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BOOK REVIEW: “WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS” – EARVIN ‘MAGIC JOHNSON and LARRY BIRD with JACKIE MacMULLAN

Larry and Magic

“You look like AC Green, bitch don’t call here anymore…”

by Ryan Meehan

Before I get started, I just want to mention that I realize this book was published well over two years ago.  Since then the NBA has seen its share of good and bad times, many similar to those mentioned within these pages.  So all apologies to everyone for not getting to this review sooner, but we’ve been a little busy here and to say that the NBA isn’t exactly our top priority is a bit of an understatement.
 
However, I did want to read this because I grew up playing basketball and watching Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, as well as Michael Jordan and the other NBA superstars from that era.  My next door neighbor Jeremy used to have a basketball hoop in his driveway and we were always trying to emulate those players.  His favorite was Larry Bird, a hard-working white bread forward who played for the Boston Celtics, which was also his favorite team.  But the legend of Bird broke through the public glass ceiling in 1979 when he took Indiana State all the way to the NCAA championship game that year.

 
The team that Bird and his cronies lost to in that championship game was Michigan State, led by a flashy point guard by the name of Magic Johnson.  Magic was the favorite player of one of our other neighborhood friends Travis, who lived right across the street.  He adopted a lot of the fleet-footed moves that Johnson used in our little streetball games.   If you weren’t paying close attention Travis would make you look stupid in very little time. 

"Is that the game ball?"

 
Once both players ended up in the NBA, the stage was set for each to achieve greatness.  Between them, they accumulated 6 MVP trophies and 8 NBA championships, amongst countless other awards and records.  Jeremy and Travis were constantly arguing about who was the better player.  Pro basketball was in its heyday, and indeed the game belonged to Magic and Larry.   
 
My grading scale for doing these book reviews is going to be based on the book’s ability to do certain things for the reader.  I feel as though since everyone is so busy nowadays, that taking the time to read a book is pretty big commitment so the book should be able to do something for the person who’s taking the time to flip the pages.  It’s the closest thing I could do to match the track by track format that we have in place for the records we review, so let’s get started.
 
BOOK REVIEW:   “WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS” – Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, with Jackie MacMullan
 
Grades given based on this book’s ability to…  

I don’t know who did this but it’s a fantastic piece of art

 …Reinforce the fact that Magic Johnson was one of the greatest to ever play the game:  B+
 
Since I grew up in Western Illinois I’m always predisposed to the iconoclastic nature of Michael Jordan being the best player of the modern era of the NBA.  Although I still believe that’s true, Magic will always be a close second because he brought “showtime” to a dying league and paved the way for players like Jordan to stick his tongue out while posterizing some sap below.  This book really does a good job with telling the story of Magic all the way through his college and professional career all the way up through his HIV diagnosis and subsequent charitable work in the years that followed.  Although Magic was very honest about how he contracted the virus, I thought for some reason this book would contain more of the details since we live in such a TMZ world nowadays.  But I do understand why he wouldn’t have wanted to go into further details. 

Larry Bird and Red Auerbach, stogie puffin’ champs…

 
…Reinforce the fact that Larry Bird was one of the greatest to ever play the game:  A-
 
To be fair, Jackie had already helped Larry write his autobiography in 2003, and is currently in her fourth decade of covering sports for the Boston Globe.  So this score is a little higher because there was more knowledge to work with when it came to describing his background and eventual rise to the top.  I always got the feeling that the Bird family was likely very working class, but I would have never guessed it was anywhere near as strict as it was described between these covers. 

