Chaney: Playing for a Legend

By Donald Hunt




Thirteen years ago, I read Steve Wartenberg's excellent book on John Chaney, Winning is an Attitude.  The book outlined the 1991 season.  At the end, Chaney pondered retirement until Aaron McKie signed a letter of intent.  McKie represented everything Chaney stood for: a hard-working underprivileged kid in need of a chance.

This book (Hunt's) is about Chaney, but focuses mostly on McKie and Eddie Jones career and goes through the 2002 season.

The book should be a natural supplement to Wartenberg's (the author even mentions it), but something is missing.  There is this overwhelming feeling of deja-vu.  The book has 36 pages of forwards (by John Chaney and Bill Cosby) and a preface (by Herm Rogul) and acknowledgements.  Then, the body of the book is only 108 pages, which lightly glosses over the seasons, and then there is a useful 2-page appendix of Chaney's record and then 70 pages of "Newspaper Coverage of John Chaney's Career."  During the body, many facts are repeated over and over and mentioned verbatim from the preface (which was mostly unnecessary, since it was covered in the body), and verbatim quotes from Chaney's hall of fame inductance speech (in the Appendix).  Often, I paused, thinking I had read this section and had lost my place, only to come to my senses and realize I was reading repeated material.  This occurred many times, and was frustrating.

Also, the 2nd appendix was mostly unnecessary.  The newspaper articles were mostly NOT about Chaney's career.  There was coverage of his Hall of Fame induction, but most articles were about his players with only a slight reference to Chaney, and the articles were about a player playing overseas or getting a coaching job -- stuff that really has little to do with Chaney's mission.  Chaney was about educating players, not developing professional basketball players.  The newspaper articles are in alphabetical order.  The first is from 1984.  The second is from 1998.  This is supposed to be "Newspaper Coverage of John Chaney's Career," yet I don't think the local Philadelphia newspapers (or the national media) were silent about Chaney for 14 years.  About 100 pages of the book was not necessary or repeated itself.  It doesn't flow well and point to a topic and seems like much is filler so that the content of a long magazine article could be stretched into a hard back book.  I would think the writer was an amateur writing his first book (maybe a Temple alum wanting to praise his coach), except he's authored other books and is a newspaper sportswriter.

The best part of the book was the contributions by McKie and Jones.  They are two quintessential Chaney players: Proposition 48 players, not highly recruited (especially McKie) who worked hard, were coachable, and learned from Chaney.  They succeeded at the next level of basketball, but remained good citizens who strive to help others.  Their contributions after the chapters are their own words and bring a fresh voice and point of view, covering topics such as recruiting, waking up for 5:30 AM practice, getting drafted in the NBA, and how Chaney would fare as a NBA coach.

The book is a good book.  I would advise you read it first before reading Wartenberg's book, kind of like an appetizer before the main course.  There are things to learn from the book, and Chaney is a great enough man that his life should be studied, and Wartenberg's book will only take you up to 1991, so this book is a supplement, just not up to the lofty standards of its predecessor.

Introspection:  4
Insight:  2
History:  1991-2003
Readability:  3

Chaney: Playing for a Legend.  Donald Hunt with special commentary from Aaron McKie and Eddie Jones.  Triumph Books.  2003.

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