(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: "Legends of the Game" by John Feinstein

Let's establish a few premises before I delve into the book:

1.  John Feinstein is a good writer. 
2.  John Feinstein has written a lot of sports books.
3.  John Feinstein went to Duke.
4.  Duke is the arch-rival of North Carolina.
5.  Jim Valvano is deceased.
6.  Dean Smith is deceased.

So, it is against this backdrop that Feinstein wrote the book, whose basic premise is that there were several extraordinary coaches coaching at the same time in the ACC and particularly very close to each other in North Carolina.  If college basketball coaching were to have a Mount Rushmore, two would be in the conversation.  The third, well, he had a personality that dwarfed that of the other two.

The book roughly covers their history and their interactions.  It places Mike Krzyzewski firmly in first place on Mount Rushmore, glorifies everything good about Jim Valvano (and there was so much good) and airbrushes the bad stuff (recruiting violations that happened on his watch) and takes continuous potshots at Dean Smith for being snarky and doing everything to get an edge, without highlighting the great aspects of a wonderful coach and teacher (as if there are no blemishes on Coach K's personality, interactions and character -- c'mon, John!).

Sorry, but while I like Feinstein, nothing everything he writes is brilliant, and this book misses.  As for some aspects of the book -- the unqualified glorification of Coach K particularly, I recall a review that  The New Yorker's legendary critic Pauline Kael wrote of the movie "The Sound of Music."  It was the shortest movie review ever -- "Not for diabetics."  There just was no balance to the portrayal. 

The book does have its shining moments, to be fair, including how the relationship between Krzyzewski and Smith came around full circle around the time of the latter's illness that led to his death (from ice cold to extremely warm) that I will not spoil.  Sadly, though, those moments (which include some new or at least different insights into Valvano) do not outweigh the book's lack of balance and relatively surface discussions about things that many of us knew and would like to have seen more "backstage" information on. 

If you want an elegy to someone who gets put on a pedestal daily, read this book and, if you're a Coach K fan, you'll ratify all of your thinking about him.  If you do not, you'll be disappointed.


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