Gift your sports fan with a great book: Kobe Bryant, Arthur Ashe, ugly uniforms and more

Mamba Mentality Book Launch
Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and photographer Andrew D. Bernstein collaborated on the book “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play.”
(Courtesy Andrew D. Bernstein)

In the interest of finishing off a holiday gift list for a particular sports fan, we see no real downside to sporting a Mamba mentality: Face the competition. Nail the shot. Get back on defense.

We also endorse the methodology to complete the task of spotlighting the most compelling sports-related books from 2018, and it’s no coincidence our tip sheet tips off with:

The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” by Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bernstein (MCD Books/Melcher Media, $35, 208 pages)

“Mamba Mentality,” as Bryant writes on Page 93, began as “just a catchy hashtag that I’d start on Twitter. Something witty and memorable.”

It has snaked its way into branding device in the retired Lakers star’s NBA afterlife, and here’s the visual playbook. Award-winning photographer Bernstein originally thought this could be a sentimental journey with his 20-year-plus collection of work. Bryant upped the game to make it a more revealing, symbiotic narrative. The beautifully captured composition aside, there are also many candid off-the-court moments, and hold-that-pose black-and-white shots where Bryant adds circles and arrows to show how and why things happen in a game.

Bryant recently told us about the process: “We set out to make something better than a coffee table book. We created a teaching tool because that’s what Andy’s photos have always meant to me.

“We broke the book into two sections — process and craft — to help teach the next generation what goes into being a true student of the game. We talked through key moments to bring the messages to life, and Andy got to work finding the images to illustrate my point. Having been through it all with Andy, this collaboration was the fun and easy part.”

Also in the artistic/photograph storytelling genre: “You Cannot Be Serious! The Graphic Guide to Tennis,” by Mark Hodgkinson; “The Story of Baseball in 100 Photographs” by the editors of Sports Illustrated; “L.A. Baseball: From the Pacific Coast League to the Major Leagues,” edited for the Los Angeles Public Library by David Davis.

Also in the basketball genre: “Basketball: Great Writing About American’s Game,” edited by Alexander Wolf; “Basketball – A Love Story,” compiled by Jackie MacMullan, Rafe Bartholomew and Dan Klores; “The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End,” by Gary M. Pomerantz.

“Arthur Ashe: A Life”
Simon & Schuster

Arthur Ashe: A Life by Raymond Arsenault (Simon & Schuster, $37.95, 767 pages).

Ashe composed four memoirs in his 49 years, capped by the bestselling “Days of Grace,” which came out in 1993 just months after his death. Arsenault, a respected civil rights historian who rightfully believed a tome of this depth was long overdue, completes an eight-year personal task to extract key elements from Ashe’s accounts and add more context with hundreds of new interviews. There now is an important interpretation of Ashe’s legacy and accomplishments, not just on the UCLA tennis courts but also with the deeds that defined him later.

Also in the UCLA-related social justice subset: “The Black Bruins: The Remarkable Lives of UCLA’s Jackie Robinson, Woody Strode, Tom Bradley, Kenny Washington and Ray Bartlett,” by James W. Johnson; “Court Justice: The Inside Story of My Battle Against the NCAA,” by Ed O’Bannon with Michael McCann.

Also in the autobiographical genre: “Never Shut Up: The Life, Opinions and Unexpected Adventures of an NFL Outlier,” by Marcellus Wiley; “Hang Time: My Life in Basketball,” by Elgin Baylor with Alan Eisenstock.

Skyhorse Publishing

Winning Ugly: A Visual History of the Most Bizarre Baseball Uniforms Ever Worn,” by Todd Radom (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.99, 176 pages)

To reinforce a notion that beauty is in the ire of the beholder, this graphic designer who revamped the Angels’ back-to-basics look in 2001 following the Disney/periwinkle motif mess uniformly offers more whimsy and hilarity than a Jerry Seinfeld routine about how we ultimately root for laundry in sports.

“There’s certainly nothing polarizing about ugly uniforms compared to what the rest of our society talks about right now,” Radom told us.

Also in the baseball genre: “The Big Fella: Babe Ruth and the World He Created,” by Jane Leavy; “Brothers in Arms: Koufax, Kershaw and the Dodgers’ Extraordinary Pitching Tradition,” by Jon Weisman; “The Chicken Runs at Midnight: A Daughter’s Message From Heaven That Changed a Father’s Heart and Won a World Series,” by Tom Friend, on the story of one-time Dodgers third base coach Rich Donnelly and his late daughter, Amy.

“Football for a Buck
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL,” by Jeff Pearlman (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, 366 pages)

The league wrote its own obituary/comedy sketch 30 years ago, punctuated by both winning and losing a court decision over NFL collusion. Pearlman embraces it all without avoiding the news hook — clear documentation that one-time USFL team owner Donald Trump ultimately undermined the business model for his own potential personal gain. Who saw that coming? No revisionist history is needed, either, when revisiting the L.A. Express’ existence, highlighted by $40-million man Steve Young and his teammates playing their final 1985 home game at L.A. Pierce College.

Also in the football genre: “Quarterback: Inside the Most Important Position in the National Football League,” by John Feinstein; “The Game: Harvard, Yale and America in 1968,” by George Howe Colt.

“Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story”
Flatiron Books / MacMillan

Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story,” by Chris Nashawaty (Flatiron Books/MacMillan, $26.99, 304 pages).

An enterprising Entertainment Weekly film critic squeezes more oral history and pop culture from the highly quotable 1980 film, reinforcing suspicions about clashing Hollywood egos, chaotic drug use and ultimately the death of producer Doug Kenney. Don’t worry. It’s not a complete downer. So it’s got that going for it, which is nice.