Very Quick Review: WE THE NORTH by Doug Smith (Viking)

SmithD-WeTheNorthA reporter reflects on 25 years of the Toronto Raptors

When the Toronto Raptors first took the court back in 1995, the world was a very different place. Michael Jordan was tearing up the NBA. No one had email. And a lot of people wondered whether basketball could survive in Toronto, the holy city of hockey.

Twenty-five years later, the Raptors are the heroes not only of the 416, but of the entire country. That is the incredible story of We the North, told by Doug Smith, the Toronto Star reporter who has been covering the team since the press conference announcing Canada’s new franchise and the team’s beat reporter from that day on.

Comprising twenty-five chapters to mark the team’s twenty-five years, We the North celebrates the biggest moments of the quarter-century–from Vince Carter’s amazing display at the dunk competition to the play-off runs, the major trades, the Raptors’ incredible fans, including Nav Bhatia and Drake, and, of course, the challenges that marked the route to the championship-clinching Game 6 that brought the whole country to a standstill.

We the North: 25 Years of the Toronto Raptors tells the story of Canada’s most exciting team, charting their rise from a sporting oddity in a hockey-mad country to the status they hold today as the reigning NBA champions and national heroes.

I’ve written about how I quickly became a Raptors fan after moving to Toronto in 2014, and how the greater access to NBA games (on TV and also, occasionally in-person) made me somewhat addicted to the sport. Like many (most?) people in the city, I was swept up by the excitement of the 2019 championship run and victory. I have also been enjoying the many stories from my in-laws, who have been avid Raptor fans since the franchise was launched, who have provided some interesting and useful lessons in the franchise’s history. Doug Smith has been there from the start: the first reporter on the Raptors beat. We the North is a collection of short essays, covering various aspects of the team and its history. It’s an engaging read. Continue reading

Upcoming: STEVE KERR: A LIFE by Scott Howard-Cooper (William Morrow)

HowardCooperS-SteveKerrUSHCLast year, I started reading a lot of books about the NBA. In particular, I read four books about the Golden State Warriors — one each on Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala (a superb memoir), and another that covered KD’s winning tenure with and departure from the team. Like pretty much everyone else with even an slight interest in basketball, I also watched The Last Dance. In all of these, Steve Kerr featured quite prominently — as a teammate of Michael Jordan’s, and later as the successful coach of the Warriors. He was, however, not the focal subject of any of these books or TV series. This year, Scott Howard-Cooper‘s biography of Kerr is due to hit shelves, and I’m very much looking forward to reading it. Here’s the synopsis:

Few individuals have had a career as storied — and improbable — as Steve Kerr. He’s been part of eight NBA titles, General Manager of a franchise, and a respected broadcaster. Playing under three Hall of Fame coaches, including Phil Jackson, and a fourth destined for enshrinement, Gregg Popovich, Kerr was on five championship teams before winning three more as one of the most accomplished coaches in the NBA, with three NBA titles. Kerr’s teammates have included the greatest of the greatest: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, and Dennis Rodman.

In this fascinating biography, Scott Howard-Cooper looks at the man and the facets of his unusual life that have made him a legend, from his childhood growing up in the Middle East as the son of academics, to the tragedy of his father’s murder by terrorists; the inauspicious years of his early career at the University of Arizona and in the NBA; his championship-winning seasons with the Chicago Bulls and the Antonio Spurs; his success as head coach of the Golden State Warriors, leading the team to the NBA title in his first year, and adding two more championships in the next four seasons. 

The only NBA 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, the game he personifies, and what it takes to be — and make — a champion.

Scott Howard-Cooper’s Steve Kerr is due to be published by William Morrow on June 15th, in North America and in the UK.

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: THE BIG THREE by Michael Holley (Hachette)

HolleyM-BigThreeUSHow three of the NBA’s best players dominated the league and lead the Boston Celtics to their first championship in more than two decades

The first of “The Big Three” was Paul Pierce. As Boston Celtics fans watched the team retire Pierce’s jersey in a ceremony on February 11, 2018, they remembered again the incredible performances Pierce put on in the city for fifteen years, helping the Celtics escape the bottom of their conference to become champions and perennial championship contenders. But Pierce’s time in the city wasn’t always so smooth. In 2000, he was stabbed in a downtown nightclub eleven times in a seemingly random attack. Six years later, remaining the sole star on a struggling team, he asked to be traded and briefly became a lightning rod among fans.

