Whether you’re looking for inspiration to take up a new sport, tips on how to improve your game, or just a good read for during the summer months, the following five sports books all have something to offer. From basketball to baseball, football to golf and cross-country running, these books tell the extraordinary and inspirational stories of a wide range of athletes, whether just starting out, at their peak, or on the comeback trail.
Three-Ring Circus presents a definitive account of the highs, the lows, and the controversies experienced by the Los Angeles Lakers (and their fans) during the period 1996 to 2004, which saw many of the biggest names in the game take to the court. While the main characters are, unsurprisingly, center Shaquille O’Neal and shooting guard Kobe Bryant, as well as coach Phil Jackson, Jeff Pearlman takes pains to highlight the roles of other Lakers stars, such as Nick Van Exel, Samaki Walker, and Mark Madsen, and members of the coaching squad in the team’s successes and losses. He examines what made the team so great, the extent to which O’Neal and Bryant were more similar than people generally thought, and how ego ultimately led to the disintegration of the team. Pearlman has a way with words that makes his factual reporting seem like storytelling, and his admiration for both the game of basketball and its players shines through on every page. This is a must-read book for basketball fans that pulls no punches but also offers a fitting and touching tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.
Arguably, few athletes have experienced a fall from grace and a decline in competitive performance as monumental and well-publicized as that suffered by Tiger Woods after the spectacular and hugely public failure of his marriage and his two subsequent car crashes, to say nothing of the eight surgeries he required. However, despite the undoubted controversies, Woods is recognized as being one of the greatest golfers of all time, having won four Masters titles before injury forced him to take a career break. Of course, that wasn’t the end of the story, and, in Roaring Back: The Fall and Rise of Tiger Woods, Curt Sampson chronicles both Woods’ troubled times and his spectacular return to golf, which saw him win a fifth Masters title in 2019. In telling Woods’ remarkable story, Sampson relates the comebacks of other players and also shares the insights of a host of golf insiders, ranging from caddies to coaches to Augusta locals, concerning the source of Woods’ greatness and his ability to come back from the brink.
During the 1970s, the NFL was dominated by the rivalry between the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers. As Ed Gurver and Jim Campbell detail in Hell with the Lid Off: Inside the Fierce Rivalry between the 1970s Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers, the infamous rivalry was sparked by the 1972 playoff game in which Franco Harris’ touchdown, the result of the so-called “Immaculate Reception” (or “Deception,” depending on which side is favored), gave the Steelers the win against the Raiders. That game led to a five-year fight for dominance between the two teams, which were both known for their physicality and imposing presence on the field. Things eventually got so heated between the teams in terms of the mudslinging that a defamation of character court case resulted. Focusing on the larger-than-life personalities involved, Gurver and Campbell provide a thrilling account of a turbulent period in the history of football as well as the games, players, and coaches that characterized it.
In Amazing Racers: The Story of America’s Greatest Running Team and Its Revolutionary Coach, Marc Bloom relates the inspiring story of the Fayetteville-Manlius cross-country running teams and their innovative coach, Bill Aris. Under Aris’ leadership, both the boys’ and girls’ teams have far exceeded expectations and come to dominate the Nike Cross Nationals championships. To offer just a few of the stats that Bloom presents, the girls’ team has won eleven of the last thirteen championships, while the boys’ team has the best cumulative national record in terms of championship podium performances. While Bloom can’t detail exactly how Coach Aris has achieved such success with his teams (after all, that would mean giving away quite the advantage to rival teams), he does discuss some aspects of Aris’ philosophy and his approach to fostering talent. Through interviews conducted with current and former runners, he sheds light on some of the unique features of the program and suggests how the teams managed to come so far so quickly. The insights provided into Aris’ mindset lead to insights into the runners’ varying approaches and motivations, which should prove highly valuable to those looking to improve their own performance.
Widely regarded as the best and most consistent pitcher yet to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Luis Tiant is among the greatest players to have ever featured on the roster of the Boston Red Sox. While his talent was never in any doubt, his distinctive style––including the signature Fu Manchu mustache––caused him to stand out from his contemporaries in Major League Baseball during the 1970s, as did his race and country of origin. In Son of Havana: A Baseball Journey from Cuba to the Big Leagues and Back, Tiant details his extraordinary career in baseball from the early days after political upheaval meant he could not return to his home in Cuba through to the glory days of the World Series with the Red Sox and on to his emotional homecoming when he played an exhibition game in Havana in 2016. Tiant’s story is an unusual one in that even aside from his baseball greatest, he lived an inspirational life after being unwillingly exiled from Cuba, facing racism during his early days in the United States, and eventually going on against the odds to succeed beyond all measure. This engaging and punchy memoir tells interesting tales from a life well-lived, both on the mound and off.