Harvey Frommer’s Sports Book Reviews: “Howard Cosell,” “Shaq Uncut” and more
Way back when I was interviewing for my Ph.D. in sports, culture and media at New York University, one of my professors suggested I check out Howell Cosell. The bombastic broadcaster was at the top of his game then.
I got to his office in Manhattan having arranged the interview with someone at ABC. “What is this all about?” I explained quickly, sensing that he was rushed.
“Why the hell do you want to do something like that?” he snapped. “Why not do work on racism in sports, something important.”
I explained that I was too far along. All I wanted from him as a “designer voice” was a few paragraphs to put into the thesis to satisfy the powers-that-be over me.
“For crying out loud,” he smiled, “why didn’t you say so in the first place?”
Howard Cosell intelligently and quickly gave me what I needed, and he even spent some time chatting with me about sports. And that was that.
But I never forgot that meeting.
Now there is “Howard Cosell” by Mark Ribowsky (Norton, $29.95, 477 pages), a book that its subject would have enjoyed.
We are there with the man some called “the mouth” from the middle 1950s into the 1980s. Cosell was medium, message, massage. He was front stage, back stage, off stage – a lawyer transformed into a broadcaster, a force.
Ribowsky has produced a mighty epic here, a loving, loathing, lingering portrait of Cosell. It is a book that reveals what drove a master media showman, what devils possessed him, and how he transformed sports and media at the same time.
Sections dealing with his relationship with Ali, with Monday Night Football, with his growing up years are especially insightful.
As Cosell said of himself: “Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, and verbose, a show-off, I have been all of these. Of course, I am.” He was all of these, and he was something special. A HIGHLY RECOMMENDED READ.
In the same vein, sort of, as “Howard Cosell,” there is also “Shaq Uncut” by Shaquille O’Neal with Jackie Macmullan (Grand Central Publishing, $27.99, 290 pages). It’s a slam dunk of a book. The gang’s all here in this tome sub-titled “My Story” - -Kobe, Phil Jackson, DWade, LeBron, Jerry West and Pat Riley, family members, friends and enemies. This is a page turned filled with honest and not so honest observations, filled with true confessions, filled with humor and even philosophy. The man called “Superman,” “Diesel,” “The Real Deal” and “The Big Shamrock” and lots of others things, has his say here. MOST ENJOYABLE.
“John Feinstein’s “One on One” (Little Brown, $27.99, 533 pages) is a Niagara of a book focused on a memoir of just some of the author’s inside sports (locker rooms, dugouts, clubhouses, etc.). Feinstein has been there, done , that, seen and heard it all, and he takes great pride in telling you about his times with Tiger Woods, Jim Valvano, Larry Brown, Dean Smith, Tony LaRussa and dozens and dozens more. Unabashed in its approaches, prideful in its approach, “One on One” is part gossip, part star gazing, part sports history - -all John Feinstein. And all lively and riveting reading.
“A Team for America” by Randy Roberts (HMH, $26.00, 268 pages) is truly about one of the terrific sagas in sports. Its focus – the Army-Navy football game in 1944. The contest united a nation locked in a deadly war. Thorough, engrossing, this tome is a winner.
“The Greatest Game” by Todd Denault (McClelland & Stewart, $19.95, 336 pages, trade paperback) is also about a momentous sports contest – the Montreal Canadiens versus the team of the Red Army on December 31, 1975. For hockey fans - a must.