ESPN book goes back, back, back, back, back

  • Article by: NEAL JUSTIN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 28, 2011 - 11:03 PM

The authors of "Live From New York" explore the network's rumblin', stumblin', bumblin' history.

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The 20,000th airing of “SportsCenter” in May 1998 brought together, from left, Chris Berman, Bob Ley and Dan Patrick, three of ESPN’s leading personalities.

You don't have to be a sports nut to know that any great team eventually gets poisoned by inflated egos, backstabbing and greed. Turns out that also rings true for those covering the games.

"Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN," an oral history of the network that's been as highly anticipated by sports junkies as a Chicago Cubs championship, provides painstaking details on how a nutty idea concocted by a father-son team developed into a brand worth more than the NHL, MLB and NBA combined.

The pre-publication buzz was that authors James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales did a hatchet job on many of the top personalities, notably Chris Berman and Keith Olbermann. Not entirely true. The two giants take their licks -- one co-worker suggests that if Olbermann ever returns to the network, he has to let everyone in the building take a punch at him -- but the two have their supporters and they each aptly defend themselves.

The book includes interviews with almost every major player in the network's history, plus some revealing observations from "surprise" guests, including President Obama and Bill Maher. At worst, the on-air talent comes off as immature brats, not megamonsters.

The writers, who also are responsible for "Live From New York," an equally impressive look at "Saturday Night Live," are more interested in going after the anchors' bosses. Such suits as early investor Stuart Evey and Mark Shapiro, who rose from personal assistant to programming chief, take the real beating here, for micromanaging, being disrespectful to staff members and mishandling colossal deals.

Sportscaster Jack Edwards sums it up best: "The Number 1 thing that surprised me about ESPN was how little team spirit there was for a place that said that its business was sports."

If the book has any fault it's that it's too exhaustive. There's oodles of information on the history of the ESPY awards and the network's "SportsCenter" campaign that will test the patience of casual readers. The book would be more compelling if 20 percent of its 784 pages were deleted.

But in the end, Shales and Miller manage to create a page-turning document about the ultimate dysfunctional workplace. Turns out these guys don't always have all the fun.

  • THOSE GUYS HAVE ALL THE FUN: INSIDE THE WORLD OF ESPN

    By: James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales.

    Publisher: Little, Brown and Co., 784 pages, $27.99.

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