The gritty, no-holds-barred account of the 1987 NBA season, a thrilling year of fierce battles and off-the-court drama between Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, and Michael Jordan—from New York Times bestselling author Rich Cohen.
“Cohen brings new life to these athletes and their legendary rivalries.”—Bob Ryan, sports columnist emeritus, The Boston Globe AN ESQUIRE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
Four historic teams. Four legendary players. One unforgettable season.
The 1980s were a transformative decade for the NBA. Since its founding in 1946, the league had evolved from a bruising, earthbound game of mostly nameless, underpaid players to one in which athletes became household names for their thrilling, physics-defying play. The 1987–88 season was the peak of that golden era, a year of incredible drama that featured a pantheon of superstars in their prime—the most future Hall of Famers competing at one time in any given season—battling for the title, and for their respective legacies.
In When the Game Was War, bestselling author Rich Cohen tells the story of this incredible season through the four teams, and the four players, who dominated it: Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics, Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons, and a young Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. From rural Indiana to the South Side of Chicago, suburban North Carolina to rust-belt Michigan, Cohen explores the diverse journeys each of these iconic players took before arriving on the big stage. Drawing from dozens of interviews with NBA insiders, Cohen brings to vivid life some of the most colorful characters of the era—like Bill Laimbeer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Danny Ainge, and Charles Oakley—who fought like hell to help these stars succeed.
For anyone who longs to understand how the NBA came to be the cultural juggernaut it is today—and to relive the magic and turmoil of those pivotal years—When the Game Was War brilliantly recasts one unforgettable season and the four transcendent players who were at the center of it all.
About the Author
Rich Cohen is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football, The Chicago Cubs: Story of a Curse, and Pee Wees: Confessions of a Hockey Parent, among others. He is a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, the co-creator of the HBO series Vinyl, and a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone. He lives in Connecticut.
“Rich Cohen brings new life to these athletes and their legendary rivalries, both on and off the court, over the course of the 1987–88 NBA season. Now new fans can plug into a world where rivalries really mattered, bodies were flying around, and the arenas for these memorable games—all gone now—were themselves characters in drama.”—Bob Ryan, sports columnist emeritus, The Boston Globe
“Rich Cohen writes about basketball the way an artful astronomer would author a book about the cosmos. The stars—the Birds, Magics, Michaels, and Isiahs—are aligned in insightful, colorful, and dramatic order, while other NBA players, and meaningful games, of the era are fitted into their proper orbits. It’s not necessary to be a basketball fan to relish this book: It’s simply good stuff, beautifully composed.”—Ira Berkow, Pulitzer Prize winner and former New York Times sports columnist
“A rollicking ride through the 1987–88 season and a compelling case for why it was the greatest season in NBA history . . . Magic, Michael, Larry, Isiah, and friends—they’re all here and in their primes, and their clashes are brought to life in this richly reported book. No basketball fan should be without it.”—Seth Davis, senior writer, The Athletic, and author of the New York Times bestseller Wooden: A Coach’s Life
“I was highly skeptical of Rich Cohen’s premise that the 1987–88 season was the greatest ever. But now, like a chastened sinner, I repent. That season was a carnival of wondrous hoops and competition. But most of all, it is Cohen’s warm and easy writing combined with his deep research and personal recollections that move the premise on to fruition.”—Rick Telander, senior sports columnist, Chicago Sun-Times, and author of Heaven Is a Playground
“The ‘incredible pool of talent’ on display in the NBA’s 1987–1988 season makes it the league’s best to date, according to this exhilarating account. . . . Cohen excels at wringing the human drama out of the sport, as when he portrays the ascendant Bulls’ rivalry with the powerhouse Pistons as a ‘schoolyard quest’ to ‘stand up to a bully,’ or draws pathos from 40-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stoically facing down the end of his basketball career. . . . The empathetic portraits humanize the legendary players, and the play-by-play game recreations thrill. . . . This love letter to the NBA’s golden age is an instant classic.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“In a smooth-flowing narrative, given ballast from numerous interviews with principal players and coaches, Cohen reanimates those teams and their era with such color, and the games with such suspense, that readers should be forgiven for getting caught up in the games, even as they know the outcomes. A nice addition to the strong sports shelf.”—Booklist