The best sports-related books of 2019 to buy as holiday gifts, or for yourself


For your holiday gift search, here are some of the year’s more insightful, inspiring and infinitely coolest books on sports:

== “Dreamers and Schemers: How an Improbable Bid for the 1932 Olympics Transformed Los Angeles From Dusty Outpost to Global Metropolis,” by Barry Siegel (UC Press, $29.95, 272 pages)


Giving context to the magic we experienced during L.A.’s Summer Games of 1984 and what we anticipate for 2028, this tale about real estate baron Billy Garland laying the groundwork in the early 1920s and pushing through the Great Depression to give the city a global identity might consider the soundtrack to “The Music Man” playing in the background. No revisionist history here, just the foundation of a Hollywood screenplay based on Siegel’s dogged research.

== “Canyon Dreams: A Basketball Season on The Navajo Nation,” by Michael Powell (Blue Rider Press, $28, 272 pages)

A recent NPR piece compares this to how Buzz Bissinger’s “Friday Night Lights” spotlighted the impact of prep football. But the buzz generating for this New York Times sportswriter’s exquisite framing of the Chinle High Wildcats of the Navajo Nation in the badlands of northeastern Arizona makes us want to see “rez ball” up close. It’s basketball that values a hockey-like concept of subbing groups in and out, focused on intricate teamwork, with a deeper meaning for the man coaching it who battles his own season on the brink.

== “Surf Like A Girl,” by Carolina Amell (Prestel Publishing, $50, 256 pages)


Some call themselves “surfragettes,” and live by mottoes such as “Happiness comes in waves” and “All we need is vitamin sea.” In “The Endless Summer” meets “Gidget” for a global girl tour, a stunningly gorgeous collection of photos and text may be best represented by portraits of the Arugam Bay Girls Surf Club of Sri Lanka. It’s testament to how the sport continues to evolve as an equal-opportunity challenge of nature and mover of boundaries. Amell, a graphic designer from Barcelona, also channels the karma of photographers such as Maria Fernanda, Cecilia Thibier, Camille Robiou du Pont, Sara Guix, Ming Nomchong and Amber Jones.

== “State: A Team, A Triumph, A Transformation,” by Melissa Isaacson (Agate Midway, $27, 320 pages)

Isaacson, the long-time sportswriter now on the faculty of Northwestern Medill, expands on a piece she did 15 years ago for the Chicago Tribune about her experience as a 1970s girls basketball player at Niles West High in suburban Chicago. The team takes up the challenges and ramifications of gender equality and comes out with a deeper appreciation of its 1979 state championship.

== “Jumbotron Art: Baseball Portraits,” by Peter Chen (self-published, $34.99, 140 pages, at


Torrance-based graphic artist Peter Chen has created so many nostalgic portraits of MLB players from the ‘70s and ‘80s who once had their faces depicted on those state-of-the-art Lite-Brite scoreboard stadium screens, he expands it with an enlightening book. There are more than 900 glowing faces — see how many of them you can guess (yes, that’s Charlie Sheen on the cover as “Wild Thing”).

== “Reflection,” by Tyler Lockett (Andrews McMeel Publishing, $14.99, 112 pages)

After the Seattle Seahawks receiver talked about his poetry on a recent “Monday Night Football” pregame show, Amazon sales pushed this into the online bookseller’s Top 50. It ranks No. 1 in the football genre and No. 2 in inspirational and religious poetry.

== Curveball: How I Discovered True Fulfillment After Chasing Fortune and Fame,” by Barry Zito with Robert Noland (Thomas Nelson, $26.99, 272 pages)


Maybe a cautionary tale to pitchers like Stephen Strasburg and Gerrit Cole from a fellow Southern Californian who didn’t want his seven-year, $126-million deal with the San Francisco Giants in 2007 to continue to define him. What is true success? Finding your true self.

== “The Grim Reaper: The Life and Career of a Reluctant Warrior,” by Stu Grimson with Kevin Allen (Viking Books, $27, 352 pages)

== “Teemu Selanne: My Life,” by Teemu Selanne with Ari Mennander (Triumph Books, $28, 320 pages)

We’ve wondered how Stu Grimson’s career might have been different had he been named Zarley Zalapski, Ben Lovejoy or Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (all real NHL players). Instead, the former Duck (1993-95; 1998-2000) and King (2000-01) punched his way through with a dubious nickname knuckled under by a 14-year career defined by 2,113 penalty minutes in 729 games (versus 17 goals and 22 assists). Then the 6-foot-6 winger retired, became a born-again Christian, got a law degree and was an in-house counsel for the NHLPA.


With Selanne, his bio is already a best-seller in Finland and now available in English. The Ducks’ anchor to their 2007 Stanley Cup title reveals hurdles he had to skate around to become the NHL star that all those in Helsinki expected of him.

An interesting link to both players is Paul Kariya, who writes the foreword to Grimson’s book (“I always looked up to Stu for the man and player he was”) and was an integral force in Selanne’s career.

When does Kariya finally write his own yarn?