Quality books on basketball usher in season of gift-giving

Media Watch

December 12, 1997|By Milton Kent

In past years, the annual "Media Watch Holiday Gift-Giving Guide" column has been one of the joyous pieces of the year to write, because there is usually such a wealth of intriguing sports-related books and gadgets to write about (not to mention that it kicks off a three-week vacation).

However, this year's guide is admittedly lighter than the past three, mostly because the pickings are decidedly slimmer than the past three years. There are few, if any new gizmos to recommend beyond the tried and true pieces of network-connected apparel.

And many of the books on shelves this year continue a distressing trend of coffee table picture collections that masquerade as biographies or autobiographies. It's as if the athletes had precious little to say about their lives, but didn't mind charging the public twice the price of a normal hardback to toss in some "behind the scenes" pictures.

One of the best trends in sports publishing is the increasing quality of good books about basketball. For years, baseball tomes have dominated the landscape, but more and more quality hoop books are hitting the scene.

John Feinstein, who once spent a year inside the Indiana men's basketball program with fascinating results, got more of the same after getting inside the Atlantic Coast Conference in "A March to Madness" (Little, Brown, $24.95). Meanwhile, free-lance writer Sara Corbett struck gold with a brilliant accounting of the year leading up to the United States Olympic women's basketball team's march to the gold medal in 1996, called "Venus to the Hoop" (Doubleday, $23.95).

For years, serious NBA fans have been entertained by Zander Hollander's razor-sharp barbs in his "Complete Handbook of Pro Basketball (Signet, $7.99) and this year's is no less pointed. Check out this observation on Philadelphia forward Mark Davis: "Poor Man's Scottie Pippen. Actually, a destitute man's Scottie Pippen," or this one on Denver's Bryant Stith: "The Nuggets' xTC allegiance to mediocrity is fascinating. If Tom Hammonds isn't proof enough, surely Stith is."

Those "moron" books that covered computers and cooking and gardening have come to sports, with "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football Like a Pro," (Alpha Books, $16.95) written by former Redskin Joe Theismann and Brian Tarcy ranking as a good primer for the new fan. "Basketball for Dummies" (IDG Books, $19.99) from former Notre Dame coach Digger Phelps and John Walters is a little esoteric, but a solid read.

The best of the real coffee table books is the beautifully photographed "A Day in the Life of the National Hockey League" (Collins, $40), which chronicles the goings-on around the NHL on March 23, 1996, and is a good gift for true hockey fans and those who aren't.

Last year, the remembrances of Rachel Robinson about her husband, Jackie, made for the best sports biography of 1996. Arnold Rampersad has hit the target with this year's "Jackie Robinson: A Biography" (Knopf, $27.50), a detailed account of the Brooklyn Dodger's life. Former Atlanta defensive lineman Tim Green has written a moving description of his struggle to find his real mother in "A Man and His Mother: An Adopted Son's Search" (Regan Books, $23).

Finally, the field of sports almanacs has become even more commercialized with the takeover of the formerly neutral "Information Please Sports Almanac" (Hyperion, $11.95) by ESPN, but it and the "Sports Illustrated 1998 Sports Almanac" will settle any bar bet.

Around the dial

Tonight's Miami-Indiana NBA tussle (TNT, 8 p.m.) marks the first national television appearance of Pacers coach Larry Bird. Meanwhile, ESPN2 has a fabulous women's basketball doubleheader tonight between the Big Ten and Southeastern conferences, with Florida meeting Purdue in the opener at 7 p.m., followed by No. 5 Illinois taking on top-ranked and two-time defending champion Tennessee.

With the college football regular season at an end, save for tomorrow night's awarding of the Heisman Trophy (ESPN, 7: 30 p.m.), the NFL is free to spread its games to Saturday afternoon. Tomorrow's NFL doubleheader has the Redskins meeting the New York Giants (Channel 45, noon pregame) and the New England Patriots play host to Pittsburgh (Channel 11, 3: 30 p.m. pregame). And speaking of football, Channel 2 will carry the Ravens player of the year banquet from the Hyatt Regency Monday at 7: 30 p.m.

Finally, Wednesday, Lifetime will present the first nationally televised women's hockey match, with the United States national team taking on Canada in an Olympic tuneup from Burlington, Vt., at 8 p.m.

Happy holidays!

Milton Kent can now be reached via E-mail at mediawtchol.com

Weekend ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore last weekend:

Event .......... Day Ch. ....... R/S

Den.-Pitt. ...... Sun. 11 .... 11.7/24

Car.-Dall. ...... Mon. 2 ...... 8.9/15

Wash.-Ariz. ..... Sun. 45 ..... 7.5/13

Army-Navy ....... Sat. 13 ..... 6.3/17

SEC Champ. ...... Sat. 2 ...... 4.6/8

Big 12 Champ. ... Sat. 2 ...... 4.1/9

NFL pre-game .... Sun. 11 ..... 3.8/10

Father-son golf.. Sun. 11 ..... 3.4/6

Ind.-Kentucky ... Sat. 13 ..... 3.1/8

Kansas-Md. ...... Sun. 2 ...... 2.8/6

R-Rating. S-Share

Pub Date: 12/12/97

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