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January 3, 2013

Classic Sports Book Review: Drive by Larry Bird and Bob Ryan

Unfortunately, I don’t read as many books as I’d like to. This isn’t to say I don’t read enough — I spend more time reading online than I realistically would have spent combined on newspapers, magazines, and books a generation ago. However, as we devolve further and further into our screens, we will continue to consume less and less longform writing.

It was therefore refreshing for me to spend last week poolside at a resort in Punta Cana, almost entirely away from the Internet. This brief respite from eight browser tabs, six GChats, a constant Twitter stream, and a phone that buzzes every few minutes gave me the chance to read two outstanding books: Marvin Miller’s A Whole Different Ball Game (which I hope to review in the next week or two) and Drive: The Story of My Life, which Larry Bird wrote with Bob Ryan in 1989. (Bird retired in 1992.)

You can find Drive used for $.01 and the cost of shipping on Amazon.

I was born in 1986, so I didn’t get to see much of Bird’s career. I certainly missed his prime, which included three MVPs and three NBA championships. (However, my dad tells me I had floor seats at a scorching Boston Garden for the Celtics’ Game 7 victory over the Pistons in which Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson collided heads. I’ll have to take his word for it.)

Drive does a tremendous job framing the significance of Bird’s career and how he and Magic Johnson ushered us into the period of basketball history with which I am familiar.

Throughout the book, Bird’s genuine folksy charm stands out. A discerning reader who has seen Sarah Palin’s farcical insincerity or Brett Favre’s calculated attempt to woo commentators can be skeptical at first. But, the tone is so consistent and so understated that you have to believe it’s real. Bird regularly uses phrases like, “Boy, they’re good,” “What a competitor,” and “I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.”

Bird did not grow up a basketball fan — he had no idea about the Celtics’ illustrious history until he started playing for them. He believed in his coaches’ authority and used their guidance to get better. He deliberately chose to shoot less free throws than he could have because he believed that openly seeking to get fouled was the wrong way to play the game.

The only thing really missing from the book was tales of his supposed ability to drink Budweiser.

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