Sports books coming later in 2022

It’s time for the updated list of sports coming out in the rest of 2022. Almost 150 titles below, sorted by expected publication date (based on my rudimentary research)!. Comment to let me know what book your most looking forward to:

From Kids to Champions by Jonny Brick @jonnybrick. Host of the Football Library radio show writes about the FA Youth Cup. (16 May)

In the Shadow of Benbulben: Dixie Dean at Sligo Rovers by Paul Little. The unlikely story of how one of football’s greatest players ended up playing for 4 months in the west of Ireland. A rare book covering Irish domestic football! (16 May)

Everyone Round My House For a Parmo! Middlesbrough’s Journey from Cardiff to Eindhoven by Phil Spencer. Boro’s remarkable run in Europe from 2003 to 2006. (16 May)

⚽ On the Border: The Rise and Decline of the Most Political Club in the World by Shaul Adar. A look at the history of Beitar Jerusalem (16 May).

⚽ Qarabag: The Team Without a City and their Quest to Conquer Europe by Emanuele Giulanelli @EmaGiulianelli. The story of the football team from Agdam that survived even after the city was destroyed in 1993 (16 May).

⚽ Brawls, bribes and broken dreams: How Dundee Almost Won the European Cup by Graeme Strachan (16 May)

⚽ Philosophy and Football: The PFFC Story by Geoff Andrew and Filippo Ricci

Phil: The Rip-Roaring (and Unauthorised) Biography of Golf’s Most Colorful Superstar by Alan Shipnuck @AlanShipnuck. A biography of golfer Phil Mickelson by long time golf writer Shipnuck which is being described as ‘juicy and freewheeling’ (17 May)

🤼‍♂️ American Hiro: The Adventures of Benihana’s Rocky Aoki and How He Built a Legacy by Jack McCallum. Potentially more a business book than a sports one, but Aoki was a world class wrestler before he became a businessman. And any book by author of the excellent Dream Team makes my list! (17 May)

On Account of Darkness: Shining Light on Race and Sport by Ian Kennedy. An examination of systemic racism in sport. (17 May)

⚽ Golden: Why Belgian Football is More Than One Generation by James Kelly. A look at the recent history of Belgian football. (23 May)

🏀 The Black Fives: The Epic Story of Basketball’s Forgotten Era by Claude Johnson @ClaudeJohnson. A history of the early days of Black basketball including the introduction of the game to Black communities and the racial integration of the NBA in 1950. @BlackFives (24 May)

Swing and a Hit: Nine Innings of What Baseball Taught Me by Paul O’Neill and Jack Curry. Memoir of All Star Yankee and five-time World Champion, Paul O’Neill (24 May).

🏏 Crickonomics: The Anatomy of Modern Cricket by Tim Wigmore and Stefan Szymanski. Really enjoyable look at cricket through a data powered lens. Lots of interesting insight on the sports past, present and future. (26 May).

Scotland’s Swedish Adventure: The Story of Scotland’s European Championship Debut by John Bleasdale. (30 May)

🎾 Dear John: The John Lloyd Autobiography by John Lloyd with Phil Jones. Autobiography of the former British tennis player (30 May)

💉Playing Through the Pain: Ken Caminiti and the Steroids Confession That Changed Baseball Forever by Dan Good @Dgood73. The story of the first MLB player, a respected MVP, to admit to taking performance enhancing steroids and the impact that confession had on baseball. @AbramsPress (31 May)

The Game: A Journey Into the Heart of Sport by Tadhg Coakley. A reflection on the importance of sport and its’ pervasive influence, good and bad, on humanity. (June)

⚾Charlie Murphy: The Iconoclastic Showman Behind the Chicago Cubs by Jason Cannon. Story of the the ebullient and mercurial owner of this historic franchise from 1905 through 1914 during which the Cubs won two World Series (1 June).

⚾Lefty and Tim: How Steve Carlton and Tim McCarver Became Baseball’s Best Battery by William C. Kashatus. Dual biography of the Hall of Fame pitcher and catcher. (1 June)

Unsuitable for Females: The Rise of the Lionesses and Women’s Football in England by Carrie Dunn (2 June)

Year of the Robin: Watching It All Go Wrong for Charlton Athletic and the World by Jen Offord. Covid and relegation should make an entertaining mix! (2 June)

Scoring Goals in the Dark by Clare Shine with Gareth Maher. The former Irish soccer international tells her story of addiction and recovery. (6 June)

The Franchise: New York Yankees: A Curated History of the Bronx Bombers by Mark Feinsand (7 June)

Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original by Howard Bryant @hbryant42. Definitive biography of Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, baseball’s epic leadoff hitter and base-stealer. When a great writer writes about a great player a great book should be expected! (7 June)

🏀 Game: An Autobiography by Grant Hill. Promises to be an interesting read from the Hall of Fame basketballer who has also been successful off the court. (7 June)

Willie Horton: 23: Detroit’s Own Willie the Wonder, the Tigers’ First Black Great by Willie Horton with Kevin Allen. Autobiography of the World Series winning Detroit Tiger. (7 June)

🏊‍♂️🏅 The Watermen: The Birth of American Swimming and One Young Man’s Fight to Capture Olympic Gold by Michael Loynd. Story of the first American to win swimming gold at the Olympics in 1908 (7 June).

🥊 The Last Dance: Tyson, Lewis, Holyfield, Bowe & Heavyweight Boxing’s Last Great Era by Brian Doogan @doogan_brian and Ron Borges @RonBorges. Each of these 4 heavyweights was a fascinating character and their fights between them were global events (8 June).

⚽ Johan Cruyff: Always on the Attack by Auke Kok @AukeKok. A comprehensive biography of the legendary Dutchman. Different aspects of Cruyff’s life have been extensively written about. This promises to be the first comprehensive English language bio since his death to try and capture his immense impact on the global game. (9 June)

🚴 Jan Ullrich: The Best There Never Was by Daniel Friebe @friebos. Biography of the always interesting 1997 Tour de France winner looking at his rise and his remarkable career that, despite his success, somehow never quite hit the heights that seemed possible. (9 June)

🚴🇫🇷 Le Fric: Family, Power and Money: The Business of the Tour de France by Alex Duff. Really looking forward to history of the behind the scenes organisation of cycling’s most famous race. (9 June)

With Flag on Their Chest: The Story of Norway’s Golden Generation by Ben Wells. A look at the emerging Norwegian footballers promising a bright future on the international stage. (15 June)

The Long Golden Afternoon: Golf’s Age of Glory, 1864 – 1914 by Stephen Proctor (16 June)

⚽ The Cornerstone Collection: Sculpting The Premier League’s Past, Present and Future by Stuart Quigley. A history of the Premier League in 45 players. (20 June)

