Spring Sports Picks: Seven Titles for the Season

For fans missing baseball, basketball, and other team sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, these titles may help readers get through what would have been March Madness.

BASKETBALL LEGACIES

Strauss, Ethan Sherwood. The Victory Machine: The Making and Unmaking of the Warriors Dynasty. PublicAffairs. Apr. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9781541736238. $24. SPORTS
The past decade has been extremely successful for the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. All of the championships and acclaim have also made the Warriors, according to journalist Strauss, the team "that would ruin basketball." Looking beyond the trophies and All-Star players, sportswriter Strauss reveals what really goes on in the back rooms of NBA teams. He also examines how the 24/7 nature of social media (both fan- and player-generated content) has changed dynamics in locker rooms and arenas. Once the Warriors became a dominant team, input from athletic companies and players themselves, along with unrelenting pressure from ownership, media, and fans threatened to overshadow their accomplishments. How they adjusted and persevered is a fascinating, sometimes ruthless, story that is still unfolding. Strauss skillfully captures a team peaking as change is taking place all around them, and pulls the curtain aside on the often unsavory realities of what it means to succeed in the NBA.
VERDICT Sports dynasties tend to inspire the extremes of love and hate, and more than ever in this era of constant connection. For basketball fans interested in the lesser-known business side of the sport.—Janet Davis, Darien P.L., CT
 

Weitzman, Yaron. Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports. Grand Central. Mar. 2020. 304p. ISBN 9781538749722. $28. SPORTS
Tanking, wherein a bad professional sports team seeks to improve by first getting worse, is nothing new, but its poster children are the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers of 2013–16. Coming off a 2012–13 season of 34 victories in 82 games, the Sixers hired a relatively unknown general manager, Sam Hinkie, who proceeded to jettison the team’s better players in order to save money to obtain second-tier personnel to stockpile as trade bait and to dangle in front of future top free agents, while also ensuring miserable records that would translate to high draft choices. Known as "The Process," this resulted in seasons of 19, 18, and ten wins but, buoyed by top draft choices Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, the 76ers climbed to 52 wins in 2017–18. In 2019, after 51 regular season victories, the team came close to earning a spot in the NBA playoffs. Here, veteran sports journalist Weitzman, NBA writer for the website Bleacher ­Report, offers an account, replete with insider information, of the ups and downs of "The Process" and its architect.
­VERDICT Readers interested in the business of basketball, and how it affects teams and ­players above all, will find this a must-read.—Jim Burns, formerly with Jacksonville P.L., FL
 

PEAK INTEREST

Burgman, John. High Drama: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of American Competition Climbing. Triumph. Mar. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9781629377759. pap. $19.95. SPORTS
Leading up to the debut of climbing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Burgman (Why We Climb) presents the untold and rocky history of the sport, from the 1970s to present, exploring how it went from a niche sport to the mainstream, evolved not to include actual rocks but human-made rock fabrications, and how its carefree roots made way for it to be a competitive sport. While the work primarily focuses on the U.S. sports scene, a common theme throughout is insight into the long-standing elite European tradition and how the desire to compete against athletes abroad has motivated American climbers. Burgman details the key players who organized climbing organizations and competitions with varying degrees of success, the creation of youth programs to foster homegrown talent, the rapid spread of climbing gyms, being showcased (albeit as extreme) in TV specials and movies, and the controversies that threatened to derail the sport’s momentum, all of which contributed to U.S. climbers succeeding on the world stage.
VERDICT Leaving no stone unturned, this exhaustive history will find an audience with climbing enthusiasts.—David Miller, Farmville P.L., NC
 