Then, in 2007, the Boston Celtics General Manager made two monumental trades, bringing Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston. A press conference on July 31, 2007 was a sight to behold: Pierce, KG, and Ray Allen holding up Celtics jerseys for the flood of media. Coach Doc Rivers made sure the team bonded over the thought of winning a title and living by a Bantu term called Ubuntu, which translates as “I am because we are.” Rivers wanted to make it clear that togetherness and brotherhood would help them maximize their talent and win. What came next — the synthesis of the Celtics’ “Big Three” and their dominant championship run — cemented their standing as one of great teams in NBA history, a rival to Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and LeBron James’s Cavaliers.

The story of the 2007-9 Celtics has popped up in a couple of NBA books that I’ve read recently, and thought I wanted to learn some more — more than I could learn from the internet, certainly. I saw that this book was on the way, and was lucky to receive a review copy. It’s a well-written and balanced story, told with authority and also affection — for the team, the players, and the sport. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Review: RAPTURE by Nick Nurse & Michael Sokolove (Little, Brown)

NurseN-RaptureNick Nurse’s long journey to the NBA and how his experiences led to the Raptors’ Championship

Nick Nurse distills the wisdom, insight, and experiences that helped him lead the Toronto Raptors to the NBA championship in his first year as head coach.

NBA fans had modest  expectations for rookie coach Nick Nurse and his Toronto Raptors. But what those naysayers didn’t realize was that Nurse had spent the past thirty years proving himself at every level of the game, from youth programs and college ball to the NBA D League and Britain’s struggling pro circuit. While few coaches have taken such a circuitous path to pro basketball’s promised land, the journey-which began at Kuemper Catholic high school in Carroll, Iowa-forged a coach who proved to be as unshakable as he is personable.

On the road, he is known to bring his guitar and keyboard for late-night jazz and blues sessions. In the locker room, he’s steadfast and even-keeled regardless of the score. On the court, he pulls out old-school tactics with astounding success. A rookie in name but a veteran in attitude, Nurse is seemingly above the chaos of the game and, with only two seasons on his résumé, has already established himself as one of the NBA’s most admired head coaches.

Now, in this revealing new book — equal parts personal memoir, leadership mani­festo, and philosophical meditation — Nurse tells his own story. Given unprecedented access inside the Raptors’ locker room, readers get an intimate study of not only the team culture he has built, but also of a rookie coach’s unique dynamic with the star players — such as Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Low­ry, and Pascal Siakam — who helped trail-blaze the 2019 championship run. As much for readers of Ray Dalio as for fans of John Wooden and Pat Summitt, Rapture promis­es to be a necessary read for anyone looking to forge their own path to success.

I’ve been looking forward to this ever since it was announced (which was, I think, shortly after the Raptors’ NBA victory last summer). I started reading this a couple of days after it came out, and zipped through it. Written in an inviting and engaging style, Rapture is a quick and interesting read. I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE SIXTH MAN by Andre Iguodala & Carvell Wallace (Blue Rider Press)

IguodalaA-SixthManUSPBA superb memoir that is also a passionate, engaging meditation on race in America

Andre Iguodala is one of the most admired players in the NBA. And fresh off the Warriors’ fifth Finals appearance in five years, his game has never been stronger.

Off the court, Iguodala has earned respect, too — for his successful tech investments, his philanthropy, and increasingly for his contributions to the conversation about race in America. It is no surprise, then, that in his first book, Andre, with his cowriter Carvell Wallace, has pushed himself to go further than he ever has before about his life, not only as an athlete but about what makes him who he is at his core.

