Friday, December 28, 2007

Book Review: When the Game Was Ours

(Written on January 18, 2011)

When the Game Was Ours is a treat for any basketball fan. Apart from the firsthand commentary from both Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the book is surprisingly personal.  For example, I had no idea Larry Bird's father committed suicide when he was 16 years old, or that Larry Bird almost decided to stay in his small town and get a "normal" job until his mother reminded him of her expectation that he would be the first in the family to graduate college (which Bird did--even after he was drafted by the Celtics while in college).  I don't like to pontificate about my own interpretation of the book, so I'll just share some sections I found interesting:

Larry's teammates were sometimes jealous of the attention he received--back when Magic and Bird played, there were fewer NBA teams, so the talent level was higher across the board.  So-called "sixth men" at that time could have easily started on many NBA teams today.  "Somebody asked me once how I felt about all that [the jealousy from teammates]," Bird said.  "I told them, 'Hell, I'm jealous of them, too.  I'm jealous because I never got to play with a Larry Bird.'" (pp. 47, 2009, hardcover)

On revenues and revenue-sharing: "By 1981...60 percent of the gross revenue, which was hovering at $118 million, was being paid out to the players.  The formula had to change or the league was going to be out of business."  "In March 1983...the salary cap...[paid] the players 53 percent of the league's defined gross revenue (television and radio revenues and gate receipts) and a guaranteed $500,000 a year in licensing."  (pp. 99)

"In 1984 the NBA's retail merchandise generated $44 million.  By 2007 that number had jumped to a staggering $3 billion under [David] Stern's watching eye." (pp. 109)

"In 1979, the league's four-year deal with CBS was worth $74 million.  By 2002 the league had inked a six-year deal with ABC, ESPN, and TNT valued at $4.6 billion." (pp. 110)

"[I]n 2002, the league signed a network contract valued at $4.6 billion, a significant upgrade over the four-year, $74 million pact the NBA inked in Magic's and Larry's rookie season." (pp. 312)

On Isiah Thomas, who ends up looking like the least classy player in the book: "Isiah [Thomas] kept questioning people about it [Magic's sexuality]," Magic said.  "I couldn't believe that.  Everyone else--Byron [Scott], Arsenio [Hall], Michael [Jordan], Larry [Bird]--they were all supporting me.  And the one guy I thought I could count on had all these doubts.  It was like he kicked me in the stomach." [pp. 241]

"I'm sad for Isiah [Thomas].  He has alienated so many people in his life, and he still doesn't get it.  He doesn't understand why he wasn't chosen for that Olympic team, and that's really too bad.  You should aware when you have ticked off more than half the NBA." [pp. 263]

Dennis Rodman's reaction to playing with Magic after the HIV announcement: Rodman eliminated the awkwardness on his very first trip down the floor, when he elbowed Magic in the back, then bodied up on him and bumped him in the post. "C'mon now," Rodman said to Magic. "Show me what you got." ... After a few minutes, the players seemed to relax." [pp. 249]

Bird on tipping and frugality: In his rookie season, the first time Bird went to New York with the Celtics, he and Rick Robey popped into a bar to have a brew. When he saw the prices on the tavern's menu, Larry abruptly stood up and walked out.  Years later, while dining with his teammates in a trendy New York eatery, the players began collecting money for the bill.  Told they were going to give the waiter a 20 percent tip, Bird said, "What for? All he did was deliver the food."  He stood up, grabbed the tip money, and strode unannounced into the kitchen.  He handed the astonished cook a fistful of bills, then walked out. [pp. 270]

Bird's politeness: "Bird...insisted on calling the commissioner Mr. Stern." (pp. 107) (I quote this section because I've been known to do exactly this.) 

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