From Publishers Weekly
Shropshire (The Business of Sports Agents) calls this "the biography of an idea": Sugar Ray Robinson as the first sports figure to engineer a synergistic success machine out of a flashy image, a fancy entourage and a business plan. Indeed, rather than a straight recount of the storied fighter's life, Shropshire uses scenes from it to create a prism through which the phenomenon of the celebrity athlete reveals itself. Consequently, this volume often reads like a CliffsNotes version of the African-American boxer's troubled youth, 25-year career, restless retirement and demise. Though hardly a saint in or out of the ring, Robinson carved a legacy that Shropshire contends athletes have been trying to emulate (consciously or otherwise) ever since. Race obviously plays a big role in Robinson's story, and the author (African-American himself) handles the topic admirably; on the subject of contemporary sports stars, however, he isn't as evenhanded, making examples of the usual suspects-Kobe Bryant, Terrell Owens, Randy Moss-and arguing how each could learn from Robinson's example. Vivid, present-tense you-are-there retellings of boxing matches balance nicely a narrative that often runs dry on textbook-like prose.
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Shropshire argues that boxer Robinson's popularity in the 1950s and 1960s was the precursor to the "cult of celebrity" experienced in later years by such black athletes as Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Tiger Woods. Robinson was a black celebrity in a generally hostile white world, yet he managed to avoid many of the pitfalls experienced by previous black boxing champions, such as Jack Johnson (who antagonized the white world and was virtually crushed by it) and Joe Louis (who submerged his real personality to avoid a similar fate). Robinson, on the other hand, managed to become an embodiment of middle-class values without turning his back on the black community. Shropshire points out that middleweight Robinson's success outside the ring had much to do with his average size, which made it possible for average-size men, both black and white, to identify with him. By presenting the story of Robinson's life in the context of his stature as a public figure, Shropshire delivers both an empathetic biography as well as a studied, thoughtful examination of celebrity. Wes LukowskyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved