Very Quick Review: THE LAST ENFORCER by Charles Oakley, w. Frank Isola (Gallery)

OakleyC-LastEnforcerAn interesting, albeit limited memoir

A memoir from Charles Oakley — one of the toughest and most loyal players in NBA history — featuring unfiltered stories about the journey that basketball has taken him on and his relationships with Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, James Dolan, Donald Trump, George Floyd, and so many others.

If you ask a New York Knicks fan about Charles Oakley, you better prepare to hear the love and a favorite story or two. But his individual stats weren’t remarkable, and while he helped power the Knicks to ten consecutive playoffs, he never won a championship. So why does he hold such a special place in the minds, hearts, and memories of NBA players and fans?

Because over the course of nineteen years in the league, Oakley was at the center of more unbelievable encounters than Forrest Gump, and nearly as many fights as Mike Tyson. He was the friend you wish you had, and the enemy you wish you’d never made. If any opposing player was crazy enough to start a fight with him, or God forbid one of his teammates, Oakley would end it.

“I can’t remember every rebound I grabbed but I do have a story — the true story — of just about every punch and slap on my resume,” he says.

In The Last Enforcer, Oakley shares one incredible story after the next — all in his signature, unfiltered style — about his life in the paint and beyond, fighting for rebounds and respect. You’ll look back on the era of the 1990s NBA, when tough guys with rugged attitudes, unflinching loyalty, and hard-nosed work ethics were just as important as three-point sharpshooters. You’ll feel like you were on the court, in the room, can’t believe what you just saw, and need to tell everyone you know about it.

I was looking forward to reading this memoir. Like many people, Michael Jordan’s prime years with the Chicago Bulls was my introduction to basketball. Oakley was one of Jordan’s earlier teammates, and is one of his closest friends, but was traded away to the Knicks just before the Bulls embarked on their epic six-championships run. This is his story, complete with honest, blunt appraisals of his teammates, the League (now and then), and more. It’s got plenty of interesting insights and illuminating stories. But in many ways, it also comes across as rather one-note. Continue reading

Quick Review: WHERE TOMORROWS AREN’T PROMISED by Carmelo Anthony & D. Watkins (Gallery)

AnthonyC-WhereTomorrowsArentPromisedUSHCAn interesting memoir about family, struggle, and basketball

A raw and inspirational memoir about growing up in the housing projects of Red Hook and Baltimore — a brutal world Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised.

For a long time, Carmelo Anthony’s world wasn’t any larger than the view of the hoopers and hustlers he watched from the side window of his family’s first-floor project apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. He couldn’t dream any bigger than emulating his older brothers and cousin, much less going on to become a basketball champion on the world stage.

He faced palpable dangers growing up in the housing projects in Red Hook and West Baltimore’s Murphy Homes (a.k.a. Murder Homes, subject of HBO’s The Wire). He navigated an education system that ignored, exploited, or ostracized him. He suffered the untimely deaths of his closely held loved ones. He struggled to survive physically and emotionally. But with the strength of family and the guidance of key mentors on the streets and on the court, he pushed past lethal odds to endure and thrive.

By the time Carmelo found himself at the NBA Draft at Madison Square Garden in 2003 preparing to embark on his legendary career, he wondered: How did a kid who’d had so many hopes, dreams, and expectations beaten out of him by a world of violence, poverty, and racism make it here at all?

Carmelo’s story is one of perseverance and determination; of dribbling past players bigger and tougher than him, while also weaving around vial caps and needles strewn across the court; where dealers and junkies lined one side of the asphalt and kids playing jacks and Double Dutch lined the other; where rims had no nets, and you better not call a foul — a place Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised.

I didn’t know that much about Carmelo Anthony before reading Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised. As someone who follows the NBA, I’d of course heard his name and that he was a star. In January 2020, shortly before the pandemic rolled in, he snatched victory away from the Toronto Raptors in the last live game I saw. (It was a superb, albeit frustrating, shot.) So, when I had the opportunity to read his new memoir, I jumped at the chance. And I’m glad I did — this wasn’t the memoir I was expecting, but it it is an excellent glimpse into the mind and early life of a basketball All-Star. Continue reading

Quick Review: GIANNIS by Mirin Fader (Hachette)

FaderM-GiannisUSHCThe Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP

The story of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s extraordinary rise from poverty in Athens, Greece to super-stardom in America with the Milwaukee Bucks — becoming one of the most transcendent players in history and an NBA champion…

As the face of the NBA’s new world order, Giannis Antetokounmpo has overcome unfathomable obstacles to become a symbol of hope for people all over the world, the personification of the American Dream. But his backstory remains largely untold, and Fader unearths new information about the childhood that shaped “The Greek Freak”—from sleeping side by side with his brothers to selling trinkets on the side of the street with his family to the racism he experienced in Greece. Antetokounmpo grew up in an era when Golden Dawn, Greek’s far-right, anti-immigrant party, patrolled his neighborhood, and his status as an illegal immigrant largely prevented him from playing for Greek’s top clubs, making his rise to the NBA all the more improbable. Fader tells a deeply-human story of how an unknown, skinny, Black-Greek teen, who played in the country’s lowest pro division and was seen as a draft gamble, transformed his body and his game into MVP material.

