Barry Wilner and Ken Rappoport, longtime sportswriters, aim to tell how we got from there to here in The Big Dance: The Story of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The authors draw from the wealth of sources cultivated over their courtside careers. Through excellent interviewing, they let the stars of tournaments past tell the story in the first-person. Among others, we hear from UCLA’s John Wooden, Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, UConn’s Geno Auriemma, Indiana’s Bobby Knight, and Cathy Rush, who had a 149-15 record coaching the Mighty Macs at Immaculata long before the NCAA got around to organizing a women’s championship in 1982.
The sportswriting background of Wilner and Rappoport is evident in the text’s short paragraphs, crisp sentences, and rhetorical questions, as well as their taste for quips. Game play is narrated in close-up detail, full of vibrant verbs and endearing anecdotes, as when we see the father of UCLA’s Lew Alcindor (later, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) celebrate his son’s 1969 championship by leaving his bleacher seats to play first trombone with the school band. Wilner and Rappaport’s fan energy is the book’s driving force: they glow in the light of a game they love. Their eagerness to talk ball is contagious, and their detailing of game-by-game strategy is enlightening.