy Poffo), who was one of the most popular figures in the business in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.  His legendary wrestling career, mostly with the then-World Wrestling Federation (WWF) is captured in great detail in this biography by Jon Finkel.

Through extensive research and interviews, the reader will be taken through Savage’s wrestling career, which was a humble beginning in a minor company in Kentucky.  When he, his brother Lanny and father Angelo Poffo created their own wrestling association to compete with the bigger, more reputable Continental Wrestling Association of Jerry Lawler, they failed to make much headway and had to fold the company.  This turned out to be a turning point for Randy as after sending a sincere letter to Lawler, Lawler referred him to Vince McMahon.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

As many know, Savage/Poffo was a professional baseball player before entering professional wrestling.  He played in the minor league systems of the St. Louis Cardinals, Cincinnati Reds (his favorite team as a kid) and Chicago White Sox.  While he never made the major leagues, no one questioned his work ethic or the length to which he went to show everyone what he would do to make the big leagues. This includes learning to throw left handed when an injury prevented him from throwing with his natural right side.

As glad as I was that Finkel covered Savage/Poffo’s baseball career as well as he did, the coverage of his wrestling career was excellent.  This includes his time before and during his height of popularity with WWF.  This section includes some excellent insight into the business and the dialogue between wrestlers during the show, even while performing. One specific exchange that was very enlightening to me was early in Savage’s time with WWF when he was concerned that one of his patented elbow drops and a subsequent blow to the neck of his opponent hurt that person.  The other wrestler quickly said that no, he was selling the injury.  This was just one small example of the complete writing done on both careers of Savage/Poffo.

 After his time with WWF was complete, he did some time with the WCW and reunited with some of the other stars at that time, but it was not as complete as the other areas of Poffo’s life. Which was fine as there was plenty of material to enjoy and absorb in this excellent biography of the man who told us to “step into a Slim Jim!”

I wish to thank ECW Press for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley.  The opinions expressed are strictly my own.

Link: Macho Man: The Untamed, Unbelievable Life of Randy Savage: 9781770417588: Finkel, Jon: Books

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Review of “Under Jackie’s Shadow”

This book’s synopsis intrigued me as it told a different side of the integration of baseball. It also has the feel of authenticity because these are stories of the players who experienced these hardships. Here is my review of “Under Jackie’s Shadow.”


“Under Jackie’s Shadow: Voices of Black Minor Leaguers Baseball Left Behind” by Mitchell Nathanson 


4 of 5 stars (very good)


When Jackie Robinson became the first Black player in the major leagues, it rightly created a path to the highest level of baseball for all. But the odds for any professional baseball player to make it to “the show” are slim. This book by Mitchell Nathanson reveals stories about Black players who either didn’t reach that lofty status or if they did, it was only for that proverbial cup of coffee.

Something that struck me as more shocking than the stories of racism and lack of opportunities for Black players is how many of the men who told Nathanson their story were related to Black men who did succeed. There was Ron Allen, brother of former Phillies and White Sox star Dick Allen. Ron felt that he was never given a fair chance with the Phillies because Dick (whom the Phillies always called “Richie”) left them with a bad feeling about anyone named Allen. 

Then there was Will Aaron, cousin of the legendary Hank Aaron. When Will was struggling to move up in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization during the early 1970’s, he decided to study the finer points of the game closely, including why his cousin became the home run king. However he also discovered a concept Will Aaron called “position displacement” which systematically excluded Black players from certain positions like catcher and placed them in the outfield.

There are many recollections of segregation in the southern cities that had minor league teams, coaches who were clearly prejudiced, and the broken promises after the young player passed up college scholarships to play professional baseball. Most of these stories will leave the reader sad, angry or both. But there was one more unusual aspect in the book: most of these men held no grudge toward the game and were satisfied that they tried their best. I found that to be a surprising aspect as given what they went through, one would believe they would have hard feelings toward the game they loved but didn’t love them back. Overall, a very good book as told by the who experienced this injustice. 

I wish to thank University of Nebraska Press for providing a review copy of the book. The opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own.