A great sports story gets everyone on their feet — whether you just finished your 10th marathon or you prefer to race through your TBR stack. The following sports biographies and memoirs are packed with athletic drama that every reader will enjoy, from underdog wins and buzzer-beater finishes to the off-court scandals and triumphant personal comebacks of the greatest athletes of our time.
12 Game-Changing Sports Biographies and Memoirs
These winning reads smash the competition.
Magic: The Life of Earvin "Magic" Johnson
By Roland Lazenby
From Roland Lazenby, the renowned biographer of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Jerry West, comes Magic, the definitive sports biography of basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Johnson reached dazzling new heights over the course of his career on the court, transforming American basketball into top-tier entertainment with his exciting playing style and leading the Los Angeles Lakers to greatness during the team’s Showtime era. Yet Johnson also faced his share of scandals and controversies, including his extravagant lifestyle and shock retirement from basketball in the wake of his HIV diagnosis. Lazenby draws on hundreds of interviews with teammates, coaches, rivals, and more to capture every facet of this complex figure, offering a gripping and comprehensive account of the renowned player and his extraordinary career.
By Andre Agassi
A striking story about the double-edged sword of success, Open by Andre Agassi tracks the tennis star’s astounding triumphs, failures, and battles both on and off the court. Agassi went pro at the age of 16; by his early 20s, he was a tennis legend. Yet with worldwide success came pain, doubt, and relentless media scrutiny. Agassi opens up about it all in this candid and bestselling sports memoir, delivering a fascinating read for fans and newcomers alike. And if that isn’t enough to draw you in, note that Open is cowritten by J. R. Moehringer, one of the all-time ghostwriting greats, whose success with this narrative paved the way for his teaming up with Prince Harry on his recent smash memoir.
Michael Jordan: The Life
By Roland Lazenby
Michael Jordan transcends the sports world. You know him even if you know nothing about basketball — and if you grew up in the ’90s, he was practically everywhere you looked. In Michael Jordan: The Life, Roland Lazenby tracks Jordan’s career from college kid to NBA superstar and beyond. Along the way, Lazenby complicates our collective understanding of the sports icon, countering Jordan’s on-court image with the darker sides of his character, his rocky relationships, and his merciless ambition.
By Abby Wambach
In Forward, soccer luminary and two-time Olympic gold medalist Abby Wambach shares her journey from being put on the boys’ soccer team at the age of seven to becoming one of the all-time greatest soccer players in the history of the sport. Wambach’s compelling account is suffused with grit and determination, and it speaks to the unique challenges women face in their quest for athletic greatness. It’s a must-read for sports fans and indeed anyone in need of inspiration. For a double dose of empowerment, check out Wolfpack, Wambach’s #1 New York Times bestseller from 2019 that encourages women to join together and unleash their inner potential.
Path Lit by Lightning
By David Maraniss
Written by David Maraniss, a two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and the biographer of such figures as Barack Obama and Roberto Clemente, Path Lit by Lightning tells the fascinating story of Jim Thorpe, a renaissance athlete whose rise and fall took on mythic proportions. Thorpe was one of the best all-around athletes the world had ever seen; he won medals in the decathlon and pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics, was an All-American football player, and played baseball for the New York Giants. Yet as a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, he also faced intense racism and discrimination that hobbled his career and ultimately led to a life of hardship. Maraniss movingly chronicles Thorpe’s life in this landmark sports biography, breaking down the myth to reveal the man at its core.
The Mamba Mentality
By Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant’s presence on the court was legendary — and it belied a complicated and often troubled life off the court. In The Mamba Mentality, Bryant shares his outlook on life and basketball and delves into his famous “Mamba Mentality” philosophy, an approach to playing that’s built on passion, tenacity, and the singular pursuit of athletic excellence. It’s a fascinating look at the gone-too-soon powerhouse player and his thorny relationship with success, fame, and sports.
By Billie Jean King, Johnette Howard, and Maryanne Vollers
The world of sports would not be the same without Billie Jean King, a legend both in tennis and for her work breaking down barriers for women athletes. All In chronicles King’s career from her formative years through the 1973 Battle of the Sexes exhibition match against Bobby Riggs and the creation of the women’s pro tennis circuit to King’s acknowledgment of her sexual identity and coming out at the age of 51. At once a story of one person’s impact on tennis and a cultural revolution in the sports world, this winning memoir offers insight and guidance on issues from political activism and personal relationships to finding your true self.
By Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian
In Tiger Woods, sportswriters Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian deliver a fully realized portrait of the eponymous golf titan. The bestselling sports biography draws on interviews with more than 250 people to chronicle Woods’s meteoric rise, scandalous fall, and triumphant return to world-class athletics. The unsparing narrative also shines a light on the damage parents can do in their single-minded quest to turn their children into star athletes, drawing connections between Woods’s unparalleled achievements on the golf course and his parents’ obsession with success.
The Last Folk Hero
By Jeff Pearlman
Bo Jackson was a one-man sports phenomenon in the 1980s and ’90s, excelling in football and baseball, and starring in one of the most successful ad campaigns in Nike history. In addition to his athletic triumphs, wild tales about Jackson leaping over parked cars and helping land a plane in distress elevated the sports star to mythical levels, like a modern-day Paul Bunyan. In The Last Folk Hero, sportswriter Jeff Pearlman tells the story of the man behind the myth. Drawing on more than 700 interviews, this fascinating sports biography is a must-read for Jackson superfans and for those eager to find out more about this larger-than-life American sports icon.
Good for a Girl
By Lauren Fleshman
In the bestselling Good for a Girl, elite runner Lauren Fleshman draws on her own story and the work of psychologists and physiologists to advocate for a radical transformation of sports for young women. Competing in institutions that aren’t built for them, women athletes are held back from the beginning and plagued by sexism, eating disorders, and physical and mental injuries. Many would-be elites drop out before they can truly achieve greatness. Fleshman argues that we’re long overdue for a change. Readers will find plenty to love in Fleshman’s rousing narrative, which blends sports memoir with a manifesto and demonstrates a passion for personal success as well as creating a world in which all women athletes are allowed to thrive.
Ali: A Life
By Jonathan Eig
Jonathan Eig’s bestselling and award-winning biography of Muhammed Ali turns the facts of Ali’s life and career into a harrowing story of courage, activism, and athletic excellence. The storied heavyweight boxer was not just an accomplished athlete but a natural performer, civil rights activist, and political protester. Drawing on interviews, FBI files, and archival recordings, Eig weaves a gripping tale of Ali’s boxing career, his political victories and personal triumphs, and his lasting impact on American culture.
By Jeff Benedict
We round out our list with a living legend who’s playing at the top of his game. In LeBron, Jeff Benedict chronicles LeBron James’s layered and inspirational story, from his early years of struggle as the son of a young mother to becoming the No.1 overall draft pick in the NBA straight out of high school and his transformation into the greatest basketball player of the 21st century. Based on three years of research and more than 250 interviews, Benedict’s sweeping narrative goes well beyond James’s success on the court, exploring his relationship to fame and his dual identity as a celebrity and an activist fighting for social justice.