The Last Dance effect & 90's basketball autobiographies - Issue 5
The autobiographies of Scottie Pippen, Charles Oakley and Muggsy Bogues
Welcome to another edition of All Sports Books. The newsletter has been very basketball heavy lately, possibly because as a 76ers fan I’ve been loving watching James Harden combine with Joel Embid these last few weeks.
Tomorrow, I’ll have a bonus edition with a review of the excellent upcoming The Great Nowitzki. After this week I plan to have more soccer, boxing, NFL and baseball book reviews coming up.
New Book Reviews -🏀 The autobiographies of Scottie Pippen, Charles Oakley and Muggsy Bogues.
The Last Dance documentary series on the Jordan era Chicago Bulls was the undoubted sports hit of Covid Lockdown 1.0. I think every sports fan I know watched and loved it. The fact that it doubled up as a PR exercise Jordan might have diminished its objectivity but had little impact on how entertaining it was (and it holds up well for a repeat viewing).
The series helped lead to a revival of interest in the NBA’s arguable Golden Era, as Jordan helped the league transform the rising tide of the Magic/Bird era into a level of global attention more akin to today’s English Premier League than the current NBA. A (probable) knock-on effect has been the publication of a number of autobiographies from other players of that era. Three recent or upcoming of these books are The Last Enforcer by Charles Oakley, Unguarded by Scottie Pippen and Muggsy by Muggsy Bogues. Three very different books from three very different players and personalities.
Pippen is likely the best known of the three from his co-starring role in 6 NBA title wins alongside Jordan for the Chicago Bulls. Unguarded (written with Michael Arkush) is a direct consequence of the popularity of The Last Dance as Pippen uses the book to tell ‘his side’ of events in the documentary that painted him in a negative light. The overwhelming takeaway of the book is Pippen’s residual negative feelings towards.. well, plenty of people (none more so than the late Bulls GM Jerry Krause). The book could easily have been titled “I Still Hold A Grudge”. Pippen does praise plenty of people too, but the criticism is inherently more interesting. The retelling of his own career is interesting if not particularly revealing.
Primarily, Pippen is trying to set the record straight and puncture the narrative that Jordan won titles single-handedly. He seeks to define himself as Jordan’s opposite in so many ways - a better teammate and an underappreciated contributor. Overall, a reader is left with the sense of a man less satisfied than he should with a remarkable career due to lingering feelings of never being valued enough given just how remarkable he preformed.
The Last Enforcer by Charles Oakley (written with Frank Isola) gives the perspective of someone with a very different relationship with Jordan. Oakley played with the Bulls just before (and again after) they won 6 Championships and formed a life long bond with Jordan. He then spent 10 years as a New York Knick during the period wonderfully told in Chris Herring’s book Blood in the Garden.
Like Pippen, Oakley sets out to air his many grievances with players, coaches and many other people from his life and career. Unlike Pippen, Oakley never comes across as bitter (except when taking about Knick’s owner James Dolan) but more mildly irritated and dismissive of those he dislikes or simply just holds in lower esteem than you might suspect (Charles Barkley he dislikes, Patrick Ewing he is pretty dismissive of).
Oakley is also very fulsome in his praise of those he likes and, more importantly, respects. The acknowledgements section of the book is remarkable for how many people Oakley thanks and how genuine his thanks appears to be. For all his dismissive comments about others in the book, Oakley seems much more at peace with himself, his legacy and his place in world than Pippen.
For many readers, his relationship with Jordan will be of most interest. The friendship comes across as genuine and Oakley isn’t afraid to highlight that some of Jordan’s legacy is the result of his own mythmaking.
Overall, Oakley’s book is entertaining even if it struggles to fully live up to the subtitle promising ‘Outrageous Stories’. Any 90s NBA fan will enjoy the trip down memory lane.
Of the three books, Muggsy by Muggsy Bogues (written with Jacob Utitti) is a much more positive and joyful retelling of a career in the NBA. Bogues, famously the smallest player to ever play in the league, forgoes score-settling and instead celebrates his remarkable achievement of making to the league and sticking around for more than 10 years.
