Wednesday, July 06, 2005

When Athletic Titans Fall

I just finished reading Michael Leahy's fascinating When Nothing Else Matters, a two-year chronicle of basketball star Michael Jordan's last two years of pro ball, spent in DC. I first heard about the book in my buddy Greg's Yale Alumni Magazine, which highly commended it. Though I find little time these days to read about basketball, I had to indulge, and so I bought it from Barnes & Noble. I was off to a great start.

Throughout my life, I've had a funny way with excellent literature. It's that tension that one feels when one has something one cannot wait to read but which one does not wish to see finished. Completion=no more fun. Being the son of a librarian, I've experienced this feeling often in my days. Whether it was the Redwall series, the Lord of the Rings series, or any number of basketball books, I've wrestled with this desire to derive enjoyment from books and yet to not end deriving enjoyment from books. It's a happy tension, and usually gives way to reading sections at a time. I did this with the Jordan book, and found myself totally drawn into the world Leahy creates, one dominated by Jordan's will. Essentially, the story is a case study of one of the most dominant personalities sports has ever known, particularly of the fire, the drive, that once propelled Jordan to incredible heights, but that in his twilight, with his body fast fading, ran his team into the ground. Michael Jordan had always had his way--with the refs, his coaches, certainly the opposing team--and it caved in when his unfaded will could not spur his 40 year-old body on. The highlights were gone, but the headaches only increased for his team and his teammates.

It's a sobering book, one given more to probing analysis of Jordan's mind than microscopic attention to his statistics. Yet in a world gone crazy over psychology, it somehow unearths insight while avoiding excessive psychologizing. Leahy perceptively brings out the ugliness of life, exposing the sins of Jordan and those around him without ever mentioning the word. Beyond all this, though, the book is about basketball, and Leahy writes beautifully, and what more could one ask for than a finely written basketball book? I recommend picking up When Nothing Else Matters whether you like the game or not.


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