Ellsworth, Scott. The World Beneath Their Feet: Mountaineering, Madness, and the Deadly Race To Summit the Himalayas. Little, Brown. Feb. 2020. 416p. ISBN 9780316434867. $30. SPORTS
Ellsworth (The Secret Game) writes a comprehensive introduction to high-altitude mountaineering, from the interwar period through the early 1950s, when the first 8,000 meter mountains (Annapurna, Everest, and Nanga Parbat) were ­summited. The background of each expedition is enhanced with intertwining cultural and society events, from the influence of Nazism in Europe to India’s push for independence. After the large expeditions of the 1920s, later ones became smaller, though remained a source of national pride. Though some expeditions are thoroughly detailed elsewhere, their inclusion here places them in the wider exploration and spirit of the era. The people, dangers, triumphs, and tragedies are exquisitely detailed, though the crux is in the details and emotion of the lesser-known expeditions that contributed to later climbers reaching the summits. These include the summit of Minya Konka in China, an audacious solo attempt on Everest, and numerous climbs throughout the Himalayas and Karakoram. A helpful appendix details important figures in the sport as well as expeditions and climbing terms.
VERDICT An excellent overview of mountaineering and exploration in the Himalayas and Karakoram, set against the backdrop of 20th-century history, that will appeal to mountaineers and armchair adventurers.—Zebulin Evelhoch, Deschutes P.L., OR
 

Garton, Johanna. Edge of the Map: The Mountain Life of Christine Boskoff. Mountaineers. Apr. 2020. 240p. ISBN 9781680512885. pap. $19.95. SPORTS
Journalist Garton presents a vivid, ­intriguing story of Christine Boskoff (1967–2006) through firsthand interviews with the climber’s friends and family. Boskoff’s story begins with her childhood in Appleton Wisconsin, and continues through her college years and later interest in adventure. Garton explains how Boskoff left a job at Lockheed Martin, engineering flight simulators, to go on expeditions with partner and fellow climber Keith Boskoff. The author describes the impact of Keith’s suicide, as well as her subject’s subsequent relationship with climbing partner Charlie Fowler. Throughout her career, Boskoff summitted various peaks, including Mount Everest, Cho Oyu, Gasherbrum II, Lhotse, Shishapangma, and Broad Peak. The book specifically focuses on Boskoff and Fowler’s disappearance in 2006, during a climb in the Sichuan province of China. Their bodies were found months later; their deaths are believed to have been caused by an avalanche.
VERDICT An absorbing, unputdownable book about an intrepid climber and pioneer in high-altitude mountaineering. By including accounts from those who accompanied Boskoff on various climbing expeditions, this work serves as a wonderful tribute to her life and enduring legacy.—Lucy Heckman, St. John’s Univ. Lib., Queens Village, NY
 

BATTER UP!

Dougherty, Jesse. Buzz Saw: The Improbable Story of How the Washington Nationals Won the World Series. S. &. S. Mar. 2020. 320p. ISBN 9781982152260. $28. SPORTS
In 2019, Washington, DC, celebrated a World Series title for the first time in 95 years. Although the Nationals have been a league power for a decade, they always fell short in the post season. With this championship run, the underdog Nats—the oldest team in the league—implausibly rose from being 12 games under .500 in May to making the playoffs as a wildcard team in September. Washington Post writer ­Dougherty was along for the ride. In this debut, he explores how the team’s roster was created, and the various personalities involved. The first half of the book is an episodic and sporadic chronicle of the regular season, but the second half provides a detailed study of the 17 postseason games that delivered the championship. As a side note, Washington defeated the Houston Astros in the World Series, and the Astros have since been implicated in a sign-stealing scandal that dates back to their championship season of 2017.
VERDICT As an insider’s view of a remarkable run, this will be enjoyed by all baseball fans.—John Maxymuk, Rutgers Univ.–Camden Lib., NJ
 

Pessah, Jon. Yogi: A Life Behind the Mask. Hachette. Apr. 2020. 576p. ISBN 9780316310994. $30. SPORTS
While a number of books have been written about Yogi Berra (1925–2015), none are as comprehensive as this in-depth account by sportswriter Pessah (The Game). Featuring firsthand interviews with those who knew Berra well, supported by research from secondary sources, the book sheds insight into baseball history during Berra’s playing career (1946–63). Pessah offers a year-by-year recounting of Berra’s evolution as a catcher for the New York Yankees, including ten World Series championships. Yankee fans will appreciate knowing more about Berra’s relationship with owner George Steinbrenner and teammates Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. Not only does the work focus on Berra’s career, it also explains how he became such a legendary figure in the sport. The one possible drawback might be the work’s high level of detail, which may be overwhelming for most casual readers.
VERDICT A thorough, engaging read for Berra fans of Yankee admirers.—Pamela Calfo, Bridgeville P.L., PA

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