Although fans remember Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr., as the quintessential basketball rivals, their careers were bookended by brief periods of fantastic teamwork. With Jackie MacMullen, Bird and Johnson recount When The Game Was Ours (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26), describing how two men elevated their profession from a sports afterthought in the late 1970s to the height of the Olympic “Dream Team” in the early 1990s. What linked Bird and Magic, more than the games in which they competed, was the reflection of themselves they saw in each other. This bond held their friendship and respect together through difficult losses, racial tension, media hyperbole, and personal tragedy. Although they each had many great teammates, where winning was concerned, Bird and Magic spoke to each other in a language no one else on the court could understand.
From John Kerry’s wind-surfing debacle to the recent outcry over human-rights abuses in China preceding the Olympics, the intersection of sports and politics has never been clearer. For those who wonder what came before “hockey moms,” or for anyone with memories of the great sports moments of the twentieth century, sportswriter Dave Zirin’s A People’s History Of Sports In The United States (New Press, $26.95) is a must-read. Paying particular attention to race, class, and gender on the American playing field, Zirin examines how sport has both reflected and influenced the larger political culture. Even as he casts well-known figures such as Muhammad Ali and Magic Johnson in a new light, Zirin goes beyond the headlines, telling the stories of collegiate and lower-level athletes and tracing the evolution of American sports from colonial times to the present.
David Maraniss writes with his usual grace and deep understanding about Rome 1960: The Olympics that Changed the World (Simon & Schuster, $26.95). He sees those games as a precursor to the enormous social changes that were about to engulf the United States. The 1960 American team included such luminaries as Cassius Clay, Wilma Rudolph, and Rafer Johnson. The Cold War was in full sway then and political competition was very much in the forefront of the games.