I know, I know. The book was published how long ago? Anyway, I just finished reading it and came away thoroughly impressed by the scope of the reporting and the authors’ storytelling.
In “Game of Shadows,” authors Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams cover the steroids-in-sports saga from one tangent to the next. Not only is former San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, and his alleged performance-enhancing drug use, discussed at length but so is the PED use of more than a dozen other professional and Olympic athletes. And these are significant names — baseball MVPs, NFL All-Pros, track and field’s elite — not minor league has-beens.
Jason Giambi, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery Bill Romanowski, Gary Sheffield, Dana Stubblefield, etc.
The big-time names aside, Fainaru-Wada and Williams do something with this book that I did not expect — they switch the roles of the central characters. In real life, BALCO founder Victor Conte is the antagonist and FBI agent Jeff Novitzki the protagonist, for obvious reasons. OK. Conte’s the drug dealer, Novitzki’s the “crime” fighter.
But in “Game of Shadows,” the roles are reversed. Conte is portrayed as the protagonist and Novitzki is given the role of antagonist. Conte claims that athletes must cheat to compete at the highest level. It was his view that he had “no choice” but to become a conduit to their success. In a sense, Conte believed he was helping everyone succeed. Conversly, Novitzki is a federal agent portrayed as having an axe to grind against those trying to cheat the game of baseball and will stop at nothing to prove Conte is supplying steroids to Barry Bonds. Which, of course, Conte is.
It’s the best part of the book. The authors uncover the BALCO controversy and turn it inside-out upon itself. From a fly-on-the wall’s perspective of what was said inside the conference rooms at the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), to Bonds’ locker inside the Giants’ beautiful waterfront ballpark and the car ride with convicted steroid-dealer Greg Anderson in between, Fainaru-Wada and Williams really give the reader the ability to imagine how it was that Bonds became the all-time single-season home run champion around his 40th birthday, an age when ballplayers aren’t ballplayers anymore.