Quick Review: UNGUARDED by Scottie Pippen w. Michael Arkush (Atria Books)

PippenS-UnguardedUSHCHow the six-time NBA Champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and Hall of Famer, the youngest of twelve, overcame two family tragedies and universal disregard by college scouts to become an essential component of the greatest basketball dynasty of the last fifty years.

Scottie Pippen has been called one of the greatest NBA players for good reason.

Simply put, without Pippen, there are no championship banners — let alone six — hanging from the United Center rafters. There’s no Last Dance documentary. There’s no “Michael Jordan” as we know him. The 1990s Chicago Bulls teams would not exist as we know them.

So how did the youngest of twelve go from growing up poor in the small town of Hamburg, Arkansas, enduring two family tragedies along the way, to become a revered NBA legend? How did the scrawny teen, overlooked by every major collegiate basketball program, go on to become the fifth overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft? And, perhaps most compelling, how did Pippen set aside his ego (and his own limitless professional ceiling) in order for the Bulls to become the most dominant basketball dynasty of the last half century?

In Unguarded, the six-time champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist finally opens up to offer pointed and transparent takes on Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson, and Dennis Rodman, among others. Pippen details how he cringed at being labeled Jordan’s sidekick, and discusses how he could have (and should have) received more respect from the Bulls’ management and the media.

Pippen reveals never-before-told stories about some of the most famous games in league history, including the 1994 playoff game against the New York Knicks when he took himself out with 1.8 seconds to go. He discusses what it was like dealing with Jordan on a day-to-day basis, while serving as the facilitator for the offense and the anchor for the defense.

On the 30th anniversary of the Bulls’ first championship, Pippen is finally giving millions of adoring basketball fans what they crave; a raw, unvarnished look into his life, and role within one of the greatest, most popular teams of all time.

I think this may have been one of the fastest review copy requests I’ve ever submitted. A long time fan of basketball, albeit a relative newcomer to basketball history and publishing, I was very eager to read Pippen’s side of the story: that story, of course, including his time as a key member of the six-time NBA champions Chicago Bulls squad. Pippen gives readers the full sweep of his story, from his difficult upbringing, his shaky start in basketball, and ultimate rise to the pinnacle of the sport. It’s by turns interesting, illuminating, and also amusing. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: UNREQUITED INFATUATIONS by Stevie Van Zandt (Hachette)

VanZandtS-UnrequitedInfatuationsUSHCA fascinating and fun memoir from one of rock’s great guitarists and characters

Uncover never-before-told stories in this epic tale of self-discovery by a Rock n Roll disciple and member of the E Street Band.

What story begins in a bedroom in suburban New Jersey in the early ’60s, unfolds on some of the country’s largest stages, and then ranges across the globe, demonstrating over and over again how Rock and Roll has the power to change the world for the better? This story.

The first true heartbeat of Unrequited Infatuations  is the moment when Stevie Van Zandt trades in his devotion to the Baptist religion for an obsession with Rock and Roll. Groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones created new ideas of community, creative risk, and principled rebellion. They changed him forever. While still a teenager, he met Bruce Springsteen, a like-minded outcast/true believer who became one of his most important friends and bandmates. As Miami Steve, Van Zandt anchored the E Street Band as they conquered the Rock and Roll world.

And then, in the early ’80s, Van Zandt stepped away from E Street to embark on his own odyssey. He refashioned himself as Little Steven, a political songwriter and performer, fell in love with Maureen Santoro who greatly expanded his artistic palette, and visited the world’s hot spots as an artist/journalist to not just better understand them, but to help change them. Most famously, he masterminded the recording of “Sun City,” an anti-apartheid anthem that sped the demise of South Africa’s institutionalized racism and helped get Nelson Mandela out of prison.

By the ’90s, Van Zandt had lived at least two lives — one as a mainstream rocker, one as a hardcore activist. It was time for a third. David Chase invited Van Zandt to be a part of his new television show, the Sopranos — as Silvio Dante, he was the unconditionally loyal consiglieri who sat at the right hand of Tony Soprano (a relationship that oddly mirrored his real-life relationship with Bruce Springsteen).

