cover image When the Game Was Ours

When the Game Was Ours

Rebecca Kai Dotlich, , with Jackie MacMullan. . Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-547-30501-1

It's been one of the most well-documented and popular rivalries in sports history. Perhaps no book has examined the countless battles between Bird and Johnson like this one, which tells that nearly 15-year war mostly in their own words, with journalist MacMullan helping to craft the story. Bird and Johnson were a “study in contrast... it was East Coast versus West Coast... the gritty leader versus the flashy star.” Yet as MacMullan shows, the two legends were more alike than most ever knew. Both started from humble beginnings in the Midwest, practicing their craft early each morning because of an insatiable work ethic. And both emerged as superstars at the same time, starting with their fabled battle in the 1979 NCAA Championship. From there, their rivalry took off, as Bird and Johnson combined to play for eight NBA champions during the 1980s and faced off three times in the final series. This book goes well beyond the fierce competition on the court. In a book full of amusing anecdotes and heartbreaking emotion, MacMullan looks at how their battle crossed racial lines, how Bird dealt with crushing injuries and his father's suicide and how Magic dealt with the fallout from his shocking announcement that he had contracted HIV. Through it all, the two players went from archrivals to friends and left the game together after achieving a gold medal at the Olympics. (Nov.)