Bogues recounts his childhood in Baltimore in detail (which included getting shot!) but he refuses to dwell on the negatives or challenges he had to overcome. He gives more time to his remarkable high school basketball career at Dunbar which has separately been told in the book Dunbar Boys and a 30 for 30 documentary.
In discussing his life, Bogues focusses heavily on the endless skepticism about his ability from his own coaches, his opponents and their fans, some of whom would laugh when he ran onto the court. The retelling of his career is enjoyable, especially as it focusses on teams whose seasons may be less memorable than those of the Bulls or Knicks.
Interestingly, Bogues had previously published an autobiography in 1994 which I read many many years ago. Post career second autobiographies usually focus on spilling the dirt but Bogues focuses instead on more positive and interesting ancedotes. You don’t feel like he is holding things back, rather that Bogues is genuinely someone who is proud of his accomplishments and secure in his achievements.
Reading the three books what strikes me is how the amount of success a player had is no guarantee of how satisfied they will be post-career. Pippen, with 6 titles, looks back at how he was underappreciated. Oakley, who appeared in NBA finals, looks back with some regret but with pride for always being himself. Bogues, who never made it past the Conference semi-finals, looks back with the contentment of beating the odds and achieving far more than anyone thought he could.
New Sports Books - What’s out recently or coming out soon?
Keep an eye out for these sports books out recently or coming out over the next week or two:
🏀 The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life by Thomas Pletzinger. A wonderful book.
⚽ Get It On: How the '70s Rocked Football by John Spurling. Review of this entertaining book in a future newsletter.
🏀 Black Market: An Insider's Journey into the High-Stakes World of College Basketball by Merl Code. A really interesting book on the hypocrisy of college sports and NCAA rules. Full review in a later newsletter.
🏈 Playmakers: How the NFL Really Works (And Doesn't) by Mike Florio
🚲 God is Dead: The Rise and Fall of Frank Vandenbroucke, Cycling's Great Wasted Talent by Andy McGrath.
⚾ Victory on Two Fronts: The Cleveland Indians and Baseball through the World War II Era by Scott H. Longert
🏀 Hoops: A Cultural History of Basketball in America by Thomas Aiello.
⚽Life with the Robins and Beyond: The Geoff Merrick Story by Neil Palmer. Career of the Bristol City footballer.
⚽Three Goalkeepers and Seven Goals: Leicester City's Greatest Ever Match by Mark Bishop. A 1982 FA Cup quarterfinal gets its own book!
🏀 Cinderella at the Big Dance: Great Underdog Teams of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament by Ron Snyder
🏈Cotton Davidson, the Rifleman of the American Football League by Wayland Corgill and Cotton Davidson.
🏏 The All-Rounder: the inside story of big time cricket by Dan Christian
⚽ Please Don't Take Me Home: A Lovestory with Fulham Football Club by Simone Abitante
🏏Between Overs: How Life Gets in the Way of Cricket by Michele Savidge
⚽ The Cup: A Pictorial Celebration of the World's Greatest Football Tournament by Richard Whitehead
🏀 Montana State's Golden Bobcats: 1929 Basketball National Champions by Paul R Wylie
🏃♀️ How She Did It by Molly Huddle and Sara Slattery
⚾ Classic Baseball: Timeless Tales, Immortal Moments by John Rosengren
⚾ The Saga of Sudden Sam: the Rise, Fall and Redemption of Sam McDowell
⚽ The Power and the Glory by Mick Clegg and Steve Bartram
🏏It's Raining Bats and Pads: The Story of Lancashire County Cricket Club 1988-1996 by Jamie Magill
⚽ 90 Minutes from Europe: Walsall's Greatest Cup Run by Simon Turner
⚽ How Not to Run a Football Club: The Inside Story of Blackpool FC by Nathan Fogg
Thanks for reading. Let me know your thoughts, opinions, any improvements I can make etc. Catch me on Twitter. More books next week!