🥊 Muhammad Ali: Fifteen Rounds in the Wilderness by Dave Hannigan. A third book on Ali by Hannigan (the other two are excellent) looks at the years between his last fight and the moment at Atlanata Olympics when he remerged as a global figure. (20 June)

🎾 Rafa Nadal: The King of the Court by Dominic Bliss. Comprehensive bio of the tennis player. (21 June)

⚽ My Greatest Save: The Brave, Barrier-Breaking Journey of a Hall-of-Fame Goalkeeper by Briana Scurry. Autobiography from the goalie on the first great US women’s soccer team. (21 June)

🚴 Climbers: How the Kings of the Mountains Conquered Cycling by Peter Cossins. (23 June)

⚽ When Asia Welcomed the World: The 2002 World Cup Revisited by Danny Lewis. A look back at the World Cup in Japan and South Korea (I’ll always maintain Ireland could have won it!). (27 June)

⚽ The Beautiful Game and the Ugly Truth: Football’s Tragic Link with Dementia by Kieran Gill. Gill has written extensively on this topic in his journalistic career. (27 June)

🏀 The NBA in Black and White: The Memoir of a Trailblazing NBA Player and Coach by Ray Scott with Charley Rosen. Memoir of Ray Scott, Piston’s legend who went #4 pick of the 1961 NBA draft, and became the first ever black man to win Coach of the Year as the Piston’s Coach in 1974. (28 June)

💉 Doping: A Sporting History by April Henning & Paul Dimeo (28 June)

🏀 Basketball 2.0: 3x3s Rise from the Streets to the Olympics by Tristan Lavalette. A look at the emergence of 3 x 3 basketball as an Olympic sport. (4 July)

Unico Grande Ameore: AS Roma in the 21st Century by Marc Lamberts. A look at the Roman football team. Looking forward to this after reading Totti’s excellent autobiography. (4 July)

💉 Synthetic Medals: East German Athlete’s Journey to Hell by Joseph Tudor. The notorious Government run doping of East German athletes should make a fascinating book (4 July).

🏏 The Nine Waves: The Extraordinary Story of How India Took Over the Cricket World by Mihir Bose (4 July).

🏒 When the NHL Invaded Japan: The Washington Capitals, the Kansas City Scouts and the Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Cup, 1975-1976 by Steve Currier (6 July)

🚴 Beryl: In Search of Britain’s Greatest Athlete by Jeremy Wilson @JWTelegraph. A biography of legendary British female cyclist Beryl Burton. There was a previous bio of Beryl last year by William Fotheringham highlighting how this legendary figure is beginning to receive long overdue credit. (7 July)

🏏 An Island’s Eleven: The Story of Sri Lankan Cricket by Nicholas Brookes. Any cricket fan will be interested in this deep dive into one of the more interesting cricket cultures. (7 July)

It Was Always a Choice: Picking up the Baton of Athlete Activism by David Steele @David_C_Steele. A look at athlete activism for social causes in the post-Kaepernick era. (8 July)

Unsung: Not All Heroes Wear Kits (Behind the Scenes With Sport’s Hidden Stars) by Alexis James. Shines a light on the lesser talked about personnel professional sports. (11 July).

🏈 Figure It Out: My Thirty-Two-Year Journey While Revolutionizing Pro Football’s Special Teams by Mike Westhoff (12 July). Autobiography of former Jets and Dolphins coach who was regarded as a Special Teams genius.

🥊 Blood, Brawn and Broken Noses: Puglism, a Very British Art by Chris Sykes. A broad exploration of boxing’s past and present. (12 July)

Sho-time: The Inside Story of Shohei Ohtani and the Greatest Baseball Season Ever Played by Jeff Fletcher. A bio of baseball’s new superstar and a broader look at the links between US and Japanese baseball. I’ve read this and really enjoyed it. (12 July)

🏈 Seventeen and Oh: Miami, 1972 and the NFL’s Only Perfect Season by Marshall Jon Fisher @MarshallJFisher. A look back after 50 years at the legendary Dolphin’s team by the author of the excellent A Terrible Splendor. A great book that I reviewed in the newsletter previously. (12 July)

⚽ An Economist Goes to the Game: How to Throw Away $580 million and Other Surprising Insights from the Economics of Sport by Paul Oyer @pauloyer. An economist’s take on sports phenomena such as corruption, ticket scalping, child prodigies, the Olympics, and many others. (12 July)

Roll Red Roll: Rape, Power, and Football in the American Heartland by Nancy Schwartzman @fancynancynyc. A difficult but important subject, the book will look at an incident where a sixteen year-old girl incapacitated by alcohol was repeatedly assaulted by Steubenville, Ohio high school football stars. Sounds similar to Jon Krakauer’s powerful Missoula. (12 July)

🏐🏅 If Gold is Our Destiny: How a Team of Mavericks Came Together for Olympic Glory by Sean P. Murray. The story of the 1984 Men’s US Olympic Volleyball team and their quest for gold at the LA Olympics. (13 July)

🏈 Walking Alone: The United Journey of Football Pioneer Kenny Washington by Dan Taylor. The story of African American trailblazer Kenny Washington, the first black player in the NFL. Taylor examines the legendary player who at the time was considered one of the greatest and popular to ever play the game. (13 July)

🏈 Spies on the Sidelines: The High-Stakes World of NFL Espionage by Kevin Bryant @kevbryantauthor. Shines a shines a light on the shadowy world of NFL espionage and exposes the full range of collection techniques teams use to spy on their opponents, as well as the defensive countermeasures that are used to defend against them (13 July)

🥊 Joe Louis vs Billy Conn: Boxing’s Unforgettable Summer of 1941 by Ed Gruver @EdGruver. One of the most anticipated fights in history that more than lived up the hype and the fascinating men who squared off (15 July). I’ve read this and it’s very good.

⚽ When Two Worlds Collide: The Intercontinental Cup Years by Dan Williamson @winkveron @intlcupyears. Book on the annual match between Europe and South America’s champion football teams by the author of the excellent Blue and Gold Passion. Williamson is also writing a bio of Ronaldo (the real one) which is top of my 2023 list!

