Growing up, I used to see John Feinstein on ESPN’s The Sports Reporters and think that he looked like the dude that Demi Moore married for his monies in the Dead Right episode of “Tales From the Crypt.”
I first ran across one of his books in college when a hoops junkie friend of mine kept A Season Inside on the base of his toilet. I’d check it out on the occasions I needed his restroom to poop. I knew Feinstein was a writer, but had no idea he wasted a whole season following around that jerkfaced, bigoted bully of man, Bobby Knight, his subject for the book, A Season on the Brink. I’d give it a review, but that would mean I had to read it first. No thank you! #Hardpass
Feinstein’s writing in A Season Inside embodies every corny white sportswriter from the 1980’s as he travels across the country following various programs during the 1988 college basketball season. Every trite basketball cliche that you could possibly list makes the cut in this book. If I took a shot of Patron for every time Feinstein uses the adjective “articulate” to describe a black athlete, I’d still be too drunk to write this post.
There are moments in the book where I can’t tell if I’m reading non-fiction or one of those sports novels I would get as a middle schooler from the Scholastic Book Club. Feinstein was so intent on setting up a scene that he even purports to know what everyone is thinking in real time. Fortunately the book doesn’t always read this way (imagine reading four hundred plus pages of this type of nonsense), and it wasn’t complete shit. But I heavily skimmed through this one stopping only to read about the Duke, Kansas, UNC and Arizona chapters. It is easy to forget that Villanova was once a Big East powerhouse back when Rollie Massimino was pulling the reins as the head coach. Other notable cameos through the book are:
- Navy’s David Robinson waiting out his obligation to Uncle Sam so that he can suit up for the San Antonio Spurs.
- Larry “pound for pound” Brown yelling at senior All American Danny Manning on their way to a championship season. At one point Larry Brown is found contemplating if it is even possible to compete for a national title in a town like Lawrence. Also of note, KU teammates Kevin Pritchard and Milt Newton go on to become NBA general managers, as well as assistant coach R.C. Buford. Also on the KU coaching staff at this time, the infamous Alvin Gentry.
- Current Jazz head coach Quin Snyder reportedly getting abused throughout the 1988 campaign, further enhancing his legacy as a basketball buster. Teammate Billy King would become THE Billy King who would go on to become the Brooklyn Nets GM, and we all know how that will turn out.
- The late Dean Smith somehow getting through the brutal ACC league without a legit point guard and his best players being J.R. Reid, future Bulls forward Scott Williams and Rick Fox (of Party Down fame).
- Rookie underachieving head coach Rick Barnes in his first year at George Mason
- Late NC State Jim Valvano only a few years away from giving his infamous “Never Give Up” ESPY speech, and subsequent death.
- The beginning of Lute Olson’s peak coaching years at the University of Arizona, with many juicy Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott anecdotes (anyone else Judd Buechler and Tom Tolbert?).
- The infamous Billy Tubbs making his coaching bones at the University of Oklahoma with a solid crew of Mookie Blaylock, Stacy King, and Harvey Grant.
John Feinstein is a cornball, but I appreciate his attention to detail. His game notes must’ve been impeccable because he was able to recall various moments and sequences throughout multiple runs in the games he attended. Although this book is way too long (again; over four hundred pages), it is worth a good skim through–especially if you are a University of Kansas fan.
The amount of time Feinstein spends on teams in conferences no one gives a fuck about really bogs the reading down. But I think if you are a fan of the game (especially the NBA), it is interesting reading to go back and revisit the college careers of guys whose careers were washed ages ago, but continue to act as ambassadors of basketball as we know today.
Bobby Mickey is the alter ego of writer and poet Edward Austin Robertson. When he isn’t involved in some basketball related activity, actively looking for parties to deejay or venues to perform comedy, he can be found recording podcasts with Craig Stein at Fullsass Studios. Follow him on twitter @clickpicka79. For booking inquiries, send contact info to firstname.lastname@example.org.