Home / News / New book ‘While the Game is at War’ reimagines a magical NBA season

New book ‘While the Game is at War’ reimagines a magical NBA season

Rich Cohen writes…and writes, writes and writes.

This kid from Glencoe is among the most prolific writers on the planet, and the great thing is that not only does it keep a steady stream of books, but these are some very good books.

There are 16 stories so far, starting with 1998’s “Difficult Jews”. Some are based on his own interesting life, one is about one of his sons in 2021. “Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent” and another about his charming father 2022 “The Adventures of Herbie Cohen: The World’s Greatest Negotiator.” He has written about a pirate and a banana businessman and has written about Chess Records and Chess Records, collaborating on producer Jerry Weintraub’s memoir “When I Stop Talking, You’ll Know I’m Dead”. Rolling stones.

During this time he has written for publications such as Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and the Wall Street Journal, where he is currently a columnist. He and his wife, Jessica Medoff, live in Connecticut, where they raise their four sons.

He was no stranger to the local sports world and its glorious past, giving us “Monsters: 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football” and “Chicago Cubs: The Story of a Curse.”

In the latter, basketball is in the center. “When the Game is at War: The NBA’s Greatest Season” is a fascinating and enlightening journey. His “best season” claim is so bold because there have been so many great seasons in the NBA since its founding in 1946, and some will certainly challenge his claim. But read the book and you will leave.

This new book focuses on four teams and four top players: Boston Celtics’ Larry Bird, Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson, Detroit Pistons’ Isiah Thomas and Chicago Bulls’ Michael Jordan.

As with most of Cohen’s work, there’s a very personal feel to it, as when he wrote: “You wouldn’t think a single basketball game could make a person a fanatic, but that’s what happens.”

This game, which is literally the seed of this book, was Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals. Cohen was 19 when he watched the Los Angeles Lakers play the Detroit Pistons. It watched as Thomas, the product of the rough and bumpy basketball courts of the West Side, scored 25 points in the third quarter. The Pistons lost that game, but Cohen writes, “That was the night I fell in love with the NBA.”

One reason was that, as he rightly claimed, “life was bitter for a Chicago sports fan in the early 1980s”. Then came the Super Bowl and then, like some sort of miracle, Michael Jordan.

As you no doubt know, there are thousands of YouTube clips of his field history alongside a recent in-depth review of Netflix’s 2020 mini-series “The Last Dance.” Some of these are exciting, but these clips and the show lack the detail, background, texture, and gripping narrative that Cohen has masterfully provided. He is a sincere observer and a polished writer.

The Big Four have a wonderful and talented supporting cast. As few people know or realize, the 1987-88 NBA season was the season with the most future Hall of Famers competing simultaneously in any season. There were 29 people. When Cohen told this statistic to Celtics player-coach-manager Danny Ainge, who played in the 87-88 season, Ainge said, “I didn’t calculate, but it didn’t surprise me. You could feel it. … It was the pinnacle of a kind of basketball you didn’t see in the league anymore that year. Physicality. , durability.”

Former Los Angeles Lakers player Magic Johnson (left), Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan, and former Boston Celtics Larry Bird take a photo during a photo shoot with the NBA Legends in Cleveland on Saturday, February 8, 1997.

Ainge, who has long been an easy-to-hate player, puts on a pretty compelling performance. That goes for the dozens of people Cohen interviewed as well. Many of these names—Bernard King, Charles Oakley, Bill Cartwright, K.C. Jones, and others—will revive faded memories. Through his father’s fondness for the game and his lifelong friendship with Larry King, Cohen gave Cohen first-hand memories of seeing Thomas as a high school player, and then shared a meal with King and Boston coach Red Auerbach in 1986. . Down to the detail, “We ate peeled shrimp and okra”.

There is something to savor on almost every page of this book. Of particular interest is the chapter entitled “Post-Game”, which has nearly 30 final pages, and Cohen writes: “On the table I’m writing on, I have a brick that was once part of Chicago Stadium. To me, it’s as big as the stones of the Wailing Wall. “It’s a sacred relic. … It evokes a time when the game was or will be better than ever. … It may be more than basketball I remember. It may be my childhood when my parents were young and my life was new.”

rkogan@chicagotribune.com

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