cover image The Big Time: How the 1970s Transformed Sports in America

The Big Time: How the 1970s Transformed Sports in America

Michael MacCambridge. Grand Central, $32.50 (496p) ISBN 978-1-5387-0669-5

The 1970s heralded the “emergence of spectator sports as an ever-expanding mainstream phenomenon, as well as... remarkable changes in the way athletes were paid, how they played, and how they were perceived,” according to this invigorating history. Sports journalist MacCambridge (’69 Chiefs) chronicles how sports became big business, noting that pro players in the late 1960s made so little they took off-season jobs (“The Pistons’ Dave Bing worked as a bank teller”) before a series of 1970s labor battles secured pro basketball, baseball, and football players a greater share of ballooning profits. Offering vibrant accounts of the decade’s most significant contests and their social impact, MacCambridge examines the boom in women’s sports in the context of the 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs, described here as “slouching into middle age” in his “World War II–era black horn-rimmed glasses,” and Billie Jean King, who was “at once strong and feminine, resplendent in a sequined multicolored dress.” Elsewhere, MacCambridge sharply analyzes the 1971 fight between the “boastful, draft-dodging” Muhammad Ali and the “sullen but respectful” Joe Frazier as a proxy battle over respectability politics (“Whom you were rooting for often said something about the sort of person you were”). Impressive in scope and vividly told, this is a winner. (Oct.)

Correction: An earlier version of this review had the wrong year for the Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier fight analyzed by the author.