As you guys know, we like to celebrate accomplishments by people who hang out here. So far this year, we've been able to get excited about three books: Down River, by DBR reader and Julio's cousin John Hart, an all-time good guy, Across the Line: Profiles in Basketball Courage: Tales of the First Black Players in the ACC and SEC , by Barry Jacobs, a powerful accounting of a time of great change in the south and the nation at large, and The Game Of My Life, by Al Featherston, a wonderful book about Duke players and their greatest games. We'll come back to that in just a second.
To that list we'd like to add Back Creek, a new novel by Leslie Goetsch, wife of former Duke center Scott Goetsch. We haven't read it yet, but it seems to be getting good reviews, so we wanted to let you know it was available and we hope you'll read it. All of these will make great Christmas presents!
We'd also like to take a couple of minutes to talk about Al's new book. Obviously, we're biased, but if you're a Duke fan, there's no way you won't enjoy this book. It former Duke greats recounting their greatest game and the influence Duke has had on them.Some of the stories are really interesting. Art Heyman, as usual, is massively entertaining, though we'd ding Al a bit for not getting Heyman's gleeful quote of "I hit Frank McGuire in the nuts!" during the legendary 1960 brawl in Cameron. For most of us, Dick Groat was before our time, but you get a real sense of how much he loved playing basketball at Duke, and just as important, how much he misses playing even today.
To be clear and fair, this isn't a heavyweight book about basketball. It's not Raw Recruits or Season On The Brink, two of the best sports books which have ever been written. What it is, though, is fun and deeply pleasing if you love Duke basketball. Reading Fred Lind's story, or seeing a different side of Christian Laettner as he talks about his time in Durham, much less Shane Battier's remarkable tale, well, Duke fans will eat this up. It's exceedingly cool.
While it's not a heavyweight book, it does follow up on what DBR readers have come to know about Al Featherston - the column format limits him immensely. He's a fine reporter and he mastered the short column form when he was with the Durham paper. It limited him, though, and forced him to abandon long riffs on subjects of interest to him. Obviously Duke basketball is of great interest to him, and it's also obvious, to us anyway, that he puts great value on the Duke tradition of excellence on the field and in the classroom. We say that because he ended his book with Jason Williams. Williams discussed the Gone In 54 Seconds game in College Park. Featherston pointed out that while Jason was capable of having a bad game or making several bad decisions, he was also as capable as anyone at Duke has ever been of grabbing the game by the throat and demanding victory.
His accident was well known, of course, and his comeback efforts were documented widely, including here. What's less known, though, is that while Jason made an amazing recovery and could have been back in the NBA, he essentially chose to walk away instead. He talks in Featherston's book of how he values education and always saw himself as more than a basketball player. He refused to let the accident define him, and instead seized it as a positive, an opportunity even, and grew immensely.
Closing the book this way allows Williams to function as the doppleganger of Duke basketball: capable of immense highs and ridiculous emotional exuberance, like Art Heyman's amazing ride through Durham, the program has also seen some very difficult times, as has Williams.
Duke takes great pride in both the program and perspective: the program for overall excellence since the 60s, and perspective, for refusing to allow it to run the school.
Featherston catches the joy and the sorrow, and in so doing goes far to reveal the character of the program. It's a wonderful read and we recommend it wholeheartedly.