For Boston sports fans growing up in the 1980s, nothing was bigger than the Celtics vs. the Lakers. The nearly two decades that have passed since the retirement of their franchise players has left this Generation X-er sorely missing Larry vs. Magic and the “NBA’s golden era.”
While team and player rivalries were catnip for media and fans, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were quietly cultivating an improbable but meaningful friendship.
For much of the book, Bird and Magic merely obsess about each other as competitors on separate coasts. Their first lasting conversation doesn’t occur until 1985 (several years into their NBA careers) but brings to the story a compelling angle from which to observe them as they battle for championship titles, endure injury and ultimately face forced retirement in the early ’90s (Johnson following his HIV diagnosis, Bird after years of debilitating back pain through which he regularly played).
The most interesting and therefore best parts of this memoir explore the largely unknown dynamics of their developing and continuing friendship and the fascinating light it shines on the glory days of the NBA, the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in particular. An absolutely marvellous trip down memory lane.
Like most sports memoirs, this one contains plenty of play-by-play of long won (and lost) contests. What makes Andre Agassi’s Open different is his thorough, introspective and revelatory examination of his life and spectacular career in tennis, a sport, we learn, that he truly “hates.”
This feeling drives much of the book where Agassi tells the story of a lost childhood and at times brutal upbringing, where tennis was cemented as his only option. He turned pro at age 16, a decision that served him well financially, “but the personal cost, as he makes clear, was catastrophic.” [Washington Post]
He also explores the media (and fan) response to an ill-considered ad campaign that followed him throughout his career, his chief rival Pete Sampras, and his use of hairpieces to hide very early male pattern baldness – not to mention his time with Barbra Streisand, Brooke Shields and ultimate marriage to longtime crush Steffi Graf.
Agassi was seen in his younger days as disrespectful and rebellious. Time changed this image as he grew to become tennis royalty and this biography is a very personal look into how it all unfolded. The match recaps got a bit tedious, but otherwise this was a very enjoyable memoir.