Get Up, Baby!: My Seven Decades with the St. Louis Cardinals by Mike Shannon with Rick Hummel (19 July)

⚽ The Working Hands of a Goddess: The tactics, community and culture behind Gasperini’s Atalanta B.C by Tom Underhill @tomd_underhill. Looking at the creation of one of Europe’s most exciting sides, where they and their coach have come from, and where they sit within a city’s identity. (22 July)

🥊 Warrior: A Champion’s Incredible Search for His Identity by Tris Dixon. A biography of boxer Matthew Saad Muhammad by the author of the excellent Damages. Can’t wait for this one. (25 July)

🏉 Scrum Queen’s: The Story of Women’s Rugby by Ali Donnelly (25 July)

🏃‍♂️🏅 Catch Me if You Can: Revolutionizing My Sport, Breaking World Records and Creating a Legacy for Tanzania by Filbert Bayi and Myles Schrag. Autobiogrpahy of the middle distance Olympic medalist who was famous for his assertive style in the days before pacemakers. (25 July)

🚣‍♀️🎿🏅 The Hard Parts: From Chernobyl to Paralympic Champion – My Story of Achieving the Extraordinary by Oksana Masters @OksanaMasters. Autobiography of a 10 time Paralympic medalist. (26 July)

⚽ A Woman’s Game : The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Women’s Soccer by Suzanne Wrack (26 July)

⚽ The World’s First Football Superstar: The life of Steve Smith by Owen Arthur (30 July)

⚽ How Money Changed Football: From the Premier League to Non-League by Philip Woods (31 July)

⚽ Kit and Caboodle: Football’s Shirt Stories by Matt Riley @TalesThai (1 August)

⚽ Buzzing: The Story of Brentford’s First Premier League Season by Nick Brown (1 August)

⚽ From Beauty to Duty: A Footballing History of Uruguay, 1878-1918 by Martin da Cruz. First English language history of football in the smallest country to win the World Cup. (1 August)

🏈 The Rise of the Black Quarterback: What it Means for America by Jason Reid @JReidESPN. Building on a series by ESPN’s The Undefeated, Reid will delve into the history of black quarterbacks in the NFL. (2 August)

🏎️💉 Survival of the Fastest: Weed, Speed, and the 1980s Drug Scandal that Shocked the Sports World by Randy Lanier with A.J. Baime (2 August)

⚽ Futsal : The Indoor Game That Is Revolutionizing World Soccer by Jamie Fahey. The story of the story of futsal’s politics, tactics and personalities. (2 August)

Coming Home: My Amazin’ Life with the New York Mets by Cleon Jones. Autobiography from the player who caught the final out of the Miracle Mets’ World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles.

⚽ Red on Red: Liverpool, United and the Fiercest Rivalry in World Football by Phil McNulty and Jim White (4 August)

🥊 Fighting for Survival: My Journey through Boxing Fame, Abuse, Murder, and Resurrection by Chrissy Martin with Ron Borges. (8 August)

⚽ City of Stars: The Controversial Story of Paris Saint-Germain by Tom Scholes. A history of French club PSG and its rise to the (almost) top of the European game. (8 August)

🏈⚾🥇 Path Lit by Lightning: The Life of Jim Thorpe by David Maraniss. A biography of the legendary Thorpe by the writer of the impossibly good When Pride Still Mattered. I’ve read this and it’s as sensationally detailed and fascinating as you would expect. A big, brilliant book. (9 August)

🏈 Freezing Cold Takes: NFL: Football Media’s Most Inaccurate Predictions—and the Fascinating Stories Behind Them by Fred Segal @Frizz527. A look back at 20 spectacularly bad predictions by the creator of the popular @OldTakesExposed (9 August)

🏈 Bronko:  The Legendary Story of the NFL’s Greatest Two Way Fullback by Chris Willis (10 August)

⚽ Carmen Pomies: Football Legend and Heroine of the French Resistance by Chris Rowe (14 August)

⚽ An Ode to The Chosen Few: Football’s Piano Players by John McNicoll. A look at football’s most gifted players from author of An Ode to Four Four Two. (15 August)

The Longest Winter: A Season with England’s Worst Ever Football Team by Mark Hodkinson. A social history of the turbulent early 70s through the lens of a Rochadale team regarded as the worst in British football league history. (15 August).

🏈 Surviving Washington by Robert Griffin III. RG3 gives his take on his all too brief NFL QB career after a spectacular college football career. (16 August)

⚽ 1999: The Treble and All That by Matt Dickenson @DickensonTimes. The Chief Sports Writer for the Times recalls Manchester United’s historic Treble campaign in 99. Hard to believe that was more than 20 years ago! (18 August)

⚽ Scheisse! We’re Going Up: The Unexpected Rise of Berlin’s Rebel Football Club by Kit Holden. A history of Union Berlin. (18 August) Have read this and it is absolutely brilliant. A history of the team through told through its’ relationships with its fans. A reflection on the power of narratives, community, and the dangers of success.

🏒 The Series: What I Remember, What it Felt Like, What it Feels Like Now by Ken Dryden. Former Hockey goalie and author of the classic The Game writes about his memories of the famous 1972 Summit Series (quite a few books on this topic this year but this one is by a participant and great writer! (23 August)

🏈 Fear No Man: Don James, the 91′ Huskies and the Seven Year Quest for a National Football Championship by Mike Gastineau (23 August)

⚽ Made in Argentina, Mastered in Madrid: How Diego Simeone Awakened a Sleeping Giant by Ashwin Reuben Ballal (29 August). A look at the tactical approach used by Athletico Madrid under their Argentinian manager.

⚽ Something in the Water: The Story of England’s Football Talent Hotbeds by Callum Murray (29 August)

🏈 The Hot Seat: A Year of Outrage, Pride, Occasional Games of College Football by Ben Mathis-Lilley @BenMathisLilley. The Slate writer taking a look at college football coaches – the book is ‘about why college football makes people so crazy—and, in a longer nutshell, hypothesizes that it does so because its programs and, especially, their coaches, are representatives of personal and cultural identity and status to a degree that is unlike any other sport in USA”. (30 August)

⚽ The Beautiful Poetry of Football Commentary by Charlie Eccleshare (1 September)

Branch Rickey and the Gospel of Baseball: Righting the Story of America’s Pastime by James E Dillard. Bio of the Hall of Fame baseball exec who opened opportunities for black and Hispanic players. (5 September)

⚽ The Making of the FIFA World Cup: 75 of the Most Memorable, Celebrated, and Shocking Moments in the History of Football’s Greatest Tournament by Jack Davies (5 September)

⚽ An Armchair Fans Guide to the Qatar World Cup: The Story of How Football Came to the Desert by Jon Berry (5 September)

🏈 The Special Relationship: The History of American Football in the United Kingdom by Andrew Gamble (5 September)

Flares up: A Story Bigger than the Atlantic by Niamh McAnally. Story of a grueling 70 day crossing of the Atlantic ocean.

