Literature Review: When The Game Was Ours
I got this book for Christmas this year, and though the story of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird is one I’m pretty familiar with, I was still interested in hearing what they had to say about their own intertwined career path. Though the book is ostensibly “written” by the two superstars, it’s pretty obvious that outside of some input into their lives and a few anecdotes here and there, Jackie MacMullan did most of the writing. Which is a relief, as the story demands a real writer, rather than a couple of former basketball players, to tell it. Magic Johnson’s post-playing days, at any rate, have not exactly been a beacon of intellectual acumen. Despite what the in-house announcer may tell you, what he does on TNT is not “analysis.”
Let me get on to the book. Overall, I found it to be an interesting yet fairly rudimentary exploration of the rivalry that helped save the NBA. The book succeeds when it focuses on the things that I didn’t pick up on in other paint-by-numbers NBA books (such as Bird’s own autobiographies). For instance, the section of the book that discusses how Bird’s teammate consciously conspired to force Celtics coach Bill Fitch out of the organization by deliberately disobeying the strict coach’s orders was surprising in its frankness. Another candid section has Magic discussing the infamous “freezing out” incident supposedly perpetrated on a rookie Michael Jordan during the 1984 All-Star Game. Unfortunately, these moments were not as numerous as I hoped.
Since Johnson and Bird played a role (however slight) in the writing of the book, it makes sense that many punches were pulled over the two legends’ considerable faults. For Bird, his excessive boozing gets taken to task somewhat, with the book mentioning that it surprised no one when his first MVP season came after the departure of drinking buddy Rick Robey from the Celts. As a side note, an unbelievable fact that emerged from reading this is that, in the early 80’s, NBA teams were required to provide the visiting team with cold beer after the games! Magic’s status as a ladies man is the stuff of legend, but the book rarely mentions it. In fact, in one hilarious passage it simply claims that Johnson had a “fondness” for sex. Ha! That’s like saying a rabbit has a fondness for carrots.
Overall, I found the biggest strength of this book to be in the details. It goes into depth about the psychology of these two men who will forever be linked in the minds of the public, but who tend to get overshadowed these days by Michael Jordan. If you’re a younger fan of the game who didn’t get to live through this dynamic rivalry, the book will give you a vivid picture of what many consider the glory days of basketball.