Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: The Best of Bob Ryan (2012)

By Bob Ryan

Here's all you need to know about Bob Ryan and what sort of person he is:

Some years ago, I had an idea for a book that was more or less the hockey version of a basketball book he had done. I sent an email to him, asking if he had any quick thoughts on the subject. We had talked a couple of times during his visits to Buffalo.

One day the phone rang, and it was Ryan. He was calling from Charlotte, N.C., where he was covering some basketball game. After the usual pleasantries, he offered some opinions, advice and encouragement on the subject of a book. I think we were on the phone for 25 minutes.

I'd argue that enthusiasm - not just for sports, but issues on a variety of subjects, and for people - is Ryan's greatest strength. That certainly shines through in "The Best of Bob Ryan," put out an an e-book by his newspaper, the Boston Globe on the occasion of his semi-retirement in 2012.

Put it this way: Roger Ebert once wrote that he loved going to the movies, because when he sat down he was hopeful that he'd see a great film in the next couple of hours. Well, that's the Ryan story as well. That attitude, that the games could offer thrills not found in any other venue in life has stayed with him throughout a career that has gone over 40 years. He loves talking about the games too, which is why he's not only an enjoyable columnist but has had something of a second career on television. This is not someone who will go quietly into the good night of retirement without offering a bunch of opinions along the way.

While reading this anthology of some of his columns and stories, the love of the game shows up on every page. He even started a review of the 1985 NCAA basketball final between Villanova and Georgetown wondering what people who don't like sports do for true entertainment. Here's another important part - the level of competition to Ryan really doesn't matter. A long story on a small college basketball team in an isolated part of Maine is treated with as much care as an NBA Final. Maybe the Maine story got more care, because more of the details for the reader can be filled in.

Basketball dominates the book, not surprisingly. Ryan has been watching the game for decades, sometimes because it was part of the job but sometimes because there was a game nearby and he felt like seeing it. After all, this is a man with the nickname of "The Commissioner." Admittedly, a few game stories from the perspective of a few decades aren't overly interesting when read now, but there's more than enough material here that stays fresh after the fact to compensate.

The book also skims through a few other subjects, specializing on the Olympics. There's even a preview of the Academy Awards from one year, written by someone who had seen every nominated movie that was up for a major award. Ryan did a nice job there; Ebert would have liked it.

Ryan isn't one of those columnists whose work leaves you breathless with his craftsmanship, although making it look easy is a skill as well. Those are the columnists who write the traditionally popular anthologies. Ryan is more like a friend who is anxious to tell you all about the game the next morning. We all should have one of those. "The Best of Bob Ryan" catches that feeling nicely, as it goes by almost too quickly - like a conversation with a friend. You don't even have to be from New England to like it.

Four stars

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