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Review of "When the Game Was War"

While wishing all American readers a happy Independence Day today, I decided to write a review on a book about the American game.  No, not baseball or football, but basketball since it was invented by an American without roots from other games in other countries.  This book covered a great era of the professional game and for the most part, I enjoyed it.  Here is my review of "When the Game Was War." 


Title/Author: When the Game Was War: The NBA’s Greatest Season” by Rich Cohen

Rating: 4 of 5 stars (very good)

Review: Just as there are many arguments between sports fans about who is the greatest team, athlete or event in a particular sport, this can also come up about the greatest season for a league.  This book by Rich Cohen makes the case that the 1987-88 season was the greatest for the NBA.  While it may not convince every reader that 1987-88 was the best season (including this reviewer – I chose another one in his honorable mention list, 1976-77), Cohen does make a compelling case for this argument.

The book reads better as a long editorial than as a history of that basketball season.  Not only does Cohen make his case about the 1987-88 season, he also makes a case for Isaiah Thomas to be included as one of the greatest players not only of that time – to be included in the conversation with Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan – but also of all time.  While I did see a point to the main topic of the book, I do not agree with this assertion and at times, it feels like Cohen is writing more as a fan than as an author or historian when talking about Thomas. Bringing up Thomas’ infamous quote about Larry Bird more than once and defending it by saying it was a thought many Black players had felt like a defense of Thomas.  Cohen does point out his own biases toward not only Thomas and for the reason he felt 1987-88 was the best one, hence why I called the book more of an opinion piece.

I will also note that I have read reviews that point out many factual errors, a few of which I caught without needing to verify them.  Because I read an advance review copy, these were not detrimental to the goal I had for this book, which was to see why Cohen felt this was the best season.  There is also the matter of referring to a season by the latter year (i.e. 1987-88 would be 1988) which is inconsistent throughout the book.  Again, something that will hopefully be cleaned up in the final edition.

But…the positives far outweigh the negatives in this book, especially if the reader is a fan of basketball in that era.  The season is viewed through four teams – the Los Angeles Lakers (who ended up winning the championship), the Detroit Pistons (who lost in the Finals to the Lakers), the Boston Celtics (who lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals) and the Chicago Bulls (who lost to the Pistons in the Eastern Conference semi-finals). These four teams made the most sense to include, especially looking back now.  There was the reigning champs (Lakers), the old dynasty ready to end (Celtics), the hungry (and physical) team ready to take over (Pistons) and the new kids on the block getting ready to crash the party (Bulls).  Each team had a compelling chapter in the book and made for excellent reading.

Reading about the matchups during the season and in the playoffs between two of the four featured teams was also great.  Enough detail to truly feel how close the game was, and in the case of many Pistons games, how physical and even violent the play went. This was an era when the game’s big men played in the paint and not often out on the perimeter as Cohen notes.  While he doesn’t explicitly say this, I get the impression that he preferred this type of basketball.  I did as well and why despite the reservations I wrote earlier, I really enjoyed this book and fans of that era of professional basketball will as well.

I wish to thank Random House Publishing Group for providing a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Link: Amazon.com: When the Game Was War: The NBA's Greatest Season eBook : Cohen, Rich: Kindle Store


source http://sportsbookguy.blogspot.com/2023/07/review-of-when-game-was-war.html


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