Saturday, June 22, 2024

Review: Talk of Champions (2023)

By Kenny Smith

It didn't take long for Kenny Smith to tell the basketball world that he was a man who could work in a fast tempo.

Smith turned up at the University of North Carolina in the fall of 1983, and needed no time at all to claim a starting spot as a freshmen. Practically no one ever did that for the Tar Heels in that era. Smith was also smart enough to realize that he was on the same team as Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins, and as a point guard figured it out to get the ball to those two. It's a little tough to believe that North Carolina only made it as far as the Sweet Sixteen that season, losing to Indiana. 

When Smith became an author in 2023, he more or less took the same approach. In "Talk of Champions," Smith moves the focus from himself to other people who have played a part of his life. 

Kenny and basketball have had a long relationship, dating back to his time as a child in New York City. After North Carolina, he went on to play for 10 years in the NBA. Smith won two championships, helping the Rockets to titles in 1994 and 1995. 

Once his playing days were over, Smith moved smoothly into a broadcasting role. He became part of TNT's studio show, which is considered by some to be the best program of its kind in television history. Smith worked with Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and host Ernie Johnson on a show in which you never knew where they might wind up on a given night, but you always knew you'd enjoy the journey. 

The people who helped Smith along the way receive a chapter each. Some of the names are instantly known - Michael Jordan, Dean Smith, Barkley, O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas and Hakeem Olajuwon. There are a few others that are included too, such as Smith's parents and his high school basketball coach. The lessons are targeted at his children, but the stories are universal to work for almost everyone. 

The anecdotes are wide-ranging. Dean Smith talks about how he didn't recruit Charlie Scott to be the first Black basketball player at UNC; he simply recruited Charlie Scott. Barkley and Kenny may have different viewpoints on subjects, but that doesn't mean they can't talk about them in private and public. Johnson gave Smith some lessons about how he became a businessman. Kenny and Olajuwon knocked down some cultural barriers that were preventing their team from realizing its potential. 

Smith is particularly good when it comes to racial issues. When he graduated from high school, he received an award that came with a tag in the form of the principal's remarks. He said that Smith made everyone not think about color during his time at school. Smith points out that it probably was intended as a compliment in 1983, but couldn't be more insulting from a 2023 perspective. Then again, when Smith was complaining about Europeans coming over to America to claim NBA jobs, Russell pointed out that "as an African American, you should never disagree with inclusion." 

By the way, it's rather obvious that there's no sign of a ghost-writer here. This seems to be pure Kenny Smith, much to his credit. 

This all goes by faster than a successful fast break, which is only appropriate. Most readers will be left wanting more, which is OK. Maybe Smith will have more to say in the future. In the meantime, "Talk of Champions" serves up some tasty morsels that will be enjoyed by those who try them.

Four stars

Learn more about this book from (As an Amazon affiliate, I earn money from qualified purchases.)

Be notified of new posts from this site on via @WDX2BB.

No comments:

Post a Comment