The Toronto Raptors celebrate with the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy after their team defeated the Golden State Warriors to win the 2019 NBA Finals in Oakland, California. Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

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These sports books deserve a trophy or at least a place on your gift list / BY Peter Muggeridge / November 1st, 2020


Growing up in a household that frowned upon television, I misspent most of my free time reading sports-related books. Every birthday and Christmas, my parents would bestow upon me the current bestseller: a star athlete’s biography, a coach’s insight on his sport, a dramatic retelling of a championship year or, my favourite, a compendium of all the relevant statistics and facts from the past year.

Admittedly, few of the works in this genre would ever make it to a great books list. They were usually hastily written and overly simplistic reads churned out by publishers eager to make money off undiscriminating readers like me.

Still, several authors like Stan Fischler, Dick Young, Red Smith, Grantland Rice, Roger Kahn, Roger Angell and David Halberstam – luminaries this field ­– aspired to something greater and achieved a higher level of literary virtuosity that still merits a place on my bookshelf.

Today, as I peruse the sports books on the market, it’s comforting to see not much has changed. There are multitudes of athlete biographies, chronicles of winning seasons, coaching insights – everything that has always appealed to fans who want more than an account of who won, who lost and who scored.

The one thing that has changed is that, like everything else in the world, sports books have become increasingly politicized. Instead of limiting their writings to athletic pursuits, authors today use sports as a launching pad to discuss pressing social issues such as race, addiction, mental health or homelessness.

Here is my list of sports book that any fan would want on their bookshelf.

 

1>We the North: 25 Years of the Toronto Raptors by Doug Smith

If you’re a basketball fan, this book will be a slam dunk. Written by veteran hoops reporter Doug Smith, We the North takes readers on a 25-year journey from the birth of the Raptors franchise all the way to its championship season in 2019. Smith recounts all the big moments and key players that helped transform this team from the relative obscurity of its early days into one of Canada’s most successful and popular teams. The book includes a forward by Raptor legend (and recently retired) Vince Carter, who put the franchise on the sporting map with his dazzling play and fabled dunks. (Oct. 20)


2>From Hang Time to Prime Time: Business, Entertainment, and the Birth of the Modern-Day NBAby Pete Croatto

Long before the Raptors were winning championships – in the bygone years before LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, Magic, Larry and Michael transformed the sport into a global powerhouse – the NBA was a small-time league that was losing money and struggling to gain national attention. Journalist Pete Croatto takes us back to the league’s early history and explores the key figures and major events that helped the NBA grow into the immensely rich international marketing machine that it is today. (Dec. 1)

 


3>Three Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman

The tragic death of L.A. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has everyone looking back to the turn of the century when he teamed up with Shaquille O’Neal to bring three titles to Tinseltown. Author Jeff Pearlman takes us back to those days with a revealing account of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that took place between two overwhelming personalities, each of whom wanted to be team leader and would stop at nothing to undermine the other. The seething animosity that developed between Shaq and Kobe eventually tore the Lakers apart, but Pearlman recounts how the team’s mercurial coach, Phil Jackson, somehow managed to keep his two stars from killing each other long enough to win three rings.  (Sept. 22)


4>The Dynastyby Jeff Benedict

While Kobe and Shaq soap opera was dominating sports headlines on the West Coast, a different dynasty was quietly taking shape in Boston. The NFL’s New England Patriots were building a team that would go on to win a record six Super Bowls over a 20-year span. Author Jeff Benedict provides readers with a vivid behind-the-scenes account of this notoriously secretive club. Through revealing interviews with owner Robert Kraft, head coach Bill Belichick and ageless quarterback Tom Brady, he traces how three men constructed what many consider the most successful run of excellence in pro sports history.  (Sept. 1)


5>You Ought to Do a Story on Me: Addiction, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Endless Quest for Redemptionby Ted Jackson

When journalist Ted Jackson was researching a story on homelessness in New Orleans, he snapped a photo of a drug addict sleeping under a bridge. The homeless man turned out to be none other than Jackie Wallace, a former NFL star who rose to fame and fortune but lost everything in his battle with alcohol and crack cocaine. The book not only traces Wallace’s rise and fall but also uses his story launch a meaningful discussion on homelessness, addiction, systemic racism and poverty. (Aug. 25)


6>Lords of the Fly: Madness, Obsession, and the Hunt for the World Record Tarpon By Monte Burke

While I don’t know much about angling, I’m always up for a good fish tale and author Monte Burke’s got a good one with Lords of the Fly. He launches his narrative in Homosassa, an unremarkable town on the western Florida coast that suddenly became the fly fishing capital of the world. All the world’s greatest anglers, including baseball legend Ted Williams, converged here, touching off what became a not-so-friendly rivalry to land the world’s largest tarpon. Burke not only chronicles the anglers’ efforts to land the big one but also provides vivid descriptions of Homosassa’s wild nightlife, and the drug abuse and and romantic entanglements that ensued. Who knew the world of competitive fishing was so dramatic? (Sept. 1)


7>Dalko: The Untold Story of Baseball’s Fastest Pitcher by Bill Dembski, Alex Thomas and Brian Vikander

Nowadays, most baseball teams have a pitcher that can throw a 100-mph fastball. But back in the late ‘50s, before the invention of speed guns, we relied on hitters to tell us who threw the fastest. And many swear that a virtual unknown named Steve Dalkowski threw the most wicked heater not only of that era, but of all time. The authors interview eyewitnesses who remember this mythical fast-baller and uncover the unhappy circumstances that derailed what should have been a Hall of Fame career. A perfect read for those who love baseball nostalgia. (Sept. 22)


8>Undrafted: Hockey, Family, and What It Takes to Be a Pro by Nick Kypreos and Perry Lefko

If you watch a lot of hockey on TV or listen to sports radio talk, you have at some point heard the unvarnished opinions  of Nick Kypreos. Now the hockey yakker has a new book. Undrafted is a memoir about a hockey player with limited talent who literally fought his way to the NHL.  (Oct. 20)


9>Willie: The Game-Changing Story of the NHL's First Black Player by Willie O’Ree and Mike McKinley

In 1958, Willie O’Ree broke hockey’s colour barrier to become the first black athlete to play in the NHL. In his new memoir Willie, O’Ree recalls the racist trials and tribulations he faced not only on his way to the NHL, but in his lengthy professional career. Now a diversity spokesperson for the NHL, this 84-year-old treasure shares his thoughts on racism in sports and inspires kids from all backgrounds to get involved in the game.  (Oct. 20)


10>One Game at a Time: My Journey from Small-town Alberta to Hockey's Biggest Stage by Harnarayan Singh

In One Game at a Time, we hear the story of another barrier breaker, Hamarayan Singh, aka the voice of Hockey Night in Punjabi. Singh tells the improbable story of the many obstacles he had to overcome in order to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming hockey’s first Sikh broadcaster. (Sept. 22)


11> Wenger: My Life and Lessons in Red and White by Arsène Wenger

If you want to expand your horizon beyond North American sports, an autobiography on Arsène Wenger, often touted as soccer’s greatest coach, is not a bad place to start. The 70-year-old Wenger details his rise from obscurity in France all the way to his legendary run with Arsenal, one of the English Premier League’s most storied franchises. (Nov. 10)

 


12>Burke’s Law: A Life in Hockey by Brian Burke and Stephen Brunt

In Burke’s Law, the former Vancouver Canuck, Toronto Maple Leaf and Calgary Flames general manager shares his insight into the business of running a team and retells the personal tragedy that led him to become one of the sport’s most outspoken gay right’s activists. (Oct. 20)


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