Geoff Smith | From the Baseline: What sports books are you reading?

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A refrain writers hear a lot, is that they have to read more, in order to write better.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to keep people six-feet apart and sports on the sidelines, I've had time to read more. Jury is still out on whether I'll write better.

But that refrain is neither here nor there at the moment. This column isn't about trying to make everyone a better writer.

No, instead, I just want to talk about books.

The idea came up after a nice email from longtime reader Alan Rubin. Many of you who have goalies in your ranks might know Rubin as an area youth goalkeeping coach. Alan's emails always get me thinking, and this one was no different.

The idea is simple: reporter Rory Smith, who covers soccer across the pond, has been doing a dialogue with his readers by suggesting good soccer books to read, and requesting suggestions back.

Let's take that idea and run with it.

I'll go first. Since I cover high-school athletes, the first book I'm suggesting is one I read back when I was a kid. To this day, I still put it in my top 3 sports books ever. It's called "Hoops," and was written by legendary author Walter Dean Myers.

Almost two decades after I originally read it, what stands out about Myers' book, is how enthralling it is. The short synopsis: 17-year-old Lonnie Jackson is preparing for a Tournament of Champions with his basketball team. His coach knows Lonnie can hoop, but the coach, Cal (I'll leave the irony up to you), has been approached by some...not-so-friendly people about keeping Lonnie out of the championship game.

There is a whole lot more to the book than that, but the finer details are better learned by reading.

I think this book is important for kids to read, because Myers uses sports as the vehicle to tell his story, but the tale is about much more than basketball. Lonnie's exploits are sometimes illegal, sometimes unethical, but always relevant to his struggle to escape Harlem. Basketball, it just happens to turn out, is Lonnie's "easiest" path to get somewhere in life.

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I'll warn you now, that the book does have some violence and mature themes that serve to hammer home key points of the story. But pick it up and give it a read, and let me know what you think. While you're at it, send a book suggestion my way, and your review of it. We've got a lot of time to read, and I've got plenty of inches to fill in the paper every Monday.

Until next week, get your books out.

———

For sports fans of a certain age, Sunday night's TV programming was straightforward — "The Last Dance" on ESPN, chronicling the final year of the Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls dynasty. I am firmly in the Jordan camp when it comes to debating the greatest basketball player of all time, with a myriad of reasons why.

The biggest has always been his competitiveness. That drive has been put on display with the wide variety of articles that have come out ahead of the documentary premiering. On Sunday morning, I read a Jackie MacMullan piece on ESPN that highlighted that.

The quote actually came from a story she wrote in February on elite athletes handling pressure.

Jordan described what helped make him so comfortable in games.

"People didn't believe me when I told them I practiced harder than I played, but it was true," Jordan said. "That's where my comfort zone was created. By the time the game came, all I had to do was react to what my body was already accustomed to doing."

Creating competitive practice environments is something that any coach would tell you they dream of. One of the easiest ways to create that culture is to have your star player be the one leading the charge.

Bill Wennington teased in a SportsCenter spot Sunday morning that the video from practices will be revealing. I can't wait to watch it unfold.

Geoff Smith can be reached at gsmith@berkshireeagle.com, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.


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