For pure sports journalism, one would be challenged to find a finer book than John Taylor's The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and the Golden Age of Basketball. Taylor, a New York magazine editor and regular Esquire contributor, tells the concurrent tales of basketball's most famous big men: Russell, who led the Boston Celtics to numerous championships, and the irrepressible and legendary Chamberlain, who usually eclipsed Russell in individual statistics but was hard-pressed to defeat him in a big game. Taylor relates his subjects' life stories, then deftly interweaves their career accounts, especially as the two behemoths squared off in critical NBA playoff encounters. Russell comes to life as a proud, defiant, determined and hardworking African-American man with a keen social conscience, while Chamberlain emerges as a gregarious but also sometimes-broody black superstar with a chip on his shoulder and a sense of showmanship that may have eclipsed his desire to win. The additional portraits of team owners, players and coaches, in particular the Celtics' Red Auerbach, help to provide needed perspective about the inner workings of the NBA, particularly through the 1950s and '60s. Sports history at its best.

Martin Brady is making out his Christmas list at home in Nashville.

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