Books for those who love sports or just like to read about them
A review of some sports books to consider as you catalog your reading for the spring ...
By Sam Smith
Longtime friend Sam Smith, the Chicago sports writer who penned the best-seller "Jordan Rules" in 1995, gives readers an extended history lesson on the early years of the NBA in this easy-to-read tome.
Smith bases the book around the Oscar Robertson vs. National Basketball Association antitrust lawsuit filed in 1970 and settled in 1976, which resulted in free agency and liberated players who were bound to teams by the reserve clause.
There are extensive interviews with many of the great names of the past who set the table for today's millionaire players in the NBA, including Robertson, Jerry West, Bill Bradley, Wes Unseld and Chet Walker. Also featured is former Oregon State center Mel Counts, who notably served as the backup to two of the great big men in basketball history, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
Honestly, this should be required reading for the players of today, who average more than $6 million in annual salary.
"It's amazing to me, the players now," West tells Smith. "They do not have a clue what went on; there is no appreciation for those players (of the early era). I say to myself, 'How many players in this league deserve to make this gigantic amount of money?'
"I am not jealous of those players today, but I don't think they know how much one person (Robertson) could make this much difference in their lives, in their pay, the way they are treated, how they are taken care of today."
Those who read "Hard Labor" will get a primer on that, plus a great look at the hardscrabble infant stages of what was to become a billion-dollar industry.
By Ed O'Bannon
O'Bannon was a national college Player of the Year at UCLA and a bit player through two NBA seasons. But he is most well known for lending his name to the class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of "student-athletes" against the NCAA for compensation for the use of likenesses for commercial purposes.
In 2009, after he had retired from basketball, O'Bannon noticed a video game was using his image from his time with the Bruins. The game cost $60. It stuck in his mind that it was unfair he wasn't getting a cut of the action.
Later that year, at the urging of former sports marketing agent Sonny Vaccaro, O'Bannon joined with attorneys to take on the NCAA in court, contending that former college football and basketball players should be paid for any use of their image.
In 2014, a district court judge ruled in O'Bannon's favor and said the NCAA's rules and bylaws were in violation of antitrust law. That ruling was affirmed in part, and reversed in part, in a complicated appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court. O'Bannon's attorney then tried, and failed, to get the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
"O'Bannon vs. the NCAA" was at least partly responsible for the NCAA to approve in 2015 "cost of attendance" payments to scholarship athletes for incidental costs at the Power Five conference schools. The stipends range from $2,000 to $5,000 annually for a full-scholarship athlete.
O'Bannon said he received no money from the suit, and that wasn't the intent. He simply wanted to discontinue the way the NCAA and Division I schools were exploiting the athletes, with coaches and administrators receiving seven-figure contracts while the athletes were getting only a scholarship.
It's a good read, and O'Bannon, while on a soapbox at times, has an important story to tell. I only wish he hadn't framed it as a racial issue — "the NCAA has made a lot of money off the backs of young black men, and there's something very disconcerting about that," he writes — because the issue is about whites and Latinos and every race, really.
I almost felt like an interloper as I read this book by the son of the late Mike McCormack, a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
Folks in these parts remember the senior McCormack as general manager (and interim head coach after he fired Jack Patera) of the Seattle Seahawks from 1982-89. His son lives in the Seattle area.
The author strips bare the love/hate relationship he held since childhood with his father, whom he accuses of being physically and verbally abusive to him and his brothers as they were growing up.
Michael addresses his father as "Mike" throughout the book, which seems derisive, though I'm not sure. What I'm sure about is that son resented father for a lot of things, not the least of which was what he considered the same hypocritical behavior expressed by the average sports junkie.
McCormack divides his attention throughout the book between his relationship with his father, which is compelling, and his thoughts on sports fandom, which weren't so much.
On the day in 1984 when he attended his father's induction into the NFL Hall of Fame, Michael writes, "He was cleansed that day. I was conflicted. Who was that man? The one who punched his kids, got booed in Philly, and who Colts quarterback Bert Jones called spineless? Or the one who expressed humility and gratitude when given the highest accolade in his profession?"
The junior McCormack writes about the shameful lifestyle he fell into during his 20s as he struggled with law school and his insecurities, calling himself "a fraud, a drunk and a drug addict." The journey out of that rut and into a life as a lawyer and family man seemed both painful and fulfilling.
"I traveled from resentment to bittersweet discovery to fragile forgiveness," he writes.
I'm sure the book was cathartic for the author. It is unsettling for the reader, for better or for worse.
"55 Years of Excellence"
By Bob Allen
If you're an aficionado of amateur wrestling — and state-of-Oregon wrestling, in particular — this is your bible.
Bob Allen, a longtime student of the sport, took six years to piece together this historical record of wrestling in our state beginning with the 1960s.
Allen goes back to cover some wrestlers of earlier eras, including Robin Reed, an Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State) competitor out of Franklin High who won a gold medal at the 1924 Olympics and retired after the Paris Games, having never lost a match. No American has been able to duplicate that record.
There are profiles on all the state's great coaches and athletes, with the focus on the high school ranks. Allen provides records of state team and individual prep champions in all the classifications from the '60s to date, a laborious task to be sure. He also ranks the greatest at each weight class.
No riding time necessary on this book. It's a winner.