O'Donnell: 'State' high -- Melissa Isaacson's new book bounding toward national radar

  • Melissa Isaacson says multiple themes resonate from her book, "State: A Team, A Triumph, A Transformation."

    Melissa Isaacson says multiple themes resonate from her book, "State: A Team, A Triumph, A Transformation." Courtesy of Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images

  • Melissa Isaacson's new book, "State: A Team, A Triumph, A Transformation," is garnering national attention.

    Melissa Isaacson's new book, "State: A Team, A Triumph, A Transformation," is garnering national attention. Courtesy of Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images

Updated 8/17/2019 3:55 PM

WAS IT EDDIE CANTOR or Jay-Z who first said, "Likability is 90 percent of the game?"

Melissa Isaacson is liked.


And she's certifiably got game.

So it's no surprise her new "State: A Team, A Triumph, A Transformation" (Agate Publishing $27) is drawing growing waves of praise and promotion from media comrades.

It's the tale of Isaacson's journey through and from the 1979 state championship of the Niles West girls basketball team.

As first recounted in The Daily Herald by Burt Constable, "State" is a flowing work, gracefully done by Isaacson. It tells a story beginning with the roots of Title IX and extends through the many mornings-after -- good and daunting -- of a determined band of sisters.

"I think so many themes resonate from the book," said Isaacson, who crafted marvelous turns as a keenly competitive sports writer at The Chicago Tribune and espn.com before her current posting as a full-time faculty member at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.

"Things like the feelings, especially in high school, that you're the only one experiencing difficulties at home.

"The bonding and weirdness and fun that goes on in team sports and activities.

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"The joy of competition.

"The discovery of an inner-strength and toughness you never had.

"The evolution of women's rights.

"It just touches a lot of bases," the mom also known as "Missy" said.

"I like to think it's funny and touching and a quick read."

It is.

But regional response is one thing -- especially when you've been tapping it out with big-league boys on press rows for decades.

And playing through the spirit-challenging knuckleballs and knuckleheads of a written-word news industry in constriction for years is another.

But less than one week after the official release date of "State," Isaacson's gem is transcending local.

Bookers from NBC's iconic "The Today Show" have scheduled a session for probable airing later this month.

In the meantime, WGN-Channel 9's "Midday News" will spotlight "State" Monday.


The WNBA has already hosted one panel discussion centered around the book and NU's Welsh-Ryan Arena will be the setting for a similar showcase Oct. 11.

"It's funny, because I am kind of sad that I'm not (newspaper sportswriting) anymore," Isaacson admits.

"Not standing around locker rooms or tweeting. But interviewing people and telling their stories.

"I miss my friends in the business.

"I miss what we had, when you could stretch out with a story and that readers would digest it and not just make nasty comments, and your bosses wouldn't yell at you for being two seconds later than your competitor with the day's lineup.

"I think all of us of a certain age miss that."

But there is little sad without redemption or empathy in "State: A Team, A Triumph, A Transformation."

And nothing but triumph for a gifted journalist who long ago mastered likable.

STREET-BEATIN': Experts are citing three notable reasons for the NBA's 5 percent drop in viewership last season and all involve the nation's largest TV markets: The Knicks were terrible, the Bulls were terrible and LeBron James was based in the Pacific time zone. (Still, that's better than American Samoa; 75 percent of all U.S. television viewers live east of the Mississippi.) … The Sports Mouse finally announced air dates for the NFL Films doc "A Lifetime of Sundays" -- mingling profiles of team matriarchs Virginia McCaskey, Martha Ford, Patricia Rooney and Norma Hunt. ESPN premieres on Aug. 25; ABC follows on Sept. 1. … It'll probably be more "Bullpen's a-Poppin'" when the Cubs face the Pirates in "The MLB Little League Classic" from Williamsport, Pa., Sunday (ESPN, 6 p.m.). Maybe America's Most Welcome Visitors can bronze Derek Holland's left arm and leave it there. … ESPN will drop a fresh "30 for 30" titled "Rodman: For Better or Worse" on Sept. 10. Among those dissecting "The Worm" are Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and possibly even Chip Jong-un, the reclusive -- and illusory -- nephew of the North Korean despot. … Sandy cat women April Ross and Alix Klineman will highlight NBCSN's coverage of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Manhattan Beach Open Sunday (10 p.m.). That should keep versatile sports jockey Larry Hamel and the other hard bodies down on Oak Street Beach up late. … NPR's Cheryl Raye-Stout may be the only sports alum attending the upcoming reunion of WMAQ-AM (670)'s old "Good Guys" country & western survivors. Jerry Kuc is in the process of relocating and Chet Coppock, Tim Weigel and Jimmy Piersall are all on The Other Side. … Dave Lundstedt reports the Yankees are offering a "Pinstripe Pass" for $15 that includes general admission (no seat) plus a voucher redeemable for an $11 domestic beer. "So, you're getting into Yankee Stadium for $4," the transplanted Fighting Illini shortstop said. … Confirmation that Jeff Joniak is headed for the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame was a reminder that even Howie Fagan -- the late, esteemed energizer who pushed the CSHOF into its modest orbit -- used to chuckle at the line: "If I'm ever selected for the Hall, do I have to attend the induction dinner?" (Moths pass out on light bulbs at the annual chloroformer.). … And semantics cop Phil Mushnick -- on yet more pointless herd babble making its way out of MLB broadcast booths -- asks: " 'Bat-to-ball skills?' Could that mean hitting?"

• Jim O'Donnell's Sports & Media column appears Thursday and Sunday. Reach him at jimodonnelldh@yahoo.com.

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