Monday, November 5, 2007

The Last Dance

Quick book review:

A couple weeks ago I read The Last Dance: Behind the Scenes at the Final Four by John Feinstein. Feinstein is one of my favorite authors, always has been. Season on the Brink was the first real book I read for pleasure of my own volition, and I've enjoyed many of his follow-ups, from A Season Inside to A Good Walk Spoiled to Forever's Team to the book about the Army-Navy football rivalry, the name escapes me. Probably read about 10 all told.

The Last Dance was not one of his better efforts. It is framed by the 2005 Final Four, which featured North Carolina's collection of high school All-Americans, Louisville, Illinois, and Michigan State. Stories from the last three schools account for approximately 1% of the book, which is too bad. Illinois was the best team in college basketball that year, certainly a more compelling story than UNC (Hooray for Roy Williams! Ol' Huckleberry Hound finally got his title - with Matt Doherty's players).

But Feinstein apparently didn't have a career's worth of anecdotes about Bruce Weber to dust off and turn into a book. Instead, we get what is basically a story about the recent (last 30 years) history of the North Carolina and Duke basketball programs, which is interesting, but there have been soooo many other great stories to come out of the Final Four that there was really no need to repeat the "Dean Smith was hung in effigy" and "People weren't sure if Coach K was a good hire" stories that any fan has heard 100 times already.

Lots of good stuff in here, including interesting views on how Final Four refs are chosen, a John Wooden feature, Bill Bradley's FF memories, a bit on the old Vermont coach, Tom Brennan, criticisms of the selection committee and its process, many, many complaints of how the real college hoops media is now treated at the FF, and more. But Feinstein goes back to his familiar too much, would liked to have seen more original non-Tobacco Road, and in a broader sense non-ACC, material.

Still, if you're a college hoops nerd you should probably read it. Anyone else read it yet? What did you think?

One last thought on the book: Wisconsin is mentioned in there quite regularly - the 2000 Final Four (Jon Bryant represent!), losing to Georgia State the following year (good part on Left Driesell), and many mentions about how Carolina knocked the Badgers out in the Elite Eight in '05. No Shining Moment for us, but it infers we're a legit program.

Just remembered: The Army-Navy book was called A Civil War, excellent. Also Play Ball, A March to Madness, and the Last Amateurs. Also wrote some good fiction books that I'll introduce Will to in about middle school. Just bought Next Man Up, and planning to get The Punch.


cpintens said...

Last Dance is a weak effort. "The Punch" is very good. The story of Kermit Washington and Rudy T set on the backdrop of the drug-infested, brawling NBA is a great story. The story really shows how both lives were altered by one brief second.

One of the better basketball books I've read in the past couple of years is "My Losing Season," by Pat Conroy.

Sorry to get all Amazon, but I am kind of a dork.

Will said...

The first Feinstein book I read was A Season Inside and thought it was incredible (I was probably in junior high at the time). A March to Madness is also great.

Didn't read Season on the Brink for a long time, mainly because reading a book on Indiana basketball didn't appeal to me. But after reading it a couple of years ago, I can see why so many people consider it a great book - and I also can apreciate that access like to a major college program is probably not going to happen much in the future.

Much bigger fan of Halberstam and Michael Lewis (two writers I know you are very fond of as well).

Thanks Pintens for your words on My Losing Season. I own the book, started reading it and haven't finished. Glad to know that there is something good when I return.

My favorite basketball book is Loose Balls by Terry Pluto.

The Bronx is Burning (the book) is a pretty decent quick read. Have you guys read 9 Innings? I think the Brewers fans here would love that one.

cpintens said...

Agreed. Loose Balls is the best basketball book out there.

"I ain't getting in no time machine."-Bad News Barnes

I think Halberstram was the best. His Jordan book was a great read and I still have yet to read his story on the Portland Trailblazers. I do like David Maraniss (sic) and of course I am slightly biased but his biography on Lombardi is one of the best sports bios out there. His recent Clemente book was pretty solid also.

I am kind of a sports book junkie and will have to pick up 9 innings. Great initial post Taps.

scott.tappa said...

Agreed about Loose Balls - oral histories seem like a cop-out, but it worked so well here.

What is My Losing Season about? Never heard of it.

Nine Innings is fantastic, Brewers fans have to read it. It's a detailed look at the '82 Brewers set against the backdrop of one game during the regular season.

