Currently Lebron James is a globally recognized athlete, pitch-man, and entrepreneur. In Shooting Stars (Penguin Press, $26.95) reporter Buzz Bissinger helps tell James’s back story, where nothing of his future but basketball seemed assured. Growing up in a poor and unstable home, James ricocheted around Akron, Ohio, until he found twin anchors in basketball and in the teammates who became his surrogate family. Romeo, Willie, Sian, Little Dru, and Lebron chose loyalty above all else, enrolling together at small Saint Vincent’s, known more for academics than athletics, and taking the school to three state championships. The book gives vivid descriptions and play-by-plays of important games, with insight provided by recollections from James and others. But most memorable here is the appreciation of James’s maturation over a brief and tumultuous period, during which he was an object of suspicion, admiration, jealousy, adulation, expectation, and greed, all while trying to find himself as an emerging adult and public figure. Lebron James is lauded as a fantastic teammate, and in this book that unique quality is shown even more off the court than on it.
Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige was both a victim of and a contributor to his own myth. Larry Tye’s Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend (Random House, $26) describes a man with an elastic, duplicitous, and mesmerizing right arm—and a mind to match it. According to Paige, his nickname came from his carrying multiple bags for white travelers at the train station, but according to an acquaintance it originated in Paige’s trying to steal those same bags. His date of birth, career records, marital status, and personal recollections were all subject to debate and dispute. What is not disputable is Paige’s sheer athletic ability and ingenuity, proved on every mound he stood upon. He was a dominant pitcher and an unsurpassed showman, and his legend grew through the Negro Leagues, Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, barn-storming tours against white Major Leaguers, and finally the Major Leagues themselves as its first black pitcher and the oldest rookie in their history. Satchel seemed to enjoy fooling the media and the historians as much as he did the batters he faced.
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.