Has there been a better-timed book, recently? Shortly before this book’s release date, the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis Anetokounmpo, won their second NBA championship — the franchise’s first was in 1971 (a team led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Like many fans of the NBA, I was aware of Giannis and his incredible impact on the court. However, I didn’t know that much about his past or upbringing. In Giannis, Mirin Fader offers readers an engaging, well-written and nuanced portrait of Antetokounmpo’s rise to greatness, and the forces that have shaped him as a player and man. Continue reading

Quick Review: CAN’T KNOCK THE HUSTLE by Matt Sullivan (Dey Street Books)

SullivanM-CantKnockTheHustleUSA behind-the-scenes account of the 2019-2020 NBA season, by way of the notorious Brooklyn Nets and basketball’s renaissance as a cultural force beyond the game.

The Nets were already the most intriguing startup in the NBA: a team of influencers, entrepreneurs and activists, starring the controversial Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But this dynasty-in-the-making got disrupted by the unforeseen. One tweet launched an international scandal, pitting the team’s Chinese owner and the league’s commissioner against its players and LeBron James. The sudden death of Kobe Bryant, after making his final public appearance in Brooklyn, sent shockwaves through a turbulent season.

Then came the unimaginable. A global pandemic and a new civil-rights movement put basketball’s trend-setting status to the ultimate test, as business and culture followed the lead of the NBA and its empowered stars. No team intersected with the extremes of 2020 quite like the Brooklyn Nets, and Matt Sullivan had a courtside view.

Can’t Knock the Hustle crosses from on the court, where underdogs confront A-listers like Jay-Z and James Harden, to off the court, as players march through the streets of Brooklyn, provoke Donald Trump at the White House, and boycott the NBA’s bubble experiment in Disney World. 

Hundreds of interviews — with Hall-of-Famers, All-Stars, executives, coaches and power-brokers across the world — provide a backdrop of the NBA’s impact on social media, race, politics, health, fashion, fame and fandom, for a portrait of a time when sports brought us back together again, like never before. 

Matt Sullivan’s Can’t Knock the Hustle is, quite possibly, one of the best basketball books available. Counterintuitively, this is in large part because it’s not all about basketball — rather, the Brooklyn Nets and other athletes and personnel who make an appearance, are a lens through which readers see the changing political and social landscape of America. Expertly written, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: STEVE KERR by Scott Howard-Cooper (William Morrow)

HowardCooperS-SteveKerrUSHCThe definitive biography of Steve Kerr, the championship-winning basketball player and head coach of the record-breaking Golden State Warriors

Few individuals have had a career as storied, and improbable, as Steve Kerr. He has won eight NBA titles — five as a player and three as a coach — for three different franchises. He played alongside the best players of a generation, from Michael Jordan to Shaquille O’Neal to Tim Duncan, and learned the craft of basketball under four legendary coaches. He was an integral part of two famed NBA dynasties. Perhaps no other figure in basketball history has had a hand in such greatness.

In Steve Kerr, award-winning sports journalist Scott Howard-Cooper uncovers the fascinating life story of a basketball legend. Kerr did not follow a traditional path to the NBA. He was born in Beirut to two academics and split his childhood between California and the Middle East. Though he was an impressive shooter, the undersized Kerr garnered almost no attention from major college programs, managing only at the last moment to snag the final scholarship at the University of Arizona. Then, during his freshman season at Arizona, tragedy struck. His father, Malcolm, then the president of the American University of Beirut, was assassinated in Lebanon by terrorists. Forged by the crucible of this family saga, Steve went on to chart an unparalleled life in basketball, on the court and on the sidelines.

The only coach other than Red Auerbach to lead a team to the Finals five consecutive seasons, Kerr seems destined for the Basketball Hall of Fame. Steve Kerr is his incredible story, offering insights into the man and what it takes to be — and make — a champion. Drawing upon Scott Howard-Cooper’s years covering the Warriors, deep archival research, and original interviews with more than one hundred of the central characters in Kerr’s life, this is basketball biography at its finest.

