With this week’s first and second round games in the NCAA basketball tournament, I am reminded of a book I read three years ago by Seth Davis, who is a Sports Illustrated columnist and CBS studio participant. His book, When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010), was about the epic battle featuring Larry Bird of Indiana State and Magic Johnson of Michigan State, played on March 26, 1979.
The game was broadcast by NBC with Dick Enberg, Al McGuire, and Billy Packer at the mike. It is a game I will remember forever, not because it was a great game – it was not – but rather, because of the amazing context, hype, and the fact that it launched college basketball onto the big-time scene.
Prior to that time, college basketball was telecast regionally, with a few national games occasionally on a weekend. This game sparked interest in the sport, with two stars who became NBA legends, and played against each other many times.
Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post said the book is “a must-read for anybody who considers themselves a basketball fan.” I agree. It is very readable account not just of that game, but about all the build-up that began weeks before, and the window through which we now watch the game.
Particularly memorable is the account of Billy Packer’s refusal to acknowledge the greatness of Indiana State, because they did not play Top-20 teams in their conference. In fact, NBC had to arrange for a special broadcast to allow the country to see the team, and more especially, Larry Bird. In fact, to avoid any potential problems, Packer did not even cover the team in the early playoff rounds. Like all the other skeptics, he later came around.
But, you will enjoy his first book about this 1979 epic game, and all the events that led up to it, and followed it. It is history told as well as anyone could tell it.
Obviously, you will not see this at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas. Not only is it too old, but it also is not about business. However, occasionally it’s good to read something else. Try this one!
I remember the cover from Sports Illustrated a few weeks into NBA superstar Michael Jordan’s attempt in training camp to play major league baseball. The title was “Bag it Michael.” It infuriated him so much that he never gave the magazine another interview.
The stimulus for my recollection was an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Tedium is the Message” by Michael Moynihan (December 10-11, 2011, p. C6). In the aricle, he talks about some pooliticians who have penned novels. He includes examples from William Cohen, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart, and Newt Gingrich.
Perhaps more than others, Cohen and Gingrich have done so with “a desire to use the novel to write ideological history.” Cohen’s newest novel (Blink of an Eye, Forge, 2011) teaches a lesson that illustrates his own moral opposition to the war in Iraq. Gingrich’s 2008 novel, Days of Infamy (co-authored with William Forstchen; Thomas Dunne Books), touts isolationism in the context of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Surprisingly omitted from the article, or perhaps simply forgotten, was a novel by former and disgraced vice-president Spiro T. Agnew. In 1976, he wrote The Canfield Decision (Berkley Medallion Books) about a wealthy, handsome, and liberal vice-president who decided to provide Isreal with nuclear arms. How many of those counts described himself?
Moynihan’s conclusion is that “politicians turn to writing novels to create braver, smarter, more powerful versions of themselves. Insisting that you’ve figured how the world works is somehow less pompous – and more easily disavowed – when done by a fictional doppelganger.”
I am unimpressed with these enterprises. Writing novels as purposeful scapegoating activity that replaces solid, visionary thinking and planning seems as if it would fool no one. In the Republican presidential candidate debates, maybe someone will remind Gingrich that he seeks to govern a non-fiction world, and that he cannot craft world affairs in the same way that he can words from the English language.
And, if they are just having fun, maybe to make a little money – that’s fine. But, is that the best use of an aspiring politician’s time and energy? Do we really want to learn what a candidate thinks and how he might govern by reading fictional accounts? Does anyone get insight into future behavior this way?
What do you think? Let’s talk about it really soon!
Here is the wrong way to get ahead on a best-seller list.
John Gribbin’s book, Get a Grip on Physics, jumped on the Amazon.com sales list from 396,224 to 2,268 in one day.
What caused this dramatic shift in position? Rest assured it was not karma, Divine Intervention, good luck, living a good life, or anything else.
That book appeared in a photo of the inside of Tiger Woods’ Escalade that was released by the Florida Highway Patrol following his car accident that led to the revelation of extramarital affairs.
I learned about this in the December 14, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated. page 25.