Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Big Three by Michael Holley

Why I Read It: I lived it.

Summary: The story of the triumphant 2008 NBA champion Boston Celtics, complete with all the highs and lows.

My Thoughts: I remember every play. At least, that's how this book made me feel.

We had been through a lot as Celtics fans, in the years leading up to the Big Three, the Pitino crash, the sense of steadiness under Jim O'Brien, and the sense that magic could happen again with Danny Ainge in charge. Doc Rivers signed on as coach, and then the deals started to fly. I'll never forget listening to Glenn Ordway on WEEI sports radio when the news broke. He predicted that it wouldn't be just two; there was going to be a third superstar coming to Boston. And so he was right. When the dust settled, it was Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Like Bird, McHale and Parrish. The Celtics had returned to their old winning formula.

Holley brings us through that timeline, the build-up, the construction of the team, through the draft, through trades, through the free agent signings. He takes us behind the scenes, though he really didn't have to; the story as it played out publicly was thrilling enough. But he does shed some light on a number of shorter contextual tales that explain some gaps in the public story. He confirms a few things - like how mad the players were when Ainge traded Kendrick Perkins away while the team was on a run to the finals - and exposes a few more. We learn more about the people behind the scenes, the analysts, the coaches, those people who influenced the player and coach acquisitions.

We know what happened. I remember exactly where I was when Ray Allen threw the ball into the air as the final buzzer sounded, and it landed in Cedric Maxwell's hands. The Big Three got their world title.

But we also know what happened afterward, how it all fell apart after a few more years. Holley doesn't spare us the denouement. As painful as it was to relive, I had to read it. I lived that, too. I watched Garnett turn his back to Allen as he tried to greet his old friend and teammate in his Miami Heat uniform after taking a free agent offer. I, like so many of us, wished it had ended differently.

This book relates the tale of the three, but also of Rivers and Rondo, of Kobe and Lebron. It captures an era. It takes us back, even just a decade, to a different time in pro basketball history.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Too Sweet by Keith Elliot Greenberg

Why I Read It: I've watched AEW since day one, and have been fascinated by how its story has played out.

Summary: Wrestling's "indie revolution," leading to the formation of All Elite Wrestling.

My Thoughts: There are so many strings to pull, stories to unravel, that it seems like an impossible task to tell this story, but the author pulls it off.

I have to admit that I'm one of those wandering wrestling fans who simply got bored with WWE programming. The storylines got stale, the in-ring action completely predictable, the fact that it was simply all to take my money out of my hands just blatantly obvious. I drifted. I grew up on pre-Hulk Hogan WWF and World Class Championship Wrestling programming, decidedly two different animals, for sure. I found solace in the past, revisiting old books and videos. I found safe harbors in homes where the storytelling was good, even if it had to be in a different language. I switched over to New Japan Pro Wrestling, to Major League Wrestling. Anything but WWE.

I was not alone. As Greenberg relates in this book, this groundswell started a long time ago. It used to be that every wrestler in the world aspired to work for WWE. That tide has started to turn, and with every wrestler who prefers to bear the badge of honor "indie performer" there is a legion of fans who are glad that he or she has stuck with them on the smaller stages.

Greenberg walks us through the end of the territory era, quickly, as it's all been told before. But it is a precursor to where we are now, a story that must be understood. We travel through the ECW days, when the "upstart" promotion shook the foundations of the sports entertainment world, daring to go places few others would. We move into an era of "money marks," people who have enough money to start a wrestling organization, but don't truly understand the commitments needed to make it successful. We even wander around the world, to Japan, and Germany and England, to see the grassroots leagues come together. 

We see how specific performers learned their trade, formed a vision, and came together. AEW is born with an indie feel - and even now, as I write this, during the COVID-19 pandemic - reaches out to indie performers with offers for paychecks when most of the world's wrestling shows are indefinitely postponed. We understand how this rival promotion comes to be, but we have to ask ourselves a question that Greenberg doesn't deeply explore. Is the success of AEW the culmination of the "Indie Revolution," proof that indie wrestling can compete with WWE, or is it simply proof that the deep pockets of the Khan family have created a competitor that will eventually just become the WCW to the 1990s WWE?

We are left with the hopeful notion that as long as AEW - all of its performers, its executives (who are  wrestlers themselves) and other staff - remembers its indie roots, that philosophy of openness will remain, and wrestling fans the world over will have options that meet their tastes, needs and desires for entertainment.

The New Silk Roads by Peter Frankopan

Why I Read It: No idea. The mood just struck me.

Summary: Modern studies in Asia, political, military, industrial and more, and their effects on the West.

My Thoughts: We're in for a rude awakening.

The author makes a specific point over and over again, one that can be seen symbolically as well as it can be deduced logically. The West is falling as a home to world leaders. The age of imperialism is long over, and even the post-World War II era of United States dominance has come to an end. The world's finances have shifted, and have been shifting for a long time, from the West to the East. China, at the core of a rising East, is poised to take a new role on the world's stage.

Ironically, its happening in much the same way it always has. The author points out the U.S.'s way of using language that promises a benign U.S. presence in a new country, but is instead simply opening doors to American businesses to exploit new markets. Today, it's the Chinese who are buying up land in countries all over the world for various purposes, making promises and deals that ultimately will fall apart, leaving cash-starved countries in positions to have to turn over land for Chinese military bases and more.

The book focuses on the major reengagement of the ancient "Silk Roads" philosophy, harkening back to the wondrous days when the world's major trade routes ran through the region. China has excited many other countries into believing this world can be revived, strengthened, pulled together for common success. 

Meanwhile, in the West, the United States is "building a wall" to keep its neighbors out. England is pulling out of the European Union. The West is fracturing, as the East is coming together. The Trump administration ridiculously accelerated the process. We may never see things return to the "normalcy" of the last century in our lifetimes. Is that a bad thing?

It all depends on where you stand.