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Sports Book Review: Coach Wooden and Me

Thoughtful. This is the word that came to mind when I started reading Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court. In the first few pages I found myself smiling. Truly enjoying what I was reading. Was it because as a native Los Angeleno I grew up watching Kareem Abdul Jabbar play for the Los Angeles Lakers? Was it because both my parents and middle brother attended UCLA (where Wooden coached and Kareem played college ball)? Was it because Kareem started his professional career as a Milwaukee Buck and I now live in Wisconsin? Or was it Kareem’s articulate and pleasant style of writing? The answer was a resounding YES to all of the above.

This book reads and flows differently from other sports biographies that I have read. And I have read quite a few. How do I mean? Let’s start with what the book isn’t. First of all, it wasn’t written at the peak of Wooden’s or Jabbar’s careers where everything was going great. It also didn’t focus on a particular season or game. Second, it wasn’t written by a sports columnist who did a few interviews with coach and athlete. Or someone who meticulously sifted through old photos, newspaper clippings or books written by other people. It doesn’t have an outside perspective focusing on accolades, titles and stats like wins, losses, points, etc. This is not a motivational sports book with inspirational quotes strategically placed thought the text. Like, here is the lesson I learned from such-and-such experience. (If you are interested, Wooden co-authored multiple books about leadership, team building and success.) Lastly, Kareem did not aggrandize or deify Wooden. This is more of a dedication. (In my opinion, authors who focus on their subject’s greatness often mask their flaws compared to us regular mortals. And too often, sports figures become bigger than life. They become myths and legends.) Nor did Kareem himself artificially elevate his own status. He was modest and humble with his success.

So let me say what this book is. It’s written by a retired professional basketball player who holds the title as the all-time points leader in the National Basketball Association. Yes, more than Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. The content of the book takes place over a fifty year time period in which one of the “main characters” is now deceased (Wooden passed away in 2010 at the age of 99.) and the other, Kareem, is 70 years old. This was written with Kareem’s unique perspective. You could “feel” his journey and growth as well as the changes in society with the Civil Rights Movement as the backdrop. This book offers an intimate insight into Wooden’s and Jabbar’s on court and off-court friendship. Little things like Kareem sitting in Wooden’s living room while chatting and watching TV together really struck a chord with me. This is a book written with deep respect, honor and affection. I just purchased a copy for my personal library and I highly recommend you add this to your reading list.

Sports Book Review: Coach Wooden and Me2018-01-09T10:16:21+00:00

Book Review – Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History

I recently picked up the book Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History from the Middleton Public Library. Next to the gym, tennis courts and my own house, I visit the library quite often. I was perusing new books in the sports section and saw Game Changers. It almost jumped out at me. As a side note, I have always enjoyed reading sports biographies, especially when it’s a sport that I follow or have played myself. Not only do I enjoy the athlete’s/coach’s/team’s personal story (where they grew up, how they became interested in their sport, etc) but good authors often delve into the social, economic and political arenas as well. When I read the books Cinderella Man and Seabiscuit, both professional boxer James J. Braddock and racehorse Seabiscuit were seen as the unlikely underdogs who everyone cheered for during the Great Depression. To many people they represented the working man and uplifted them. In the double biography Sound and Fury, Howard Cosell’s and Muhammad Ali’s stories were quite similar and different at the same time. One white, the other black, one a Jew and the other Muslim. The Civil Rights Era was the perfect backdrop. In The Rivals, not only did we learn about professional tennis players Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, but the book also explored women’s rights, gay rights, and our view of Eastern Europe.

I was immediately intrigued after flipping through the first few pages of Game Changers. Each page shares an athlete or team, many of whom I had never heard of. And while reading a couple paragraphs doesn’t give the whole picture, I’m already making a list of whom I’d like to learn more. For example, did you know of Alice Marble, a professional tennis player who won eighteen Grand Slam championships, (I should know this, right?) and was also recruited by the American intelligence to work as a spy during World War II? Or how about Alison Jane Hargreaves, the first climber to solo all six of the great North faces of the Alps in a single season? Or Jutta Kelinschmidt, who became the first (and only) woman and only German national driver to win the Paris-Dakar rally in the car category? Or Wilma Rudolph (yes, I have heard of her) who became the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympics? Makes you want to read this book, right? It’s definitely not a quick read as hundreds of athletes are depicted in different eras and different sports. Author Molly Schiot did extensive research to put this book together. It’s inspiring, educational and gives a glimpse into the lives of women athletes from around the world.

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Book Review – Game Changers: The Unsung Heroines of Sports History2017-06-19T11:49:34+00:00

Concussion: Book Review

I just finished reading the book Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s a human story. It’s a courtroom drama. It’s a science lecture. It’s a search for answers. Bust most of all, it’s about a man’s journey and his willingness to stand up to the NFL and tell the truth.

Calling this book a page-turner is an understatement. I truly couldn’t put it down. At times I felt like a spectator sitting in a courtroom watching events unfold or a fan in a stadium cheering for my favorite player/team. Other times I felt like I was sitting at the kitchen table across from forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu as he was examining slides of brain tissue from deceased football players. His journey from a small village in Nigeria to the United States, covering both coasts and in between, is gripping. Laskas clearly details his decision to study medicine and his motivation to move to the US. And how did he make one of the most significant medical discoveries in a downtown Pittsburgh morgue? And what impacts would his findings have? Laskas does a superb job in the telling of the story, often using Omalu’s direct quotes or sharing events and conversations from his point of view. This book very much reminded me of The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York.

Mentorship, science, politics, money, the American dream, egos, truth, mystery, racism, cover ups, and happiness. They’re all there. For me, Omalu’s actions are a reminder that one person (even on the sidelines) can make a big difference. In some ways, Dr. Bennet Omalu reminds me of the character Spok from the Star Trek television series and movies. Remember what Spok said in Star Trek II? “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” I strongly encourage you to read Concussion. You’ll be in for the ride of your life. And in the end, Dr. Omalu is right. Dead men do tell tales.

Concussion: Book Review2016-02-24T09:01:01+00:00