Unguarded: My Forty Years Surviving in the NBA
by Lenny Wilkens, with Terry Pluto
Simon & Schuster, $25
Wilkens, the son of an Irish-American mother and an
African-American father, recalls proudly that "on the day of the
1960 NBA draft," when he was chosen by the St. Louis Hawks, "I
was in class." He went on to be one of the league's best point
guards, but he faced so much bigotry (racists in St. Louis even
poisoned his dog) that he felt a "moral obligation" also to
succeed as a coach. He knew he couldn't do it by imitating the
coaches for whom he had played: "They just screamed at you," he
says. Instead, he became one of the first NBA coaches to treat
players as professionals, according them respect while not
trying to be their friend. He expects a player to put the team
before all else, and he has a simple recipe for any player who
doesn't: Trade him. Oh, and along the way he has won more NBA
games than any other coach.
Unguarded offers a prescription for reducing outsized egos: Make
college freshmen ineligible. This would provide young players
with "plenty of minutes in a less pressurized setting" and, more
important, "help academics." It's unlikely this suggestion will
be seriously considered. Basketball is so far from where Wilkens,
who's in the Hall of Fame as both player and coach, would like it
to be that many young players are unaware of his credentials. In
1996, while coaching the U.S. Olympians, he showed Shaquille
O'Neal a drop-step. Impressed, O'Neal inquired, "Coach, did you
ever play at this level?"
Flashing Before My Eyes: 50 Years of Headlines, Deadlines and
by Dick Schaap, as told to Dick Schaap
William Morrow, $25
"Have I broken the world record for name dropping yet?" Schaap
asks hopefully on page 6 of his autobiography. It's a record that
Schaap pursues as doggedly as Hank Aaron pursued Babe Ruth's.
After 50 years in journalism, during which he has produced more
than 30 books, edited Sport magazine, appeared on numerous TV
shows and written articles for countless publications (including
this one), Schaap has bumped into just about everyone you've ever
heard of, and he's desperate to tell you about them.
Should you let him? Sure, if you enjoy gossip. Liz Smith is a
piker compared to Schaap, who regales readers with scenes of New
York Knicks star (and future U.S. senator) Bill Bradley, drunk on
ouzo, dancing on a tabletop; poet Allen Ginsberg offering to
perform fellatio on comedian Lenny Bruce; and Schaap himself
"inhaling" with eccentric pitcher Bill (Spaceman) Lee.
Schaap's problem is that there are times he wants to be taken
seriously. Because of the self-aggrandizing tone of this opus,
it's hard to grant him this wish. For instance, he laments that
"the rapport that once existed between the media and athletes"
has been "replaced by mutual distrust." Apparently, despite all
the wisdom he has acquired over the years, Schaap has yet to
figure out that nobody trusts a blabbermouth.
COLOR PHOTO: SIMON & SCHUSTER
COLOR PHOTO: WILLIAM MORROW