BOOK OF THE WEEK

When Nothing Else Matters: Michael Jordan's Last Comeback By Michael Leahy (Simon & Schuster, pounds 17.99)
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The Independent Online
THIS IS the story of an obsessive so immersed in his sporting culture that he loses sight of what matters to most fans and pursues his next buck so doggedly that he fails to realise how ridiculous it can make him seem. But enough about the author. Actually, no. Michael Leahy's pompous introduction says money and power "doesn't insulate you from someone like me". He's setting out his stall, that he had unbiased access to Michael Jordan's time with the Washington Wizards a couple of years ago and will thus expose Jordan's failings both as an administrator and later a player on an ill-fated comeback.

Leahy says his aim was "to assess what the Jordan comeback revealed about him, us and the place of athletic idols in our epoch". He ends up with banalities which essentially boil down to this: extremely successful sportsmen like Jordan - the greatest basketball player ever - can acquire a mystique that prevents the public from seeing their human failings. How do they, and specifically Jordan, do this? Because commercial interests encourage it and some cosy media relationships often sustain it.

If that information stuns you, and you're also a basketball addict who can happily devour chapters of NBA minutiae that most people would find dull, Leahy will also unload other "insights", namely that Jordan could be introverted, a bully and a control freak, and also had a bad knee, an immense gambling appetite and ructions in his marriage. Most of all, he pined for his lost glory. Jordan's admission: "I miss bein' it" pretty much sums it up.

The myth-debunking genre can be a tatty business. At its best, as in Richard Ben Cramer's rich, powerful Joe DiMaggio: The Hero's Life (2001, also published by Simon & Schuster), you find genuine insight, subtle writing and balance. Unlike with Leahy's take on Jordan, you feel the subject has been thoroughly explored, not just dashed through a wringer in the hope of trousering a share of the dollars too.

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