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.”


Title/Author:

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


Rating

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. 


Link:https://www.amazon.com/Dream-Life-Legacy-Hakeem-Olajuwon-ebook/dp/B0CTZGG1G6/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&dib_tag=se&dib=eyJ2IjoiMSJ9.tsgFpzIX8z5CEjQ53MywkA.3od3enzL40NN5E5h1oCKwzcmq1grB9eNW9UfgxqNS-Q&qid=1721602976&sr=8-1 




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."


Title/Author:

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

Rating: 

5 of 5 stars (excellent)

Review:

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: Amazon.com: 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: Amazon.com: 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." 


 

Title/Author:

“Surviving to Drive” written and narrated by Guenther Steiner

Rating: 

4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review:

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 - Audible.com