🏀 Sixty-One: Life Lessons from Papa, On and Off the Court by Chris Paul with Michael Wilbon. The NBA star on his life, the game and mentorship. (6 September)

🎾 Queen of the Court: The Extraordinary Life of Tennis Legend Alice Marble by Madeline Blais (8 September)

Over the Line: A History of the England v Germany Football Rivalry by Dr Alexander Gross (12 September)

🏒 Ice War Diplomat: Hockey Meets Cold War Politics at the 1972 Summit Series by Gary J. Smith (12 September)

⚽ USA 94 – The World Cup That Changed The Game by Matt Evans @the_mevs @USA94Book. Very much looking forward to this book. For an Irish kid born in 1984, nothing will ever compete with USA 94 for my affection! (12 September)

⚽ Espana 82: A Hazy Shade of Summer by Stuart Horsfield (12 September)

Inaugural Ballers: The True Story of the First US Women’s Olympic Basketball Team by Andrew Maraniss

⚽ Calling the Shots: How to Win in Football and Life by David Dein. The former Arsenal executive who worked so well with Arsene Wenger finally writes a book. I just hope its better than Wenger’s awful cash-grab book! (15 September)

🏄‍♂️☘️ Cold-Water Eden by Richie Fitzgerald. Memoir by Ireland’s first professional surfer. (15 September)

🏉 A Very Tall Story by Martin Bayfield. The former British and Irish Lion recounts rugby’s roller-coaster ride in the 90s as the game turned professional (15 September).

⚽ Alchemy: Brian Clough & Peter Taylor at Hartlepools United by Christopher Hull (15 September)

🏈 The Mosquito Bowl: A Game of Life and Death in World War II by Buzz Bissinger. The tale of an American Football game between college football stars who served in the Pacific during WW2. Any book from the author of Friday Night Lights is likely to be a classic. (20 September)

⚽ How to Win the World Cup: Secrets and Insights from International Football’s Top Managers by Chris Evans (20 September)

🏈 My Football Life and The Rebirth of Chiefs Kingdom by Tim Grunhard with Carl Peterson. Autobiography from the former Kansas City Chiefs center. (20 September)

⚽ The Roaring Red Front: The World’s Top Left-Wing Football Clubs by Stewart McGill and Vince Raison ( 26 September)

🏒 Ed Sneider: The Last Sports Mogul by Alan Bass. Bio of the founder of the Philadelphia Flyers and legendary businessman. (27 September)

🏈 The Idealist: Jack Trice and the Fight for a Forgotten College Football Legacy by Jonathan Gelber (27 September)

Her Game Too: A Manifesto for Change by Matt Riley (1 October)

🏈⚾ The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson by Jeff Pearlman. Bio of the two-sport star who was gifted beyond comprehension but whose career was cut short due to injury. I cannot wait for this one. (4 October)

🥊 Kellie Harrington – an Autobiography written with Roddy Doyle. Legendary Dublin writer helps legendary Dublin Olympian tell her story. How can it not be great? (6 October)

⚽ Bring Me the Sports Jacket of Arthur Montford: Adventures Through Scottish Football by Aidan Smith (6 October)

⚽ Men in Blazers Present Gods of Soccer : The Pantheon of the 100 Greatest Soccer Players (According to Us) by Men In Blazers (11 October)

⚽ Football Murals: A Celebration of Soccer’s Greatest Street Art by Andy Brassell (13 October)

⚽ How to be an Ex Footballer by Peter Crouch. A 3rd book from @petercrouch, the former footballer whose first two books were very entertaining. (13 October)

⚽ From the Ground Up: Thirty Years of Irish Influence in the Premier League by Gareth Maher (14 October). Not certain if this is confirmed as can only find one reference to it online!

⚽ Football with Wings: The Tactical Concepts Behind the Red Bull Game Model by Lee Scott @FMAnalysis. Another book on tactics by Scott who makes difficult tactical concepts understandable. (17 October)

🏀 In the Blink of an Eye by Abdul-Rauf Mahmoud. Autobiography of the former NBA player who may be best remembered for refusing to stand for the US national anthem for social justice reasons back in the 1990s. (18 October)

⚽ Diego Maradona: The Last Interview and Other Conversation pub. Melville House. A series of interviews with the late, great Argentinian (18 October)

⚽ Football in the Land of the Soviets by Carles Viñas. A look at the history of football in Russia from a champion of the sports radical history.

🏉 Full Time by Nigel Owens @nigelrefowens. The story of the second half of Nigel’s career as one of the most famous referees in World Rugby (27 October)

⚽ The Rodfather by Roddy Collins with Paul Howard. After playing for 16 clubs and managing 12, Collins autobiography with the help of the excellent Howard promises to be interesting! (27 October)

⚽ Kicking Back by Nedum Onuoha. Autobiography of the former Man City player (27 October).

🏒 A Miracle of Their Own: A Team, A Stunning Gold Medal and Newfound Dreams for American Girls by Keith Gave and Tim Rappleye. Story of Team USA’s 1998 Olympic upset victory in women’s hockey.

⚽ England Football – The Biography: The Story of the Three Lions 1872-2022 by Paul Hayward @_PaulHayward. Veteran sportswriter Hayward telling the history of the English national soccer team. (27 October)

⚽ The Game by Micah Richards. Autobiography from the Man City footballer turned football pundit. (27 October)

⚽ How to be a Football Manager by Ian Holloway. The former football manager tries to mimic the style of Peter Crouch’s books focusing on management rather than playing.

⚽ New Kids in the World Cup: The Totally Late ‘80s and Early 90s Tale of the the Team that changed American Soccer Forever by Adam Elder (1 November)

⚽ The Voyageurs: The Canadian Men’s Soccer Team’s Quest to Reach the World Cup by Joshua Kloke (1 November)

🏀 Spaced Out: The Tactical Evolution of the Modern NBA by Mike Prada. A look at how the 3 point revolution has changed basketball. (1 November)

🏈 Five Laterals and a Trombone: Cal, Stanford and the Wildest Ending in College Football History by Tyler Bridges. (1 November) 

🏀 Barkley: A Biography by Timothy Bella. Bella worked as lead researcher with Armen Keteyian and Jeff Benedict on their excellent books so this promises to a comprehensive bio of Charles Barkley. (1 November)

⚽ Messi vs. Ronaldo: One Rivalry, Two GOATS, and the Era That Remade the World’s Game by Jonathan Clegg and Joshua Robinson. From the authors of the excellent The Club. (1 November)

🎾 Ash Barty – an untitled memoir from the tennis world number 1 who shocked the sport by retiring this year at just 26. (1 November)

⚽ Nil Lamptey: The Curse of Pele by Joris Kaper @CaposdeCapos. Biography of the former Ghanaian footballer, best known in England for his spells at  Aston Villa and Coventry City. Explores the challenges of living up to unrealistic expectations and hype surrounding young talented footballers. (7 November)

⚽ Two Brothers by Jonathan Wilson @jonawils. A dual-biography of Jack and Bobby Charlton, World Cup winning brothers in the 1966 England team. As an Irish football fan, Jack will always have a special place in my memory and this promises to be a fascinating book from the always excellent author of Inverting the Pyramid and The Barcelona Legacy (10 November).

