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Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter Hardcover – May 1, 2012
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*Starred Review* Deford went to work for Sports Illustrated in 1962, fresh out of college. Since then, in addition to magazine work, he’s won a Peabody and an Emmy, written 10 novels, and delivered more than 1,500 commentaries on NPR’s Morning Edition. His accomplishments are many, but in this wildly entertaining and informative memoir, he refers to himself only as the scrivener. His subjects are what matters, and he gives them their due, as in a poignant chapter on the late Wilt Chamberlain, which offers more insight into that enigmatic basketball icon than any half-dozen books. Fortunately, despite the self-deprecating tone, Deford does portray the highlights of his remarkable career, including his early stint covering the NBA at a time when players flew commercial, played doubleheaders to boost the gate, and hung out with sportswriters because they could expense the bar tab. He was also ahead of the pack in covering women’s sports, especially tennis, and he offers some insight into why women’s team sports have never moved beyond a niche level of popularity in the U.S. A lifetime sportswriter, he’s very aware of the history of his craft, and, along the way, he shares his thoughts on “then-and-now,” including pointed anecdotes on some sportswriting legends from the past. Put this one on the shelf alongside such other classic sportswriters’ memoirs as Robert Lipsyte’s An Accidental Sportswriter (2011), Roger Kahn’s Into My Own (2006), and Ira Berkow’s Full Swing (2006). --Wes Lukowsky
Deford is the Holy Grail. He's simply one of the greatest sportswriters of all time. ... [Over Time] has a little bit of everything -- great stories about interviewing everyone from Richard Nixon to Jerry Jones. Deford played with the Harlem Globetrotters, introduced the world to Bill Bradley, really disliked Rodney Dangerfield, edited the only national sports daily in our history (The National), and has great takes on the history and characters of Sports Illustrated in its formative years. . . . Deford's the best.”Peter King, SI.com
"Deford's cred is incredible, his accolades deserved... He does not pull a punch when it comes to boxing or even to the tastes-great, less-filling Miller Lite commercials he once made... [Deford] has long been the genuine article." Los Angeles Times
He sketches insightful remembrances of stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Billie Jean King and lavishes affection and admiration on Sports Illustrated colleagues Andre Laguerre, Dan Jenkins, and the tortured’ writer Mark Kram [Deford is] sports writing's Sinatra.” San Francisco Chronicle
Endearing... Over Time imparts a sense of a life well lived and fully enjoyed.”The New York Times
"The mixture of homage to sportswriters who came before him, such as Grantland Rice; sometimes wistful vignettes of sports figures like Arthur Ashe; and his own personal reflections on the evolution of sports journalism combine to offer a cultural perspective that transcends a mere job." Publishers Weekly (Top 10 in Sports)
Frank Deford is the best there is. His memoir Over Time is beautiful, funny, poignant and poetic.” Buzz Bissinger, author of Friday Night Lights and Father's Day
A wonderful book. Over Time is both a treasure and a treasury.”Sally Jenkins, Washington Post columnist and New York Times bestselling author of It’s Not About the Bike
Frank Deford is the best sportswriter I’ve ever read. If there’s a Mount Rushmore of sportswriting, Deford is up there, purple ties and all.”Tony Kornheiser
Wonderful. [Deford is] the gold standard for modern sportswriting.”Frank Murtaugh, Memphis Flyer
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On the other hand, Deford's admiration for tennis star Arthur Ashe shines through in what is perhaps the most memorable section of the book. Along the way, Deford weaves in the history of sports writing as a profession, his own family's riches to rags story, the world of the NBA in the early 1960s, the glories of being a tennis writer and even lets the reader in on a really funny tale about what happened on a long night of drinking with Dallas Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones.
In more serious moments, he poses thoughtful, if unanswerable questions, like why do we always think that the greatest all-time performers in sports are current stars while in other fields like music and literature the "greatest" are always the masters of the past. As someone who has written about sports history (HOOP CRAZY: COLLEGE BASKETBALL IN THE 1950S), I found Deford's book to be a thinking man's sports memoir filled with good writing, delightful stories and self-effacing humor.
If you grew up waiting for the Andre Laguerre-era Sports Illustrated to land in your mailbox every Thursday, or if you are a fan of Deford's weekly NPR commentaries, you'll enjoy this book, because he devotes generous space to both topics.
The cliches can occasionally be cringe-worthy, but are more a reflection of a style that was popular in the generation in which Deford came of age. And along the way, he sheds a different light on some of the athletic figures he has covered (in particular, Arthur Ashe).
A good companion book to this one is Michael MacCambridge's The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine, which rounds out the picture that is painted here of the author and his long-term employer.