Bob Ryan did a similar book, I think called 48 Minutes, which was also excellent, same type of book.

Lastly - Halberstam's Blazers book is a great read, Bill Walton, whatever you think of his announcing, is a really interesting guy with a unique take on and passion for basketball.

Frank said...

Another nomination for 9 Innings. It's been so long since I read it, but I'm sure it holds up well.

2 books I never thought I'd like because they're on the Yankees: Olney's "Last Night of the Yankees Dynasty" is absolutely fantastic, and the Ben Creamer bio on DiMaggio is great too. Pearlman's book on the '86 Mets is also a quick, fun read on an insane team.

millie said...

I've never read "A Season On The Brink" but I've heard it's wonderful. Same with "Loose Balls".

I can heartily recommend "A Good Walk Spoiled", "A Civil War" and "The Punch". "Moneyball" was fantastic, and I'm eagerly awaiting "The Blind Side" in my Christmas stocking.

I'll second Will's recommendation of "The Bronx Is Burning". Please don't let the miniseries dampen your potential enthusiasm for the book. The book is fantastic and transcends sports to cover the Mayoral race in NYC, the Summer of Sam and the blackout.

I have to add a few that I've read and really enjoyed:

"The Last Night Of The Yankee Dynasty" by Buster Olney does a fantastic job of reviewing the Yankees rise to greatness in the 90's and their decline.

"Fantasyland" by Sam Walker is a great book for anyone that's played roto baseball. Loved it.

And lastly, "The Numbers Game" by Alan Schwartz is outstanding. It's basically a history of stats and baseball. It's very well-written, interesting and, at times, very funny.

And that's the end of this installment of Millie's Book Club. Take that Harpo!

millie said...

I missed the earlier comment on Olney's book, so I'm obviously not breaking new ground there, but I thought of one that I wanted to add.

You have to go out and read "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer" by Warren St. John.

millie said...

Ahhh. The link didn't work. RJYH is about a big Alabama football fan who's a writer in New York. He decides to see what the whole tailgate scene is all about. So he buys a cheap RV and travels around with Bama for a season. Great read.

scott.tappa said...

Following up to Millie's comments today:

-Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer is very good, great look at SEC football culture.
-The Blind Side, like Moneyball, also very good. The kid who's featured in the book has a good shot at being an All-American for Ole Miss this year.
-One last very good book (running low on adjectives today) is Miracle of St. Anthony's, about Bobby Hurley and his high school hoops program. Most of us have heard about them, but it's sort of amazing just how poor the school and the kids are. Highly recommend it.

millie said...

I read Miracle of St. Anthony's and I also recommend that. Funny thing about that book, Taps. The rich kid from Connecticut that transferred to the school and ended up going to Arkansas was the son of a guy I used to work with (his Dad, Bob McCurdy is an exec at Clear Channel Radio Sales). Bob led the nation in scoring for Richmond back in the 1970s.

Will said...

You guys read Fall River Dreams, right? (I'm pretty sure Tappa did). That was another good high school sports book. Again, it helped that the writer had great access to the program and Chris Herren. Should be required reading for any high school hoops star.

Has anybody read that book by Austin Murphy about the St. John's (Minnesota) football team? Always thought that the coach was interesting, but I believe the reviews were mixed.

scott.tappa said...

The Shawn McCurdy story was actually my favorite substory in the book - what would possess a kid to do that? And how would his teammates receive him? I thought it was interesting that his one good game got him noticed recruiting-wise. I watched an Arkansas game last year just to see him play, and when he got out there he was overmatched.

Fall River Dreams was also excellent.

Did not read the St. Johns book, hadn't heard of it, but would be interested, it's a great story.

ajs said...

Good thread...I just ordered up Fall River and Rammer Jammer from the local library just in time for deer hunting (reading)

I also put myself on the list for "No Bed of Roses" - a walk-on chronicles being a nobody on BA's 94 Rose Bowl squad. I'm 41ist in line. I will keep you posted.

Scott Tappa said...

No Bed of Roses looks interesting. interesting premise - is it supposed to be a critical look at the program?

ajs said...

Somewhat critical I've heard...The author (Kennedy) was left off the roster for the Rose Bowl and blames Norvell? who was a grad assistant at the time.

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