When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi, by David Maraniss
“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” I’ve been knocked down a lot in my life, and Vince’s famous quote always reminded me to keep going. He’s become a legend, but this book shows that he was very much a man, full of doubts and flaws but also determination and greatness.
Bill’s a good friend of mine, so I’m biased, but I promise you, this is a great book. Bill has an encyclopedic mind when it comes to basketball, and it’s not just hilarious, but the passion oozes out of every page.
Fantasy sports is all about statistics. And no one’s made statistics as interesting as Michael Lewis. He tells the stories behind the stats. It’s not a numbers book; it’s a book about the people who use those numbers.
Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team, and a Dream, by H.G. Bissinger
Growing up in Texas, I saw firsthand how crazy high school football can be. Here, Buzz Bissinger follows a high school team in small-town Texas for one season, and it’s amazing. You feel like you’re living in Odessa, Texas. And oh yeah, the movie and the TV show are great, too.
Harlan Coben is my favorite writer, and anything he writes is a stop what I am doing and read it for the next two days straight kind of deal. Impossible to put down. I discovered him through his Myron Bolitar series. Myron’s a sports agent and that’s the window Coben uses to let us into a captivating world where lines are crossed, secrets are kept, and there are no lengths people won’t go for their families. Always featuring Wyn, Myron psychopathic best friend and the best sidekick in the world of mysteries, a new Myron Bolitar book is serious business.
I’ve learned so much from Jaws in my time at ESPN, and this book shows you how football has evolved into the sport we all love today. No one knows more about football than Jaws.
Semi-Tough, by Dan Jenkins
Going a little old school here, but growing up in Texas, I loved Dan Jenkins books and frankly, any one of them would do for this list. If you like your sports, your characters, and your women with attitude, Dan Jenkins is for you. Perfectly captures the atmosphere around, be it pro football or just Texas.
The Dixie Association, by Donald Hays
A send up of the crazy, sometimes hypocritical South set against the backdrop of minor league baseball, I must have read this book a billion times when it came out. The redemption of a man is at the center of a hilarious and poignant book that has a lot to say while still being ridiculously entertaining. Love, hope, friendship, and second chances are at the center of one of the all-time great baseball books. If you like baseball, you’ll love this book.
Rotisserie League Baseball, by Glen Waggoner and Daniel Okrent
The original Rotisserie League Baseball Book isn’t a typical book, so fine, I’m cheating a little, but the importance of this book cannot be overstated. Introducing a brand new game that was very stat heavy is no easy task, but these guys made it all seem so fun. The spirit and joy that comes from playing fantasy baseball leaps off the page and you not only quickly understand the concept, you can’t wait to find 9 other people to start a league with. If this book had been dry at all, it fails. Instead, it spawned a multi-billion dollar industry.
Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
Quite simply, I wish I had read this book before I started working for ESPN. I’d have had so much more knowledge about where I was coming to work and the inner working of a truly remarkable company. If you’re at all fascinated how a small town in middle Connecticut became the World Wide Leader in Sports, this book is for you. This oral history tells the funny, the insane, the uplifting, and the controversial moments that went into building the most recognizable brand in sports media today.