Have you ever wondered what besides free food, cheap beer, Tums and rental cars makes sportswriters tick?
That’s OK. Because during these virus days, you have time to ponder a lot of things that might have held no interest for you as recently as, oh, a month ago.
Sportswriters — all writers, for that matter — are basically the sum of what they have read, studied and absorbed. Reading is the flip side of writing, just a coin turned over.
Here’s what formed me, in no particular order:
1. ‘‘Basketball: Its Origin and Development,’’ James Naismith, 1941
Old, short book by the dude who invented the greatest game ever.
2. ‘‘Sports Illusion, Sports Reality,’’ Leonard Koppett, 1981
The sports columnist and Stanford lecturer explains the ethics and realities of covering rich athletes who are still humans with feelings.
3. ‘‘When All the Laughter Died in Sorrow,’’ Lance Rentzel, 1972
Rentzel was a handsome star receiver for the Cowboys and married to a gorgeous movie star when he was arrested for indecent exposure. With a psychiatrist, he tries to make sense of his life.
4. ‘‘Namath,’’ Mark Kriegel, 2004
A deep, brilliant, near-Dostoyevskyan analysis of Joe Namath, the quarterback who changed football.
5. ‘‘North Dallas Forty,’’ Pete Gent, 1973
Wide receiver Gent was a Cowboys teammate of Rentzel’s. His novel is a rebellious, scathing takedown of ‘‘America’s Team.’’
6. ‘‘The Boys of Summer,’’ Roger Kahn, 1971
Made the Brooklyn Dodgers seem divine. Made covering them sound like a divine gift.
7. ‘‘Ball Four,’’ Jim Bouton, 1970
The pitcher’s diary of juicy, don’t-take-it-out-of-the-clubhouse stuff on the Yankees of Mantle, Maris, Berra and Ford.
8. ‘‘A Sense of Where You Are: A Profile of Princeton’s Bill Bradley,’’ John McPhee, 1965
This extended profile in The New Yorker by the great essayist made me want to be Bradley.
9. ‘‘Out of Their League,’’ Dave Meggyesy, 1971
The former Cardinals linebacker quit the game at his peak because of moral concerns.
10. ‘‘Sacred Hoops,’’ Phil Jackson and Hugh Delehanty, 1995
I knew Phil, but Delehanty, a Buddhist, proved the coach wasn’t just a hippie oddball. His coaching philosophy changed the game — and Michael Jordan.
11. ‘‘Instant Replay,’’ Jerry Kramer and Dick Schaap, 1968
The original athlete insider’s tale. It wasn’t till I met and read the smart, witty Schaap that I realized it was the writer who controlled the wheel.
12. ‘‘Meat on the Hoof,’’ Gary Shaw, 1972
The former Texas player described the brutality of college football, something I just had witnessed myself as a player and was trying to come to terms with.
13. ‘‘The City Game,’’ Pete Axthelm, 1970
New York street basketball tied in with the Knicks’ title run, this book made me dream about exploring the roots of the game.
14. ‘‘Foul!’’ David Wolf, 1972
The bio of impoverished, used but ultimately successful Connie Hawkins made Brooklyn seem dangerous and magical.
15. ‘‘Game of Shadows,’’ Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, 2006
A federal judge tried to send these two reporters to jail for not revealing sources in their Barry Bonds/BALCO steroids tale. They didn’t bend.
16. ‘‘If I Don’t Six,’’ Elwood Reid, 1998
I have a soft spot for coming-of-age novels by former athletes. Reid was a 6-6, 275-pound lineman at Michigan.
17. ‘‘Joe, You Coulda Made Us Proud,’’ Joe Pepitone with Barry Stainback, 1975
The former Yankees and Cubs slugger tells all, perhaps too much. Roger Maris would say to me years later, in chagrin: ‘‘I mean, his children have to read that someday.’’
18. ‘‘A Season on the Brink,’’ John Feinstein, 1986
Coach Bobby Knight, writer Feinstein. Enough said.
19. ‘‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,’’ Hunter S. Thompson, 1971
What? You forgot the good gonzo doctor and his 300-pound Samoan attorney actually were sent to cover an off-road car race by Sports Illustrated?
20. ‘‘Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump,’’ Rick Reilly, 2019
‘‘To say ‘Donald Trump cheats’ is like saying ‘Michael Phelps swims.’ ’’
21. ‘‘Sports & Freedom: The Rise of Big-Time Athletics,’’ Ronald A. Smith, 1988
The Penn State history Ph.D. and former White Sox minor-leaguer details how college sport rose from free and easy to structured and professionalized.
22. ‘‘Faust’s Gold: Inside the East German Doping Machine,’’ Steven Ungerleider, 2001
You wondered how East German women set all those Olympic records? Horrifying doping and government evil revealed.
23. ‘‘The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France: Doping, Cover-Ups and Winning at All Costs,’’ Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle, 2012
The title says it all. Except that rider Hamilton followed Lance Armstrong, the biggest doper ever.
24. ‘‘Drunk on Sports,’’ Tim Cowlishaw, 2013
The Dallas sportswriter (and a friend of mine) owns up to his alcoholism, an enabled hazard of our profession.
25. ‘‘Ozzie’s School of Management,’’ Rick Morrissey, 2012
Purple Heart/Bad Timing Award for my pal, the young Morrissey. Ozzie was canned by the White Sox a few months before Rick’s book was released.