Underlying all of Van Zandt’s various incarnations was a devotion to preserving the centrality of the arts, especially the endangered species of Rock. In the twenty-first century, Van Zandt founded a groundbreaking radio show (Little Steven’s Underground Garage), created the first two 24/7 branded music channels on SiriusXM (Underground Garage and Outlaw Country), started a fiercely independent record label (Wicked Cool), and developed a curriculum to teach students of all ages through the medium of music history. He also rejoined the E Street Band for what has now been a twenty-year victory lap.

Guitarist in the E Street Band, long-time friend of Bruce Springsteen, Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, political activist, standard bearer for rock ‘n’ roll. Stevie Van Zandt has been, and still is, many things. As evidenced by this memoir, he is also a great storyteller. I had high hopes for Unrequited Infatuations, but it absolutely exceeded them. Fascinating and fun, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Very Quick Review: THE ANTISOCIAL NETWORK by Ben Mezrich (Grand Central)

MezrichB-AntisocialNetworkUSHC“The GameStop Short Squeeze and the Ragtag Group of Amateur Traders That Brought Wall Street to Its Knees”

The definitive take on the wildest story of the year — the David-vs.-Goliath GameStop short squeeze, a tale of fortunes won and lost overnight that may end up changing Wall Street forever.

Bestselling author Ben Mezrich offers a gripping, beat-by-beat account of how a loosely affiliate group of private investors and internet trolls on a subreddit called WallStreetBets took down one of the biggest hedge funds on Wall Street, firing the first shot in a revolution that threatens to upend the establishment.

It’s the story of financial titans like Gabe Plotkin of hedge fund Melvin Capital, one of the most respected and staid funds on the Street, billionaires like Elon Musk, Steve Cohen, Mark Cuban, Robinhood co-CEOs Vlad Tenev and Baiju Bhatt, and Ken Griffin of Citadel Securities. Over the course of four incredible days, each in their own way must reckon with a formidable force they barely understand, let alone saw coming: everyday men and women on WallStreetBets like nurse Kim Campbell, college student Jeremy Poe, and the enigmatic Keith “RoaringKitty” Gill, whose unfiltered livestream videos captivated a new generation of stock market enthusiasts.

The unlikely focus of the battle: GameStop, a flailing brick-and-mortar dinosaur catering to teenagers and outsiders that had somehow held on as the world rapidly moved online. At first, WallStreetBets was a joke — a meme-filled, freewheeling place to share shoot-the-moon investment tips, laugh about big losses, and post diamond hand emojis. Until some members noticed an opportunity in GameStop — and rode a rocket ship to tens of millions of dollars in earnings overnight.

Like many readers, I was first introduced to Mezrich’s work with the excellent The Accidental Billionaires, the story of how Zuckerberg et al founded, launched and grew Facebook. Since then, he’s published a number of interesting and timely books, and The Antisocial Network is no different. A fascinating and well-told narrative of the GameStop drama of last year, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

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: THE AFGHANISTAN PAPERS by Craig Whitlock (Simon & Schuster)

WhitlockC-AfghanistanPapersA timely, illuminating, necessary, but strangely limited book

The groundbreaking investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about the longest war in American history…

Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: to defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives.

Distracted by the war in Iraq, the US military became mired in an unwinnable guerrilla conflict in a country it did not understand. But no president wanted to admit failure, especially in a war that began as a just cause. Instead, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations sent more and more troops to Afghanistan and repeatedly said they were making progress, even though they knew there was no realistic prospect for an outright victory.

Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains startling revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war, from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. All told, the account is based on interviews with more than 1,000 people who knew that the US government was presenting a distorted, and sometimes entirely fabricated, version of the facts on the ground.

Documents unearthed by The Washington Post reveal that President Bush didn’t know the name of his Afghanistan war commander — and didn’t want to make time to meet with him. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted he had “no visibility into who the bad guys are.” His successor, Robert Gates, said: “We didn’t know jack shit about al-Qaeda.”

