When the Game Was War
The NBA's Greatest Season
by Rich Cohen
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Pub Date 05 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 05 Dec 2023
Random House Publishing Group - Random House, Random House
“Cohen brings new life to these athletes and their legendary rivalries.”—Bob Ryan, sports columnist emeritus, The Boston Globe
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.
“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 knowledgeable, insightful, colorful, dramatic and appreciative 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.
“Rich Cohen offers a rollicking ride through the 1987-88 season, and makes a compelling case for why this is 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 for The Athletic and author of the New York Times bestseller Wooden: A Coach’s Life
“Say hello to Larry, Magic, Isiah and Michael. In When the Game Was War, 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. I was lucky to live through it all, and I have often said that I would happily relive my life as an NBA scribe from January 1, 1980 through January 31, 1989, changing nothing. 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, Boston Globe
“I've seen many years of NBA basketball, and 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. I apologize. Jordan, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Isiah, Rodman, the “Bad Boys,” the good guys, the dynamics between the Lakers, Celtics, Bulls, Pistons—that season was a carnival of wondrous hoops and competition. 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. I surrender. He's right. It was the greatest.”
—Rick Telander, Senior Sports Columnist, Chicago Sun-Times and author of Heaven is a Playground