From Publishers Weekly
Taylor (The Count and the Confession) offers a vivid account of the fledgling days of the National Basketball Association and the intense competition between two of its biggest early stars: Bill Russell (of the Boston Celtics) and Wilt Chamberlain (of the Philadelphia 76ers). While both players were dominant men who anchored their respective teams, their personalities differed greatly. The quiet, reflective Russell turned a serendipitous showing in front of a scout into a legendary career largely through willpower and hard work, while the outgoing Chamberlain was a much more naturally gifted athlete whose skills drew attention and offers while he was barely a teenager. Taylor highlights this distinction, asking, "[C]ould determination trump talent?" Along with examining the physical and psychological battles between the two, Taylor depicts the NBA's raucous nature in the 1950s and '60s, when fights between players were frequent, and the brash Celtics coach Red Auerbach was routinely pelted with rotten tomatoes, lit cigars and eggs. Looking at everything, from each player's private demons to the racially charged era in which they competed, Taylor's book is by turns an intimate profile and a spirited look at the foundation of modern professional basketball.
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*Starred Review* Few individual rivalries in sports match the legendary mano-a-mano basketball duels between Boston Celtic Bill Russell and the much-traveled Wilt Chamberlain. Russell led his team to 11 championships in 13 seasons, and while Chamberlain's teams won 2 titles, only once was he part of a championship team while Russell was active. Chamberlain became the poster child for individual accomplishment--he scored 100 points in a single game--but Russell, 35 years after his retirement, still epitomizes the ultimate winner, the teammate for the ages. Taylor, author of The Count and the Confession (2002), a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, was initially drawn to the subject because, like much of his work, it dealt with the psychology of conflict. But as he interviewed many of those involved on the periphery of his subject--Russell declined to participate and Chamberlain is dead--he realized he had a potentially larger canvas. The rivalry coincided with--and accelerated--the NBA's metamorphosis from a relatively minor league to the media giant it's become today. It also produced two of the most celebrated black sports superstars in the post-Jackie Robinson era and in that context advanced race relations in America. While placing the rivalry in historical context, Taylor shows that Wilt wanted to win every bit as much as Russell but never quite understood, as Russell did, how to sublimate his ego for the betterment of the team. A serious work of sports history, this volume compares favorably with the best works of John Feinstein and David Halberstam on sports. Wes Lukowsky
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