🥊 Gloves Off: The Autobiography by Tyson Fury. The boxer is back with a second autobiography less than two years after he published his first one! Hard not to be a but cynical! (November)

🏈 Swagger: Super Bowls, Brass Balls and Footballs – A Memoir by Jimmy Johnson with Dave Hyde. Memoir from the Hall of Fame football coach. (20 November)

🏈 This is Our City: Four Teams, Twelve Championships, and how Boston became the Most Dominant Sports City in the World by Tony Massarotti (24 November)

🏈 Moving the Chains: The Civil Rights Protest that Saved the Saints and Transformed New Orleans by Erin Grayson Sapp. The untold story of the backroom deal that gave rise to the New Orleans Saints. (30 November)

Emancipation for Goalposts: Football’s Role In The Fall Of Yugoslavia by Chris Etchingham.

Running and Jumping by Steven Kedie @stevenkedie. A fictional story about an Olympic rivalry set between Beijing 2008 and Rio 2016.

Yet to be titled book on Cleveland Sports History by Budd Bailey @WDX2BB (a brilliant reviewer of sports books btw) and Larry Pantages

Soccer and Society in Dublin: A History of Association Football in Ireland’s Capital by Conor Curran

Slab Life 3. The third in a series of books following the fortunes of Aldershot Town FC by Nick Cansfield @life_slab

🏏 Talented, Tormented, and Tragic: The Life of Ronald Frank Vibert, a Cornish Cricketer by John G Butler

Martin McHugh – Born To Save by Jason Byrne. Bio of former Longford GAA goalkeeper

🏀 The autobiographies of Scottie Pippen, Charles Oakley and Muggsy Bogues.

The Last Dance documentary series on the Jordan era Chicago Bulls was the undoubted sports hit of Covid Lockdown 1.0. I think every sports fan I know watched and loved it. The fact that it doubled up as a PR exercise Jordan might have diminished its objectivity but had little impact on how entertaining it was (and it holds up well for a repeat viewing).

The series helped lead to a revival of interest in the NBA’s arguable Golden Era, as Jordan helped the league transform the rising tide of the Magic/Bird era into a level of global attention more akin to today’s English Premier League than the current NBA. A (probable) knock-on effect has been the publication of a number of autobiographies from other players of that era. Three recent or upcoming of these books are The Last Enforcer by Charles Oakley, Unguarded by Scottie Pippen and Muggsy by Muggsy Bogues. Three very different books from three very different players and personalities.

Pippen is likely the best known of the three from his co-starring role in 6 NBA title wins alongside Jordan for the Chicago Bulls. Unguarded (written with Michael Arkush) is a direct consequence of the popularity of The Last Dance as Pippen uses the book to tell ‘his side’ of events in the documentary that painted him in a negative light. The overwhelming takeaway of the book is Pippen’s residual negative feelings towards.. well, plenty of people (none more so than the late Bulls GM Jerry Krause). The book could easily have been titled “I Still Hold A Grudge”. Pippen does praise plenty of people too, but the criticism is inherently more interesting. The retelling of his own career is interesting if not particularly revealing.

Primarily, Pippen is trying to set the record straight and puncture the narrative that Jordan won titles single-handedly. He seeks to define himself as Jordan’s opposite in so many ways – a better teammate and an underappreciated contributor. Overall, a reader is left with the sense of a man less satisfied than he should with a remarkable career due to lingering feelings of never being valued enough given just how remarkable he preformed.

The Last Enforcer by Charles Oakley (written with Frank Isola) gives the perspective of someone with a very different relationship with Jordan. Oakley played with the Bulls just before (and again after) they won 6 Championships and formed a life long bond with Jordan. He then spent 10 years as a New York Knick during the period wonderfully told in Chris Herring’s book Blood in the Garden.

Like Pippen, Oakley sets out to air his many grievances with players, coaches and many other people from his life and career. Unlike Pippen, Oakley never comes across as bitter (except when taking about Knick’s owner James Dolan) but more mildly irritated and dismissive of those he dislikes or simply just holds in lower esteem than you might suspect (Charles Barkley he dislikes, Patrick Ewing he is pretty dismissive of).

Oakley is also very fulsome in his praise of those he likes and, more importantly, respects. The acknowledgements section of the book is remarkable for how many people Oakley thanks and how genuine his thanks appears to be. For all his dismissive comments about others in the book, Oakley seems much more at peace with himself, his legacy and his place in world than Pippen.

For many readers, his relationship with Jordan will be of most interest. The friendship comes across as genuine and Oakley isn’t afraid to highlight that some of Jordan’s legacy is the result of his own mythmaking.

Overall, Oakley’s book is entertaining even if it struggles to fully live up to the subtitle promising ‘Outrageous Stories’. Any 90s NBA fan will enjoy the trip down memory lane.

Of the three books, Muggsy by Muggsy Bogues (written with Jacob Utitti) is a much more positive and joyful retelling of a career in the NBA. Bogues, famously the smallest player to ever play in the league, forgoes score-settling and instead celebrates his remarkable achievement of making to the league and sticking around for more than 10 years.

Bogues recounts his childhood in Baltimore in detail (which included getting shot!) but he refuses to dwell on the negatives or challenges he had to overcome. He gives more time to his remarkable high school basketball career at Dunbar which has separately been told in the book Dunbar Boys and a 30 for 30 documentary.

In discussing his life, Bogues focusses heavily on the endless skepticism about his ability from his own coaches, his opponents and their fans, some of whom would laugh when he ran onto the court. The retelling of his career is enjoyable, especially as it focusses on teams whose seasons may be less memorable than those of the Bulls or Knicks.

Interestingly, Bogues had previously published an autobiography in 1994 which I read many many years ago. Post career second autobiographies usually focus on spilling the dirt but Bogues focuses instead on more positive and interesting ancedotes. You don’t feel like he is holding things back, rather that Bogues is genuinely someone who is proud of his accomplishments and secure in his achievements.

Reading the three books what strikes me is how the amount of success a player had is no guarantee of how satisfied they will be post-career. Pippen, with 6 titles, looks back at how he was underappreciated. Oakley, who appeared in NBA finals, looks back with some regret but with pride for always being himself. Bogues, who never made it past the Conference semi-finals, looks back with the contentment of beating the odds and achieving far more than anyone thought he could.

🏀‘Coach K: The Rise and Reign of Mike Krzyzewski’ by Ian O’Connor (2022)

As a non-American, I’ll never quite understand the passion and pride generated by collegiate sports in the US. I really enjoy watching college football and basketball, but the reverence and status given to the games and especially to the coaches suggests a strange miscalculation of priorities for academic institutions!

