What: "Sports Illustrated: Fifty Years of Great Writing."


Editor: Rob Fleder.


Publisher: Time Inc., New York, N.Y.


Price: $25.95.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, Sports Illustrated has given itself a big pat on the back in the form of this 560-page best-of-the-best book.

Though the title may appear self-indulgent, the 52 stories in the book make it a worthwhile read. Nearly every one of them, which have been reprinted from Sports Illustrated issues dating to its kickoff on Aug. 16, 1954, is terrific.

The subjects include some of the most respected sports figures of the 20th century, including Yogi Berra, Johnny Unitas, Sonny Liston, Larry Bird, Ted Williams and John Wooden.

Edited by Rob Fleder, Sports Illustrated's executive editor, the book also provides in-depth reporting on everything from the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier title fight in 1975 ("The Thrilla in Manila") to the annual rattlesnake derby in Mangum, Okla.

"The stories themselves are a mirror of our times," Fleder writes.

In the introduction, the magazine's managing editor, Terry McDonell, writes: "As an SI writer, you didn't just cover the event, or even distill it with analysis, you blew it through as many filters as you could find -- both human and cultural."

Longtime readers of The Times will particularly enjoy Rick Reilly's tribute to legendary sports columnist Jim Murray, who died in 1998 after 37 years at the newspaper.

An excerpt from the piece, which was originally published on April 21, 1986: "How big is Murray? One time he couldn't make an awards dinner so he had a sub -- Bob Hope.... After a Laker playoff game against the Seattle SuperSonics in 1979, Ali ran into Murray outside the locker room and said, 'Jim Murray! Jim Murray! The greatest sportswriter of all time!' "

-- Steve Rom

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