Because most of the major publishing houses are located in New York City, the literary world of sports seems bounded by Shea Stadium and Madison Square Garden. Through the years, books on the Yankees, Giants, Mets and Jets have flowed from the presses like manna from Manhattan, while the reading public has waited in vain for the printed word about champions from other cities. Even the dynastic Boston Celtics generated only half a smattering of books.
The most recent New York champions are the National Basketball Association's Knicks, and by the end of last Christmas season's publishing orgy no less than seven Knick books were spawned. They ranged from the standard paperback hurry-up job, hitchhiking on current headlines (The Incredible Knicks by Phil Pepe, Popular Library, 75¢), to a pretty thorough photo-essay on the playoffs (Take It All by Phil Jackson and George Kalinsky, Macmillan, $7.95; Collier Books paperback, $3.95). In between were such items as The Open Man by Dave DeBusschere (Random House, $6.95), a humorous, sentimental and somewhat superficial player's diary; the autobiographical Clyde by Walt Frazier and Joe Jares (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, $6.95), a faithful transcription of a surprisingly traditional man; and The View from Section 111 by Mike Shatzkin (Prentice-Hall, $5.95), an honest attempt at a fan's diary. In Miracle on 33rd Street (Simon and Schuster, $6.95), Author Phil Berger provides some valuable insights into a variety of basketball's aspects from the prejudices of the players to the weight of the ball. Unfortunately he too often obscures their clarity behind a Manhattan smog of verbiage: "The vibrations that filled a locker room were cathode bolts against midnight velvet."
The best of the current crop of Knick books is Pete Axthelm's The City Came (Harper's Magazine Press, $6.50), which leads the reader away from his seat in Madison Square Garden to the Harlem playgrounds where the game often begins. Some of the great names of the sport came out of those asphalt strips to bask in the limelight of the Garden, earning fame, fortune and that goal of all today's heroes—security. But, as Axthelm reminds us, there were many whose futures were tinged in darker hue: Earl Manigault, who went to prison as a drug addict; Kenny Bellinger, whose last leap was a hunted man's desperate vault between buildings. In this book there is more talk of them than of the easy successes.
In a way that his competitors do not, Axthelm manages to give the game and the team he is writing about genuine dimension.