First aired on Airplay (19/12/11)
It's an annual tradition: Airplay host Dave White checks in with historian and sports fan Bill Humber for his picks of the top sports books of the year.
The following five books, which cover everything from soccer's biggest names to a forgotten Canadian track hero, made his 2011 list.
Soccer Men: Profiles of the Rogues, Geniuses, and Neurotics Who Dominate the World's Most Popular Sport by Simon Kuper
Soccer Men gathers together a series of profiles of prominent soccer personalities that author Simon Kuper originally wrote for the Financial Times. Though soccer isn't as popular here as it is in Europe (where it's known as "football"), it is quickly gaining fans in North America. And according to Humber, the biggest stars are well known here, too. "There's such a profusion of soccer games now on television, everything from the World Cup to the English Premier League, names like Lionel Messi of Barcelona or Wayne Rooney of Manchester United are, if not quite household names, they're pretty familiar to most sports fans."
Cornered: Hijinks, Highlights, Late Nights and Insights by Ron MacLean and Kirstie McLellan Day
Ron MacLean has been co-hosting Hockey Night in Canada for 25 years, so he has plenty to say about the game itself and his relationship with colourful commentator Don Cherry. "The thing I give MacLean credit for is, he's a referee in his spare time and I think that gives a perspective of the game on the ice as it's currently played," Humber said. "Perhaps he's able to see the shades of gray in the game. Cherry looks at it more from the perspective of a guy who sees things in black and white."
I Just Ran: Percy Williams, World's Fastest Human by Samuel Hawley
You're probably thinking, Percy who? This is the fascinating life story of Vancouver runner Percy Williams, who won gold in both the 100 metres and the 200 metres at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. "In many ways it was really the peak of his life," Humber said. "In later years he became quite reclusive, shunned publicity and eventually in fact took his own life." Humber added that this thought-provoking book leaves the reader pondering the psychological cost of "achieving too much at too young an age and then not being able to cope with the acclaim that comes following that."
The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of Lebron James by Scott Raab
Hell has no fury like that of a hometown fan whose basketball team's biggest star opts out of his contract in his free-agency year and jumps to another team. Raab is a diehard Cleveland Cavaliers fan, and this book is his scathing assessment of Lebron James, who left the Cavaliers to join Miami. He doesn't pull any punches. "He's a raging, Hunter S. Thompson-type writer," Humber said, adding, "This book is not for the kiddies."
Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton by Jeff Pearlman
Walter Payton was an outstanding running back for the Chicago Bears of the National Football League in the 1970s and '80s. "He does come across as a fairly decent person, at least in his younger years," Humber said. Payton died of cancer shortly after retiring, so there's a certain poignancy to this look at his life. One of the most intriguing things about the book, Humber added, was its references to the Canadian Football League (CFL). In 1981, the Montreal Alouettes tried to woo him. "Who knows how that could have changed the fortunes of football both in Chicago and, I suppose, in the CFL," Humber commented.
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