The 5 Sports Autobiographies That Need To Be Written


Phil Jackson’s latest book, "Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success," hit bookstores last week, and based on reviews from many in basketball media, it’s a worthwhile read by the retired coach who won’t ever stray far away from the spotlight. Though some lament the lack of salacious fodder as he granted in "The Last Season: A Team in Search for Its Soul," there may not be much more to be said about Jackson’s life in the NBA that we don’t already know.

As we’ve chronicled here through film and book reviews, the staff here at The Sports Fan Journal believes that the stories of sports figures cannot be told solely through lower screen crawls, beat reporters and talking heads. And though some of us have certainly listed "Eleven Rings" as a must-read, we couldn’t help but wonder who else needs to begin penning their own stories.

We’ve mentioned a handful for various reasons: history, interest in the anonymous, sheer entertainment value and/or a genuine curiosity about personal adversity. Some names won’t be obvious, and in fact, one in particular might throw you off until reading why. We encourage you to name some of your own hopefuls, and maybe some friendly agents reading this can nudge their clients to start writing. Here are the five sports autobiographies that need to be written.


Tinsley: Barry Sanders

Give or take a name here and there, no bigger enigmatic megastar resided in the 1990s than Barry Sanders.

The Heisman winner who singlehandedly revolutionized the running back position after Walter Payton (and to an extent, the Madden video game franchise) walked away from the game of football in July 1999, 1,458 yards short of Sweetness' all-time record, and never looked back. The running sentiment revolved around Barry's internal disappointment that the Lions failed to provide him with a Super Bowl-caliber cast during his decade in Motown. Whether it was or it wasn't, fact still remains the man provided a heap of "oh shit!" moments while making the NFL his own personal And 1 mixtape with Scott Mitchell as his quarterback. SCOTT F'N MITCHELL. That alone should get him at least an honorary NFC Title trophy.

The story of Barry Sanders — one of the most talented men to ever don shoulder pads — is still a largely untold one. What were his true feelings about the Lions franchise? Was there ever any resentment toward Emmitt Smith and the successful situation he found himself in in Dallas? Did he ever ponder how differently his career would've panned out had he been drafted by the Packers in 1989? And who knows, maybe there's a salacious story of a teammate's wife and one drunken evening in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.

At the very least, there's bound to be at least one hilarious urban myth involving Herman Moore and Johnnie Morton. There just has to be.


The Rev: Delonte West

Oh, and that's all without mentioning how he helped lead tiny St. Joseph's University to national prominence alongside Player of the Year Jameer Nelson, the rumors of him riding around on a  golf cart on campus, what's up with his red birthmark on his face, and actually the very serious nature of him living life both as an everyday person and professional athlete with bipolar disorder. Delonte West is fascinating, and I'm sure we don't even know the half of it.


Scribe: Pat Riley

The most famous use of a fax machine in NBA history took place in March 1995 when a two-word press release announced the return of Michael Jordan. The most infamous use of a fax machine in NBA history, however, took place not long afterwards when Pat Riley resigned as head coach of the New York Knicks, giving birth to the league’s last truly enthralling rivalry.

Riley, still to this very day, inspires strong reactions. Yet, behind the Prada suits and the Godfather-like perch he holds with the Miami Heat, he is someone whose basketball life features history at every stage. Sure, in an autobiography, he could provide some juicy tidbits about working at the start of the James Dolan/Cablevision era of the Knicks or his near-clandestine strategy in signing LeBron James, but those would still only be parts of his story.

As the only man to have won NBA championships as a player, assistant coach, head coach and general manager/executive, the history Riley witnessed could only be matched, if not exceeded, by his contemporary Phil Jackson.

Going from playing against the former Lew Alcindor in high school to being Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s coach nearly 20 years later. Being coached by Adolph Rupp at Kentucky and bearing witness to the social revolution within college basketball in the loss to Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA championship game. Successfully adapting between the Showtime Lakers, the bully-ball Knicks and Heat, and eventually becoming the puppet master he truly wanted to be.

Fellow Knicks fans will always call him Pat the Rat, and he still looks like he would order a hit out on half the Eastern Conference, but this Scribe chooses to respect what he has been able to accomplish in his Hall of Fame career.

Ed: David Justice

Growing up as a misguided light-skinned youth in the nether regions of Oklahoma, one of the few places I felt at peace as a 7-year-old was on the (coach pitch) baseball field. On that baseball field as a kid, oftentimes you would imagine you were your favorite baseball player. Griffey. Ripken. Bonds. Clemens. For me? Being relegated to right field because my defensive capabilities were deemed a liability, my inspiration was David Justice.

Reading a autobiographical tale on the life of David Justice would be an absolute treat. From reading about how he grew up in the Cincinnati area and skipping the entire 7th and 8th grades and graduating at age 16, to ultimately being drafted by my Atlanta Braves and eventually replacing the legend that is Dale Murphy? That would be great. Of course, there are other details that would be worth discussing, like winning the Rookie of the Year, leading his team to its first World Series victory in 1995 and even being profiled in the popular film, "Moneyball."

But we ain't here just for all that.

Nah man, we want to hear the backstory as to how David Justice was able to sweet talk his way into the heart of Halle Berry. Excuse me one second, I need Hurricane Chris to intervene real quick ...







Yeah, I know this relationship didn't end well for DJ and Halle (evidently she filed for a restraining order on Justice), but ... the man snatched up Halle Berry in her prime. I'm here to take notes for that, and you should too.


Dillon: Bobby Orr

In the sports world, we’re quick to anoint stars as the “greatest of all time.” Such statements produce debates of both varying intellectual merit and levels of annoyance. For a moment I’ll forget that I wrote that and confidently declare that Robert Gordon “Bobby” Orr is the greatest defenseman of all time.

Orr simply changed the game not just because he played it differently, but also because others, the hockey youth, aspired to play like him. He broke the status quo by contributing offensively from the blue line. Pretty soon the best skaters on minor teams started moving back in hopes of becoming the next Bobby Orr, including myself (although I was far from the best skater). As a 15-year-old freshman, I made an Orr-like rush up the rink one game before getting flattened along the boards. When I returned to the bench my coach leaned down to me and said, “You’re not f***ing Bobby Orr.” This was 25 years after the legend retired. Few players have had that impact.

So it’s easy to see why I would like to see Orr tell his own story. But beyond his impressive playing career, number 4 endured one of the more bizarre player-management stories of all time. Agent Alan Eagleson’s sleight of hand in negotiating a final contract with the Bruins resulted in Orr, arguably Boston’s most beloved athlete, ending his career unceremoniously in Chicago. Eagleson later bankrupt his prized client and many others through some nefarious activities (for the record Orr would become an agent himself ostensibly to ensure no young hockey player falls into Eagleson-like hands). Orr has never been much of a talker on that issue or any other for that matter.

Hockey fans have been waiting for the Orr story for far too long. I hope one day he tells it. I could try, but as my hockey coach once reminded me and everyone in earshot, I’m not him.

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