What’s weird is, I can’t come up with a caption to this picture, even though I don’t have to worry about offending anybody because there’s no one who likes Isiah

 
Reinforce the universal belief that Isiah Thomas is a complete shithead:  A
 
Most of us already knew this, either from the days of the Bad Boy Detroit Pistons, the collapse of the CBA, the sexual harassment allegations when he was with the Knicks, his headhunting adventure when he was with the Knicks, his recent failure at Florida International, or any of the other many examples of Isiah’s lack of respect for basketball and/or humanity in general.  I’ve never liked Isiah Thomas, and if this book did nothing else it gave me one more reason to hate him.  There’s a pretty direct accusation in the book that Thomas had told other players around the league Magic was bisexual.  I can’t say that it’s true, but given the type of low class chump Isiah was it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.  And of all of the players who decided they needed to spread this vicious rumor to a league full of Kevin Johnsons and Kareem Abdul Jabbars, it had to be the one guy who was kissing him on the cheek before each game when they met in the Finals?  That’s some seriously weak shit right there. 
 
…Cover a couple of very important stories that I believed warranted more print:  F
 
There’s two major things that happened over the course of Bird’s career that were barely even mentioned in this book:  1)  The fact that his father committed suicide, and 2) The Len Bias overdose.  The suicide thing I can understand because anyone who has been through that knows it’s not exactly something you bring up at the dinner table.  However this is a book documenting the lives of two very prolific athletes who became celebrities, and I guess I just expected Larry to share his feelings about the incident more.  Additionally there were several times in the book where the reader is led to believe that in a league where many of the players regular indulged in illegal drug use, and that this disgusted Larry to no end.  Yet when it came to the one paragraph where the Len Bias tragedy was discussed, there wasn’t very much out of Larry’s camp when it came to an anti-drug message.  I just didn’t get it. 

An American tragedy, sadly not addressed to great lengths in this book.

 
…Give the reader any idea who’s really telling the story, and from what angle:  D
 
The front cover and sleeve of the book reads as follows:  “WHEN THE GAME WAS OURS” – Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird, with Jackie MacMullan.  My guess would be that Jackie wrote a majority of this book herself, but there were several points where I had no idea who was running the show at all.  I would bet that the people who pressed this book had requested to place Magic and Bird’s names in large, bold print on the front cover along with their pictures because they are the recognizable figured about which the book was written.  But when you read it, it’s obvious she compiled all of the information and used different quotes from the two throughout the text.  The problem lies in the fact that you can’t really tell if some of the stuff Jackie’s saying is her viewpoint or the viewpoint that was relayed to her.  I could definitely tell that there was a lot of “make the suggestion that I felt a certain way about a certain instance or player but don’t say that I said that” coming from Magic and Larry, as a means of protecting their own integrity.  And I do respect that to a point, but the content suffers drastically because of it. 

Cover of the book

 
…Keep the reader interested in the subject matter:  D+
 
Twenty pages in, it was pretty evident this book wasn’t going to be anything that would have you on the edge of your seat.  But even that known, it slouched along at a pace that I never really felt came close to matching the sport that it was chronicling.  Basketball is a very fast paced game, and anybody writing about it should be a little bit more aware of that fact before deciding to put a book together.  I actually earmarked the pages of this book a page earlier than I had stopped the last time I put it down, because I knew when I picked it back up again there was no way in hell I was going to remember where I left off.  And that’s pretty sad when you consider it’s a sports book that contains a lot of statistics, usually ones that are associated with a certain year.  I felt lost quite often. 

Author Jackie MacMullan can also be seen on ESPN’s "Around The Horn", and apparently, Sesame Street as well

 
Overall Grade:  C-
 
It’s hard to give this book a lower rating than this because it did a decent job of detailing a majority of the lives and careers of two of the most important athletes of the 1980s.  But at the same time it’s hard to give it anything higher because for lack of a better word, this book was fucking boring.  When I had purchased this, it was on sale for five bucks.  I’m proud to say I made the decision to buy it, but a good book is one that you’ll read more than once and I can guarantee I won’t read it again. 
 
Stay tuned to FOH later this week as the NHL playoffs move forward into the second round, and the NBA playoffs begin.  There’s plenty of non-sports related stuff coming as well if competition isn’t your thing.  Until then, see you around. 
 
Once again thanks for visiting First Order Historians and enjoying more of the internet’s finest in user generated content.
 
Meehan

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