I first learned who Steve Kerr was during the Golden State Warriors’ championship runs from 2014-19 (a run the Raptors ended). Over those years, I picked up bits and pieces of information about his playing career — specifically, that he was on the Chicago Bulls during Michael Jordan’s post-baseball years back on the team. It wasn’t until The Last Dance docu-series that I learned a bit more about his pre-Warriors life. With Scott Howard-Cooper’s Steve Kerr: A Life, I’ve been able to fill in the gaps. This is a very good picture of Kerr’s fascinating life, on and off the court. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE LAST SEASON by Phil Jackson (Penguin)

JacksonP-LastSeasonUSPBPhil Jackson’s memoir for the final year of his (first) stint as Lakers coach

An inside look at the season that proved to be the final ride of a truly great dynasty — Kobe Bryant, Shaq, and the LA Lakers

For the countless basketball fans who were spellbound by the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2003-2004 high-wire act, this book is a rare and phenomenal treat. In The Last Season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson draws on his trademark honesty and insight to tell the whole story of the season that proved to be the final ride of a truly great dynasty. From the signing of future Hall-of-Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton to the Kobe Bryant rape case/media circus, this is a riveting tale of clashing egos, public feuds, contract disputes, and team meltdowns that only a coach, and a writer, of Jackson’s candor, experience, and ability could tell. Full of tremendous human drama and offering lessons on coaching and on life, this is a book that no sports fan can possibly pass up.

I recently read Jeff Pearlman’s excellent, entertaining Three-Ring Circus: an account of the LA Lakers’ three-championship run in the early 2000s. Coached by Phil Jackson and led by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, the team was dominant, impressive to watch, and dysfunctional. Pearlman’s book is a warts-and-all, humorous examination of the team and the characters that comprised it. I wanted to read more about the team and the NBA of that time, so I picked up Jackson’s memoir of his the 2003-4 season. What I found was an interesting, informative, and engaging read. Continue reading

Quick Review: THREE-RING CIRCUS by Jeff Pearlman (HMH)

PearlmanJ-ThreeRingCircusUSAn amusing, irreverent account of the Lakers of Kobe, Shaq, and Phil Jackson

The story of the Lakers dynasty from 1996 through 2004, when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal combined — and collided — to help bring the Lakers three straight championships and restore the franchise as a powerhouse 

In the history of modern sport, there have never been two high-level teammates who loathed each other the way Shaquille O’Neal loathed Kobe Bryant, and Kobe Bryant loathed Shaquille O’Neal. From public sniping and sparring, to physical altercations and the repeated threats of trade, it was warfare. And yet, despite eight years of infighting and hostility, by turns mediated and encouraged by coach Phil Jackson, the Shaq-Kobe duo resulted in one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history. Together, the two led the Lakers to three straight championships and returned glory and excitement to Los Angeles.

I’m not sure I can remember a time when I didn’t know the names “Kobe Bryant” and, especially, “Shaquille O’Neal”. This despite not having access to NBA games (in person or on TV) until Kobe’s final year in the League, and after Shaq had retired. I knew they’d won the championship together at least twice, but that was it. When Pearlman’s Three-Ring Circus popped up on my radar, I knew I had to read it. And I’m very glad I did: it’s a detailed, irreverent and (seemingly) balanced account of the tense years leading up to and including the Lakers’ three-peat. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: KG: A TO Z by Kevin Garnett (Simon & Schuster)

GarnettK-KGAtoZAn interesting and unorthodox memoir from one of Boston’s Big Three

A unique, unfiltered memoir from the NBA champion and fifteen-time all-star ahead of his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Kevin Garnett was one of the most dominant players the game of basketball has ever seen. He was also one of its most outspoken. Over the course of his illustrious twenty-one-year NBA career, he elevated trash talk to an art form and never shied away from sharing his thoughts on controversial subjects. In KG A to Z, published ahead of Garnett’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he looks back on his life and career with the same raw candor.

Garnett describes the adversity he faced growing up in South Carolina before ultimately relocating to Chicago, where he became one of the top prospects in the nation. He details his headline-making decision to skip college and become the first player in two decades to enter the draft directly from high school, starting a trend that would be followed by future superstars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He shares stories of playing with and against Bryant, James, Michael Jordan, and other NBA greats, and he chronicles his professional ups and downs, including winning a championship with the Boston Celtics. He also speaks his mind on a range of topics beyond basketball, such as fame, family, racism, spirituality, and music.

Garnett’s draft decision wasn’t the only way he’d forever change the game. His ability to play on the perimeter as a big man foreshadowed the winning strategy now universally adopted by the league. He applies this same innovative spirit here, organizing the contents alphabetically as an encyclopedia. If you thought Kevin Garnett was exciting, inspiring, and unfiltered on the court, just wait until you read what he has to say in these pages.