The Afghanistan Papers is a shocking account that will supercharge a long overdue reckoning over what went wrong and forever change the way the conflict is remembered.

This must be one of the best-timed books of the year. With President Biden’s recent announcement that the American presence and responsibilities in Afghanistan are over, Whitlock’s book has understandably generated a lot of interest and attention (far more, it seems, than the articles it’s based on received). In the days since the withdrawal, it seems as though every article has quoted Whitlock’s book (well, the introduction, mostly). I decided it was time that I got around to it, too, after leaving it languishing on my TBR for a couple months. It is an interesting and quick read, with plenty of illuminating and damning discoveries. It was also somewhat limited, however. 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: MURAKAMI T:THE T-SHIRTS I LOVE by Haruki Murakami (Knopf)

MurakamiH-MurakamiTUSHCAn engaging, enjoyable trip through Murakami’s t-shirt collection

The international literary icon opens his eclectic closet: Here are photographs of Murakami’s extensive and personal T-shirt collection, accompanied by essays that reveal a side of the writer rarely seen by the public. 

Considered “the world’s most popular cult novelist” (The Guardian), Haruki Murakami has written books that have galvanized millions around the world. Many of his fans know about his 10,000-vinyl-record collection, and his obsession with running, but few have heard about a more intimate, and perhaps more unique, passion: his T-shirt-collecting habit.

In Murakami T, the famously reclusive novelist shows us his T-shirts — including gems from the Springsteen on Broadway show in NYC, to the Beach Boys concert in Honolulu, to the shirt that inspired the beloved short story “Tony Takitani.” Accompanied by short, frank essays that have been translated into English for the first time, these photographs reveal much about Murakami’s multifaceted and wonderfully eccentric persona.

This is, strangely, the first of Haruki Murakami’s books that I’ve read. However, I find that he and I have very similar thoughts when it comes to t-shirts and what they mean for us/people in general. In this slim volume, Murakami collects the short essays he wrote for a Japanese fashion magazine about some of his (many, many) t-shirts. They are grouped by theme, and offer some interesting and endearing digressions on various topics. I really enjoyed it. 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: EVERYTHING NOW by Rosecrans Baldwin (MCD)

BaldwinR-EverythingNowUSLessons from the city-state of Los Angeles

America is obsessed with Los Angeles. And America has been thinking about Los Angeles all wrong, for decades, on repeat. Los Angeles is not just the place where the American dream hits the Pacific. (It has its own dreams.) Not just the vanishing point of America’s western drive. (It has its own compass.) Functionally, aesthetically, mythologically, even technologically, an independent territory, defined less by distinct borders than by an aura of autonomy and a sense of unfurling destiny — this is the city-state of Los Angeles.

Deeply reported and researched, provocatively argued, and eloquently written, Rosecrans Baldwin’s Everything Now approaches the metropolis from unexpected angles, nimbly interleaving his own voice with a chorus of others, from canonical L.A. literature to everyday citizens. Here, Octavia E. Butler and Joan Didion are in conversation with activists and astronauts, vampires and veterans. Baldwin records the stories of countless Angelenos, discovering people both upended and reborn: by disasters natural and economic, following gospels of wealth or self-help or personal destiny. The result is a story of a kaleidoscopic, vibrant nation unto itself — vastly more than its many, many parts.

Baldwin’s concept of the city-state allows us, finally, to grasp a place — Los Angeles — whose idiosyncrasies both magnify those of America, and are so fully its own. Here, space and time don’t quite work the same as they do elsewhere, and contradictions are as stark as southern California’s natural environment. Perhaps no better place exists to watch the United States’s past, and its possible futures, play themselves out.

Welcome to Los Angeles, the Great American City-State.

It’s not just America that’s obsessed with Los Angeles. I’ve long been fascinated by the city (even though I’m not sure I’d like to live there). It’s one of my favourite fiction locations, and its diverse and fragmented nature allows for incredible variation in the novels, TV series and movies set within it. In Everything Now, Baldwin does a very good job of showing us the city from a number of different angles — some familiar, some new, all interesting. An interesting and engaging journey through various facets of Los Angeles, I enjoyed this. Continue reading