The City Game

ISBN: 1568497199
ISBN 13: 9781568497198
By: Pete Axthelm

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Reader's Thoughts


Three stars but four beers. I'd like to say my favorite part of this book is Phil Jackson being out for the season with a bad back, but the writing on the playground players is very good, as are the chapters on the playoffs. You have to believe the Knicks were once an incredibly beautiful team to watch play (if you're younger than 45 and care about such things), but that shouldn't be any harder to believe than going to the library to plagiarize a term paper.


More entertaining when he talked about the playground legends than the 1970-71 Knickerbocker team.

Christopher Borden

Great look back at basketball in NYC in late 60s/early 70s, great background on playground legends you don't hear much about.


Truly enjoyed this all too short recounting of the effect of Basketball on New York in the 60's and early 70's. At times, written with almost poetic style, Axthelm has produced a beautiful sports themed novel. His stories about the Knicks of that era as especially the young men who dominated the city on the outdoor courts is a wonderful read and a must for any fan of the game.


Been awhile since I read this but memory tells me I enjoyed the stories of the playground legends (Earl "the Goat" Manigault, Herman "the Helicopter" Rawlings and several others) more than the back story of the Knicks championship season. A good read if you can find a copy...


My second favorite basketball book of all time.

Oliver Bateman

A groundbreaking book in the sense that Axthelm used interviews to chronicle the playground aspects of the "city game," but the Knicks sections are merely standard (albeit reasonably well written) year-in-the-life fare. There's no real effort to link this material together, although connections to the playground pasts of Chamberlain, Alcindor, et al are occasionally made.


Fantastically entertaining history of basketball in NYC.

Thurston Hunger

The nicest thing about this was that it was loaned to me as a thoughtful thank you gift from a parent/teacher at my kids school as his 1st grader joined in some of our 3rd grade basketball Sunday practices.I hope young Rhys ends up loving basketball as deeply and as long as Axthelm did. Not sure if the book's text merits a rating of "poetic" rating but in contrast to this era of SportsCenter quips and stabs at catch phrases, I understand.Like a lot of sports reporting when I was young, this book is well written and avoids the obvious and catches players that are not caricatures of caricatures. These days, maybe effort along these lines goes into TV documentaries, which are easier (you film a guy) but more compelling (you actually see the guy playing, or talking from prison). Indeed if you dug this, I suspect you would also enjoy "Town Game" which contrasts Leon Powe and "Hook" Mitchelle just as Axthelm held up Willis Reed and his team versus "The Goat" and other playground legends from New York.I thought the game recaps were well-done, not so in-depth as to squeeze the life out of them. Even though the Reed limping down the tunnel was before my time, I had seen it enough times that it was nice to hear some of the backing to it. Also the notion of the NBA in its infancy and where they would play and to whom, also worth checking out.A good summer read if you can find it, or are lucky to have it loaned to you as I was. But in general, sports stories just don't appeal to me as much as they once did, not sure if it is a function of me, or the sports-entertainment world itself.


Axthelm was a columnist who covered sports in the Big Apple during the prime of the Knicks’ great teams in the late 60’s/early 70’s. This book is a documentary look at the team that captured the NBA championship at the end of the 1969-1970 season. Axthelm spends individual chapters describing the great players from that team – notably Bill Bradley, Clyde Frazier, Dave Debusschere, and Willis Reed – and how their unique personalities and skills perfectly complimented each other during that championship year. The latter half of the book goes through the ups and downs of the playoff series against the Bullets, Bucks, and Lakers, highlighting not only the Knicks’ players, but also the important players from the other teams (especially Lew Alcindor who was a rookie, and Chamberlain and West who were at the tail ends of their careers). In addition, Axthelm sets the cultural context for NYC basketball by describing the street basketball scene in Harlem, and the importance of basketball to African-Americans living in poverty in the NY boroughs. Alongside the chapters on individuals like Willis Reed, Axthelm spends chapters on talented neighborhood players who failed despite their talents because of social issues related to poverty and racism during that era. These two stories (Knicks basketball and neighborhood basketball) don’t always mesh perfectly, and there was a time or two I felt like Axthelm was telling two stories at once, but overall they work together to make this a documentary not only about the Knicks, but also about the larger game of basketball and its connection to urban areas and society at large. The language is a bit dated, as Axthelm often uses terms like “last year” or “next year” in reference to his writing this in 1970. But its place in time also lends a unique perspective since Axthelm predicts certain things like Bill Bradley’s political career and Lew Alcindor’s success years before either materialized. One minor criticism is that – like most non-fiction works – Axthelm tends to lionize players and teams, but when you’re covering legendary events like the Willis Reed appearance in Game 7 of the NBA championship, sometimes it’s appropriate to use superlatives. Overall, a very engaging and fascinating non-fiction read. This is a must-read for fans of the Knicks or of basketball, and a recommended read for everyone else.


This is a great book for anybody interested in the history of basketball. It was written in 1970 and tells the story of the Knicks championship season while juxtaposing the personalities on the Knicks (Willis Reed, Bill Bradley, etc) with New York's playground legends (Earl Manigault, Herman the Helicopter, etc.) It's a really nice snapshot in time of New York basketball, and a must-read if you've ever found yourself on YouTube watching great Rucker Park videos like this:

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