Kevin Garnett — long-time Minnesota Timberwolves star, member of the Boston Celtics championship-winning Big Three. KG is one of my in-laws’ favourite players. As I’ve mentioned (probably too frequently, now), I grew up loving the game of basketball, but completely cut off from access to the NBA. So, after reading Michael Holley’s The Big Three, I was keen to learn more about the eponymous trio. Garnett’s memoir, which I ‘read’ as an audiobook, offers an interesting, well-told, and engaging insight into one of the NBA’s great players. Continue reading

Upcoming: CAN’T KNOCK THE HUSTLE by Matt Sullivan (Dey Street Books)

SullivanM-CantKnockTheHustleUSEver since Kevin Durant said he was going to leave the Warriors and go to the Nets, the Brooklyn team has been creating a bigger stir than normal. Fellow superstar Kyrie Irving also joined the team in 2019. Steve Nash was named their new coach. Then, following a rather strange series of events last month, the Nets added another superstar in James Harden. The Nets are currently #2 in the East, and with the three powerhouse players, it’s almost inevitable that they’ll get deep into the playoffs, if not make the finals. It’s safe to say that interest in the team is high. This summer, some of that interest will be served by Matt Sullivan‘s new book, Can’t Knock the Hustle. Pitched as “David Halberstam’s classic The Breaks of the Game meets Michael Lewis’s Moneyball for the modern age”, it covers “the Season of Protest, Pandemic, and Progress with the Brooklyn Nets’ Superstars of Tomorrow”. Here’s the full synopsis:

An award-winning journalist’s behind-the-scenes account from the epicenter of sports, social justice and coronavirus — a lasting chronicle of the historic 2019-2020 NBA season, by way of the notorious Brooklyn Nets and basketball’s renaissance as a cultural force beyond the game.

The Brooklyn Nets were already the most intriguing startup in sports: a team full of influencers, entrepreneurs and activists at the heart of American culture, starring the controversial Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But this dynasty-in-the-making got disrupted by the unforeseen. One tweet launched an international scandal pitting Brooklyn’s Chinese owner and the NBA’s commissioner against its players and LeBron James. Then came the death of Kobe Bryant, a tragic shock in an already turbulent season, as the league re-launched into a world of uncertainty with the entertainment business following its lead: Covid-19 and a new civil-rights movement put basketball’s role in society to the ultimate test — and no team intersected with the extremes of 2020 quite like the Brooklyn Nets.

Can’t Knock the Hustle crosses from on the court, where underdogs confront A-listers like Jay-Z and James Harden, to off the court, as players march through the streets of Brooklyn, provoke Donald Trump at the White House and fight for social justice from the NBA’s bubble experiment in Disney World. 

Hundreds of interviews — with Hall-of-Famers, All-Stars, executives, coaches and power-brokers from across the globe — provide a backdrop of the NBA’s impact on social media, race, politics, health, fashion, fame and fandom, for a portrait of a time when sports brought us back together again, like never before.

Matt Sullivan’s Can’t Knock the Hustle is due to be published by Dey Street Books in North America and in the UK, on June 22nd, 2021.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: BUBBLEBALL by Ben Golliver (Abrams Press)

GolliverB-BubbleballUSAn excellent account of life in the NBA bubble

A captivating account of the NBA’s strangest season ever, from shutdown to championship, from a prominent national basketball writer living inside the bubble

When NBA player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2020, the league shut down immediately, bringing a shocking, sudden pause to the season. As the pandemic raged, it looked as if it might be the first year in league history with no champion. But four months later, after meticulous planning, twenty-two teams resumed play in a “bub­ble” at Disney World-a restricted, single-site locale cut off from the outside world.

Due to health concerns, the league invited only a handful of reporters, who were required to sacrifice medical privacy, live in a hotel room for more than three months, and submit to daily coronavirus test­ing in hopes of keeping the bubble from bursting. In exchange for the constant monitoring and restricted movement, they were allowed into a basketball fan’s dream, with a courtside seat at dozens of games in nearly empty arenas.

Ben Golliver, the national NBA writer for the The Washington Post, was one of those allowed access. Bubbleball is his account of the season and life inside, telling the story of how basketball bounced back from its shutdown, how players staged headline-grabbing social justice protests, and how Lakers star LeBron James chased his fourth ring in unconventional and unforgettable circumstances. Based on months of reporting in the exclusive, confined environment, this is an entertaining record of an extraordinary season.

“March 11, 2020, the day that the balls stopped bouncing.” After Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19, the 2019-20 NBA season was brought to an abrupt end. For the billion dollar business/league, this led to a frantic period of planning and strategizing to find a way to safely save the season. I love watching and playing basketball, but I would be lying if I said the paused season was at the forefront of my mind in the early days of the pandemic. For Ben Golliver, however, the abrupt end to the NBA season was potentially life-changing: the Washington Post‘s NBA correspondent, it meant his job came to a screeching halt, too. As the NBA maneuvered to save the season, Golliver was approved to attend the whole Bubble-season in Florida. This is his engaging, well-written account of those three months.
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