One of the greatest basketball players of all time reminisces on the lessons that pushed him into a life of personal reinvention.
In our current moment when black athletes are joining the national confrontation with the nation’s overwhelming legacy of racial injustice, few are better suited to provide context than Abdul-Jabbar. At 24, the newly minted NBA Finals MVP publicly embraced his conversion to Islam by renaming himself, choosing to become the person he wanted to be. The reactions stretched from confusion to outrage and betrayal. For this Harlem native, the influence of the massive 1960s civil rights and ’70s Black Power movements and the examples set by Dr. Martin Luther King, historian John Henrik Clarke, Malcolm X, and Muhammad Ali had a lasting influence on the superstar and scholar. Abdul-Jabbar recalls them and more, including most significantly coach John Wooden of UCLA, where Abdul-Jabbar and the Bruins accumulated an awe-inspiring 88-2 record. Wooden’s lessons would extend well beyond the basketball court. Abdul-Jabbar lets his many other, worldly accomplishments sit in the background, choosing to focus on the long road of self-discovery, which included many blemishes, mistakes, and struggles. Wrestling with what it means to be black, determining his own responsibility and capacity to respond to injustice, and becoming the “kindest, gentlest, smartest, lovingest, version” of himself takes center stage in this retelling of the early part of his life.
Like the author’s unstoppable sky hook, this timely book is a clear score. (Memoir. 10-16)