The constant turnover of players provides a fascinating dimension to the sports. No other leagues give you an absolute maximum of four years with any player while also preventing the signing of experienced players to help guide the young players (who are almost exclusively under 23). Longevity and culture is therefore primarily provided by the coach and supporting staff.

It’s in this context (and overlooking the ludicrous salaries relative to other employees of the college or State!) that I find the careers of successful college coaches utterly fascinating. The reverence for successful coaches across the US is remarkable and is evident across sports media and popular culture. As one the most successful coaches in college basketball, arguably no coach is quite as revered as Mike Krzyzewski (universally referred to as Coach K).

Coach K was a player and subsequently coach for the US Army’s college team (talk about an educational institute with odd priorities!) and a protégé of world class coach and bully Bobby Knight. Krzyzewski ultimately, and surprisingly to most observers given his limited success at the time, became head coach of Duke University, a perennial basketball powerhouse. Over the ensuing decades he would amass one of the most successful records in the sport’s history.

O’Connor is a masterful biographer grappling with the challenges of competing narratives and telling the story of a complete life in a limited amount of space. Capturing 50 plus seasons of action requires a delicate touch and wise judgment in where to focus and no-one does it better. The book is especially strong in telling the story of Krzyzewski’s youth and identifying how his early days and playing career helped to shape the man and coach he would become. It also rightly delves into greater detail on some of his most famous teams – none more so than the era of Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner and Grant Hill.

Coach K’s more recent seasons however feel somewhat out of character as he embraced the one-and-done superstar era. O’Connor explains this approach as a combination of the coaches his own adaptability and his growing taste for coaching the very best players acquired during his stints coaching Team USA.

The best biographies are those that realize every life story can only be properly told through the person’s relationships. Most obviously Krzyzewski’s ever-changing relationship with his mentor Knight stands out. Coach K is often described as possessing many of Knight’s best qualities but much less of his ridiculous, fiery temper.

The other key relationship in Krzyzewski’s life is, unsurprisingly, his marriage. A major failing across lesser sports biographies (and all biographies really) is a failure to capture the role that spouses play in athlete’s and coaches professional lives. O’Connor avoids this mistake and highlights Mrs’ Krzyzewski and the wider family’s role in Coach K’s success and thought process.

O’Connor ultimately paints the picture of a man who combined a relentless desire for success with a genuine affection for other people. This is an excellent biography of a fascinating basketball coach and highly recommended for any college basketball fan.

Read the Book, Watch the Documentary – Allen Iverson

  • Book – ‘Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson’ by Kent Babb (2015)
  • Documentary – ‘Iverson’ directed by Zatella Beatty (2014) 
  • Documentary – ‘No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson’ directed by Steve James (2010)

Allen Iverson is the smallest player in history to be the NBA’s MVP – the best player in the league over an entire season. He is also a former Rookie of the year, no. 1 draft pick, an 11 time All-Star, 4 time top point scorer and 3 time steals leader among countless other accolades.

His cultural impact is arguably even greater than his on-court achievements. He was an icon for millions of young men, especially African Americans, for his refusal to compromise his image and ‘tone down’ his own personal style. His hairstyle and fashion choices were constantly scrutinised and his shoe line for Reebok is the no.2 all time best seller behind only Jordan’s Nike range.

Iverson’s story is easiest understood in three parts – his early years, his basketball career, and now his post basketball life.

The early years are covered in Not a Game and  in both documentaries. Iverson was nationally famous even before he played college basketball. Despite being only 6ft tall, as a sophomore he was the number 1 ranked high school basketball player in the US. He may also have been even better as a football player (covered in this fascinating VICE article).

He was catapulted to national attention however when he was tried, and ultimately convicted, for his part in a brawl at a bowling alley that left a number of people injured. The trial, conviction and frankly ridiculous 5 year sentence handed down to Iverson and his co-defendants was a huge story and an event that exposed damaging racial tensions in his community.

Kent Babb’s excellent book Not a Game focuses heavily on both the rise and fall of Iverson with chapters alternating between his early years in Virginia and his fall towards divorce and bankruptcy one his playing career ended. Babb extensively covers his difficult childhood, his phenomenal talents and of course, the trial which nearly ruined his career before it began.

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As the subtitle suggests, No Crossover focuses heavily on the trial and the circumstances surrounding it. The central theme of the film is the role that race played in both the outcome and the perception of Iverson’s trial. Director Steve James grew up in the area and uses that local knowledge, and his late father’s contacts, to get people to open up on an issue many may have preferred to stay silent on. It’s a fascinating study on the difficult race relations in the community and America more generally.

Iverson covers similar ground to the other two in terms of Allen’s early years.  It’s noticeably very positive about the influence of Gary Moore, Iverson’s long time mentor and manager.   It must be noted that Moore is an executive producer of the documentary and Not a Game paints an arguably more objective view noting that Moore has benefited hugely financially from Iverson and that some of his advice to Iverson has been questionable at best.

Both films and the book cover similar ground in showing how Iverson, with the support of family and one incredibly kind-hardhearted teacher (who is strangely not mentioned in Iverson), put his time in prison behind him and became a basketball superstar first at Georgetown and then in the NBA.

Iverson’s actual basketball career is touched on fairly lightly in both the book and No Crossover.  Here Iverson is excellent as it includes brilliant footage of Allen using his remarkable incredible athletic gifts.

Arguably Iverson’s most famous play when he crossedover Michael Jordan

Not a Game however paints a picture of a player who was a nightmare for his coaches off the court despite being so effective every time he played. Iverson’s relationship with his 76ers coach Larry Brown is a fascinating central thread running through the book. Despite constant clashes, Brown clearly has a huge amount of fondness for Iverson as he continuously tried to help him later in his career both in finding a team and in making the US Olympic team.

No Crossover ends in 2009 as Iverson’s career is winding down. It touches on criticism of Iverson for his lack of involvement in his hometown while recognising the obvious reasons he feel less than positive about returning. I don’t think the director could have predicted how bleak the following few years would be for Iverson.

The grimness of Iverson’s post career life is however a key focus of Not a Game and the weakest part of Iverson.  In that film, and related media coverage of its release, Iverson addressed long-discussed rumours of financial struggles, denying any notion that he was struggling. “That’s a myth. That’s a rumor… The fact that I’m struggling in any part of my life”, he said.

With access to extensive court records generated by Iverson’s divorce, Babb paints a much bleaker, and likely more accurate, picture of a former superstar unable to adjust to a more modest (yet still substantial) income, and the fact that he was no longer considered good enough to merit an NBA contract (especially with the baggage he brought).

The book and films complement each other well. Not a Game is an impeccably researched, excellently written account of Iverson’s life. It tells the story of his cultural and sporting impact but also the impact his success had on him.