The Sixth Man traces Andre’s journey from childhood in his Illinois hometown to his Bay Area home court today. Basketball has always been there. But this is the story, too, of his experience of the conflict and racial tension always at hand in a professional league made up largely of African American men; of whether and why the athlete owes the total sacrifice of his body; of the relationship between competition and brotherhood among the players of one of history’s most glorious championship teams. And of what motivates an athlete to keep striving for more once they’ve already achieved the highest level of play they could have dreamed.

On drive, on leadership, on pain, on accomplishment, on the shame of being given a role, and the glory of taking a role on: This is a powerful memoir of life and basketball that reveals new depths to the superstar athlete, and offers tremendous insight into most urgent stories being told in American society today.

I’ve been on a bit of a basketball kick, recently. The NBA’s restart in Orlando has been playing in the background since it began (except for Raptors games, which I give the games my full attention). I decided that it was time to read The Sixth Man, Andre Iguodala’s acclaimed memoir. Co-authored by journalist Carvell Wallace, I had pretty high expectations. The book completely blew these expectations out of the water, and I blitzed through it. A superb book about basketball, life and race in America. Continue reading

Quick Review: GOLDEN by Marcus Thompson (Atria)

ThompsonM-GoldenStephCurryAn interesting biography of an unexpected basketball talent

The inside story of Steph Curry, the greatest shooter basketball has ever seen.

Golden is the first book to provide an all-access look at Steph Curry and the team that has fueled Dub Nation — by longtime Warriors beat reporter and Bay Area News Group sports columnist Marcus Thompson, the go-to expert on all things Golden State.

A lifelong Warriors fan turned insider Thompson is uniquely qualified to tell the definitive story of a singular talent, pulling back the curtain on the crazy work ethic and on-court intensity that make Curry great — and the emphasis on family and faith that keeps him grounded.

Combining the competitive grit and fun-loving spirit of his mother with the mild demeanor, easy charm, and sharp shooting of his father, former NBA player Dell Curry, Steph Curry derives support and strength from his close-knit kin and his commitment to Christianity. This hard-working, wholesome image however is both a blessing and curse in a League of big personalities. Thompson unravels the complicated underpinnings of the Steph Curry hate with a nuanced analysis of how class and complexion come into play when a child with an NBA pedigree becomes the face of a sport traditionally honed on inner-city black top and dominated by the less privileged.

With unprecedented access, Thompson draws from exclusive interviews with Steph Curry, his family, his teammates, Coach Steve Kerr, and the Warriors owners to bring readers inside the locker room and courtside with this remarkable athlete and man.

With the NBA season back and in full swing, I found myself in the mood to read about some of the various basketball books I’ve picked up over the years. Steph Curry and the Warriors were a juggernaut in recent years, which naturally led to the publication of a few books about the team and its stars. Originally published in 2017, I decided it was well-passed time for me to read Golden. It’s an interesting book, let down only by its subject.
Continue reading

Review: THE VICTORY MACHINE by Ethan Sherwood Strauss (Public Affairs)

StraussES-VictoryMachineAn interesting look at the rise and fall of the Golden State Warriors

How money, guts, and greed built the Warriors dynasty — and then took it apart

The Golden State Warriors dominated the NBA for the better part of a decade. Since the arrival of owner Joe Lacob, they won more championships and sold more merchandise than any other franchise in the sport. And in 2019, they opened the doors on a lavish new stadium.

Yet all this success contained some of the seeds of decline. Ethan Sherwood Strauss’s clear-eyed exposé reveals the team’s culture, its financial ambitions and struggles, and the price that its players and managers have paid for all their winning. From Lacob’s unlikely acquisition of the team to Kevin Durant’s controversial departure, Strauss shows how the smallest moments can define success or failure for years.

And, looking ahead, Strauss ponders whether this organization can rebuild after its abrupt fall from the top, and how a relentless business wears down its players and executives. The Victory Machine is a defining book on the modern NBA: it not only rewrites the story of the Warriors, but shows how the Darwinian business of pro basketball really works.

An interesting account of the rise of the Golden State Warriors, and the behind-the-scenes drama and tension surrounding Kevin Durant’s tenure as part of the team. A little bit gossipy, well-observed, and engaging, I enjoyed this. Continue reading