A rollicking guided tour of one extraordinary summer, when some of the most pivotal and freakishly coincidental stories all collided and changed the way we think about modern sports
The summer of 1984 was a watershed moment in the birth of modern sports when the nation watched Michael Jordan grow from college basketball player to professional athlete and star. That summer also saw ESPN’s rise to media dominance as the country’s premier sports network and the first modern, commercialized, profitable Olympics. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird’s rivalry raged, Martina Navratilova and John McEnroe reigned in tennis, and Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon made pro wrestling a business, while Donald Trump pierced the national consciousness as a pro football team owner. It was an awakening in the sports world, a moment when sports began to morph into the market-savvy, sensationalized, moneyed, controversial, and wildly popular arena we know today.
In the tradition of Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927, L. Jon Wertheim captures these 90 seminal days against the backdrop of the nostalgia-soaked 1980s, to show that this was the year we collectively traded in our ratty Converses for a pair of sleek, heavily branded, ingeniously marketed Nikes. This was the year that sports went big-time.
Sports Illustrated executive editor Wertheim (Blood in the Cage) offers an occasionally entertaining history of developments in sports and culture during the summer of 1984, but fails to demonstrate that they're more than coincidental. There's no denying the year featured noteworthy events: it marked the first NBA Finals battle between Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the Chicago Bulls' drafting of Michael Jordan, and ABC's purchase of ESPN, which enabled the tanking sports cable network to survive and expand. From the creation of the basketball "dream team" that represented the U.S. at the Los Angeles Olympics to the rise of Vince McMahon's WWF, Wertheim offers a sweeping look at those "pivotal" 90 days, but sacrifices depth for breadth and prizes trivia over analysis, giving cultural milestones unrelated to sports a passing glance. Though a "string of blockbusters" hit theaters that summer, for instance, he briefly touches on them and devotes only a single sentence to Ghostbusters and John Hugh's seminal Sixteen Candles. Similarly bewildering is the narrative's clunky prose ("thermodynamics of celebrity makes for an inexact science"), which tends to overshadow more exciting passages, such as Wertheim's detailing of Jordan's "singular talent" for dunking, and the way he would "stuff the ball through, violently yet elegantly." This feels like a missed opportunity.
Wertheim Crushes It
I love this era, I love this author, and I love this book.
The book is full of subjects that’s relevance outlived the era of the book and also have become the subject of books by other authors.
David Stern, Michael Jordan, The Karate Kid, Vince McMahon, and Michael Jackson are all characters in the book. It’s a wild mix but it’s glorious.
I give this my highest recommendation.
Started off great with some entertaining stories but quickly went off the rails when the author inserted social commentary and his disdain for specific politicians. Unfortunately, this nauseating pattern was repeated in almost every chapter.