No Crossover zooms in on one of the key events of Iverson’s young life and tells a broader story about race in America. It also contains brilliant clips of a young Iverson that demonstrate just what a freakishly talented athlete he was.

The one weakness of both No Crossover and Not a Game is the refusal of Iverson to co-operate with either. While there is a clear attempt at objectivity in both, Iverson’s own voice is missing. His public comments are often contradictory leaving it difficult to ascertain his own thoughts and motives.  Iverson fills this gap, and while it lacks objectivity at times, its a good counter-balance to the other two.   While it touches on criticism, it’s clearly not a warts and all approach focusing heavily on his basketball career and cultural impact.

Iverson’s most famous press conference – We talkin’ about practice!

As for Iverson himself, I’m left with conflicted emotions. The very fact he achieved so much despite his upbringing and the scapegoating of his trial deserves enormous respect. He is clearly a charismatic and often likeable guy whose talent I greatly enjoyed watching throughout my childhood. The grim details of his post career fall and particularly the aggressive behaviour towards his wife detailed in Not a Game, paint a more complicated picture of a man not quite satisfied in himself despite his successes.

Together both films and the book provide a comprehensive look at all the stages of the life to date of one of the most interesting, exciting, controversial and talented ballers of modern times.

‘LeBron, Inc.: The Making of a Billion-Dollar Athlete’ by by Brian Windhorst (2019)

LeBron, Inc is a behind-the-scenes look at the business that is LeBron James. The book assumes a fairly detailed knowledge of LeBron’s basketball career and successes and provides a reasonably deep dive into the commercial decisions that have shaped LeBron’s brand and his wealth.

What makes LeBron’s story unique is his decision to trust his friends and inner circle with important business decisions.  His friend, Maverick Carter, emerges as the dominant influence in LeBron’s commercial ventures and a hugely impressive businessman who demonstrated strong commercial acumen and proved his doubters wrong. Surprisingly, there is much less coverage in the book about LeBron’s other close friend and adviser Rich Paul whose sports agency business is having a huge impact on basketball.

One of the most significant decisions LeBron and his team made was not to sign typical sponsorship deals and instead seek an ownership stake for any products he backed.  The book details his involvement with Beats by Dre headphones and the brilliant marketing results achieved by LeBron simply gifting the headphones to friends and other famous athletes.  Another major feature in LeBron’s success has been his ability to wisely pick his professional advisers and choose people who could open up significant doors for him.  He has ended up getting involved in an incredibly wide array of ventures including a share in Liverpool FC and his own mulitmedia platform.

Importantly the book also shines a light on LeBron’s philanthropic endeavours, and his I Promise schools which are an incredible initiative. Much like Andre Agassi has done, LeBron has put a focus on improving education and opportunity for under privileged kids.

The book is pretty short but at times a little repetitive and could maybe have used a tighter edit.  The author, Brian Windhorst, clearly has significant access and contacts with LeBron’s team which gives an inside track on the reasons and motivations for different decisions.  I do wonder if the book might be a bit too positive and lauding of LeBron.  While it does recount some mistakes, the tone is undoubtedly very pro-LeBron and perhaps it could have been a little more objective.  That said, I’m not aware of anything negative that has been left out that should have been included.

Overall however this is a short, fascinating read and a relatively rare insight to the commercial life of a global superstar.

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‘Michael Jordan: The Life’ by Roland Lazenby (2014)

Michael Jordan may be the most analysed sportsmen of all time.   He is already the subject of one of the all time great sports books Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made by the late, great David Halberstam.  The darker side of his personality had already been brilliantly exposed in The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith.  And countless other books have told the story of his career and his life.

I must admit, that given this extensive coverage, I wasn’t sure there was much to interest me in a full Jordan bio.  Michael Jordan: The Life sat on my shelf unread for more than 3 years.  Once I picked it up however, I couldn’t put it down.

While most other books tend to focus on a specific season or specific aspect of his life,  Lazenby does a great job of telling the fuller picture of his life and playing career.

The first part of the book detailing his background, the history of his parents and ancestors is particularly strong with Lazenby’s skill as a biographer shining through. The strength of the book is the intense focus on Jordan’s relationships – with his coaches, family, friends, other players and the numerous other people whose crossed his path.  The story is told largely through the stories of those who accompanied Jordan through the various phases of his life..

His parents are presented as complex characters and the darker, but still unproven, side of the Jordan family history is touched on.  In particular, I was left with even greater admiration for Bulls coach Phil Jackson’s leadership and management ability.  Getting Jordan to work for the greater good of the team took a special coach and Jackson was clearly the right man for the job.

It’s a big book yet I would have liked a bit more on Jordan’s life/career post playing.  Being a run-of-the mill owner isn’t quite as interesting as winning 6 rings, but it felt like the book ran out of steam a little bit.

It’s a study of Jordan the man as much as Jordan the icon yet Lazenby wisely avoids over analysing Jordan or guessing as to his motives.  But by the end of the book, I was left with a pretty negative view of the man yet the a recognition that such unimaginable wealth, fame and public pressure would be hard for anyone to emerge from unscathed.

I highly recommend Michael Jordan: The Life.  Be careful though, it’s a book that can easily send you down a YouTube rabbit hole of Jordan clips.

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‘The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty’ by Adrian Wojnarowski (2005)

The Miracle of St. Anthony is my one of top three all time favourite sports books.  I’ve re-read it a few times and imagine I’ll do so every few years.  Not only is the writing fantastic but the story is incredible.

Wojnarowski follows legendary Coach Bob Hurley and his St. Anthony High School basketball team through he 2003-2004 season.   Hurley is an old school, tough as nails, coach who motivates through discipline.  Ultimately he is a source of stability and loyalty to his players and his commitment to improve their lives is remarkable.

Bob Hurley gained national fame when his son Bobby became a legend at Duke University.   He has turned that fame into a way to raise funds for the school by coaching clinics for wealthier schools.  Hurley has turned down multiple job offers at collegiate level recognising that St. Anthony’s survival was heavily dependent on his presence.

The season plays out like a novel keeping the reader gripped as the life stories of the coach, the nuns who manage the school and the players unfold.  2003–04 was a unique year for St. Anthony’s.  Unlike most years when the team would expect to send 3 or 4 players to major college teams, most of the players weren’t reaching academic standards.  Off the court, it seemed like the players lives were struggling and their presence on the team never assured.   These challenges meant Hurley’s coaching ability was tested to the very limit.  Wojnarowski couldn’t have picked a better year to follow the team.

Unsurprisingly, the book reminds me of Feinstein’s A Season on the Brink, one of the original and classic ‘behind the scenes for a season’ sports books.  However, while there are superficial similarities between coaches Bobby Knight and Bob Hurley (hugely successful, very tough on players), Hurley is a much more impressive and admirable figure.  Hurley’s toughness is not just aimed at basketball success but at steering the players to a better path in life.  Hurley sees his job as his calling – and has turned down opportunities to earn much more money in collegiate coaching.   Knight by contrast seems driven only to win for winnings sake.  As one character in this book notes, you wouldn’t want your loved one’s coached by Knight whereas Hurley was the best thing to happen to many of the kids who crossed his path.

A simply wonderful book.

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‘Loose Balls: The Short, Wild Life of the American Basketball Association’ by Terry Pluto (1990)

The American Basketball Association was as an upstart professional league which lasted 9 years before eventually merging with the NBA in 1976.  Well, 4 teams were absorbed into the NBA –  the other 2 teams were left to die (a well-compensated death) and 4 other ABA teams had already folded.

Loose Balls is an oral history of the ABA, the crazy stories, and the impact it ultimately had on the NBA.  It’s remarkable that the ABA survived 9 years with almost no television exposure and very scant newspaper coverage.  The lack of a strong written or video record meant that Pluto wisely chose to write an oral history detailing the often contradictory but always entertaining memories of the key characters in the ABA story.

The ABA’s formation seemed to have been quite haphazard.  In many ways it came into existence because of one man, Dennis Murphy’s, determination to set up a sports league.  Key decisions such as the use of a red-white-and-blue ball and the introduction of a 3 point shot were made on whim rather than being part of a grand design.

The book is exceptionally funny because the characters involved and the shenanigans they got up to funny, bizarre and entertaining.  The story is a wild ride of crazy characters, marketing stunts and, importantly, some very good basketball players.  The business side of the story is also fascinating as teams scrambled to survive and to try and pressure the NBA into a merger.

All of those interviewed by Pluto share the view that the ABA fundamentally changed professional basketball.  These changes included the move to a faster paced game, the 3 point shot, the drafting of younger players and the overall focus on entertainment.   It’s also remarkable just how successful many of the ex-ABA players were after crossing over to the NBA.

There is something I find incredibly interesting about attempts to create a new sports league rivaling a well-established league.  It seems like a crazy idea doomed to fail.  Jeff Pearlman’s recent Football for a Buck brilliantly told the crazy story of the failed United States Football League. And Vince McMahon’s determination to bring back the XFL in 2020 shows there will always be dreamers willing to risk big bucks to break the monopoly of major sports leagues.

Loose Balls covers all 9 seasons, all 10 teams and most of the major players involved in the ABA.  It’s the definitive history of the ABA told by those who lived and loved it.  It is a classic sports book that deserves its place on the list of the all time greats.

As a companion piece, I’d highly recommend the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary Free Spirits which interviews many of those who spoke to Pluto, as well as Pluto himself.  It focuses on the Spirit of St. Louis team who lasted only two years, had a crazy cast of characters and whose owners secured the best financial deal in sports history when being denied a place in the NBA.

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‘Boys Among Men: How the Prep-To-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution’ by Jonathan Abrams (2017)

It’s always been an interesting quirk that the uber-capitalist, free-marketing loving, USA have the most socialist sports financial arrangements with salary caps, minimum pay rates and other restrictons.  As part of collective bargaining between team owners and player unions, rules have often been accepted which prevent athletes from playing in a major league until a set period of time has passed since they graduated from high school.  Even then, the player can’t sign for whoever he likes, but rather is assigned a team through a draft!  Great for preserving competitive balance, not so good for the guy who has no choice but move his life to a random city.

Prior to 2005, the NBA didn’t have any post high-school restriction (other than an age minimum of 18) and therefore high-school students were eligible to declare for the NBA draft without attending college.  Despite a few high profile cases in the 1970’s, no players followed this route for 20 years until Kevin Garnett was drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 1995 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Over the next few years, a number of future legends would follow in Garnett’s footsteps with Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Amar’e Stoudemire, LeBron James and Dwight Howard among them.   There were also plenty of players however who never made it and whose lives never quite recovered from the failure to live up to the hype.

Boys Among Men takes a detailed look at the careers and lives of many of the high school players who jumped straight into the NBA – both the successes and failures – and those who tried to do so but went undrafted.  Abrams describes how Garnett broke the mould and how his success led other teams to overcome their initial reluctance to draft direct from high school.   In particular, after Kobe Bryant dropped to 13th pick, a number of teams realised they had missed out on a Hall of Fame level talent and were determined not to repeat their mistake.

Abrams makes clear that there was no one factor which could determine whether an 18 year old would be able to make it in the NBA.  It could be that players overestimated their own talents or lacked the work ethic to reach the standard or had been exploited by unscrupulous adults.  Some came from such difficult backgrounds that the money and fame was too much for them to handle.  Others simply didn’t mature physically as they may have expected or hoped.   Those players that did succeed often came from equally difficult backgrounds but had usually gotten, and accepted, much better advice and managed to adapt quicker to the higher level of play.

In telling the story of the ‘prep-to-pro’ generation, Abrams also tells the story of the NBA’s transition from the Jordan era to the LeBron era.   The generation of players that arrived in the NBA during this period would go on to dominate the sport with many having incredibly long careers.  Howard even managed to play in the NBA in his teens, 20s, 30s and 40s!   They were instrumental in helping the NBA recover from its post-Jordon slump (in attendance and viewing figures), and again becoming a major league on a par with the NFL.

The book is exceptionally well researched and its clear that Abrams interviewed a vast number of players, agents, coaches and other insiders like the legendary Nike and Addias executive Sonny Vaccaro (subject of the great 30 for 30 film Sole Man).  As an experienced beat writer, Abrams is brilliant at recounting on-court details but the key focus on the book is the mindset of the players – what factors go into their decisions, how did they approach the step up to the NBA and why do they believe they succeeded or failed.  

As well as telling the story of the players, Abrams also considers how both the pro and college game have responded since the age limit was increased to 19.  He includes a range of viewpoints – both positive and negative – and avoids reaching a firm conclusion.  What’s clear is that the decision had a profound impact on college basketball with one-and-done players becoming ever more common and certain colleges, like Kentucky, responding much better to that trend.

The book is at its best when chronicling the stories of those who never quite made it.  The exploits of Garnett, LeBron and Kobe Bryant are well known.  The stories of  Lenny Cooke, Korleone Young, and Leon Smith were unfamiliar to me but just as interesting.  I suspect had I been given millions of dollars at 18 years of age, I’d have had a pretty hard time doing anything but partying!

Boys to Men is a really interesting and enjoyable book.  Abrams doesn’t take sides, but simply tells the story from a range of viewpoints and perspectives.  It’s a book that would be enjoyed by any basketball fan.

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