Customer Reviews: King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution
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on June 24, 2010
No basketball player defined the sixties the way that Bill Russell did. From 1959 to 1969, Russell led the Boston Celtics to ten NBA championships, including eight straight.* During this period, Russell was the central force of the greatest dynasty in the history of the sport. The Celtics helped transform the NBA from an obscure professional basketball league into a prominent sport that has become an important part of American popular culture and entertainment.

Russell's Celtics revolutionized the NBA. Before he joined the Celtics in 1956, professional basketball was essentially a lily-white, slow, earthbound sport. But Russell helped change all of that. He infused a black aesthetic into basketball and altered the patterns of the game. The changes could be seen in the way Russell rebounded the ball: he flew into the air, snatched the ball off the rim, and in one motion whipped an outlet pass to Bob Cousy or K.C. Jones, igniting a fast-break. Traditionally, basketball coaches taught their players never to leave their feet on defense. Russell ignored this rule. He leaped off the parquet floor and blocked shots, frustrating and intimidating shooters. Sometimes he simply jumped and caught a player's errant shot in midair. Russell's defense stretched the possibilities of the game. He cultivated a faster and more athletic sport.

In Aram Goudsouzian's King of the Court, we learn that Russell challenged racial boundaries on and off the court. When he arrived in Boston in December 1956, Russell was the only black player on the Celtics and only 15 African Americans held roster spots in the NBA. Russell was not the first black player in the league, but he was the NBA's first black superstar. Over the course of his thirteen seasons, Russell and the Celtics symbolized integration in American life. By 1969, Russell's last season, the NBA had become a predominantly black sport.

But Russell refused to believe that his integrated teams were evidence of racial progress in America. Goudsouzian documents the courtside racial taunts that Russell heard, the hate mail he received, and the discrimination he faced in the South and in Boston. Goudsouzian is a master storyteller whose vivid narrative shows how Russell embodied the tensions of the civil rights movement and how he confronted racial discrimination. In King of the Court, readers will learn how Russell became one of the first outspoken, politically active black athletes in America, at a time when athletes avoided controversial social and political issues. Russell's defiant behavior off the court challenged traditional standards of behavior for black athletes, paving the way for younger, more militant black athletes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about Russell, the history of the NBA, or the civil rights movement. Goudsouzian covers it all: the Wilt-Russell rivalry, the commercial growth of professional basketball, Russell's relationship with Red Auerbach, his involvement in the civil rights movement, the explosive racial history of Boston in the 1960s and 1970s, and the legacy of the Celtics' dynasty. This is unquestionably one of the best sport biographies written in the last decade. Don't take my word for it. Read it yourself.

*Russell won 11 total championships in 13 seasons.
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on June 8, 2010
I've been a fan of Goudsouzian's work since I came across his seminal biography of Poitier a few years ago. I admired that book as a successful effort at chronicling Poitier's career and personal relationships without descending to the cheap but all-too-common trick of sensationalizing his romantic life and Hollywood connections in order to move books. In King of the Court, Goudsouzian maintains the same even, academic tone to his work. His account of Russell's basketball career is thoroughly researched but not overlong at 280 pages. The author's writing style is succint yet engaging. In terms of content, I particularly liked how Goudsouzian intertwined accounts of Russell's successes in sport with commentary on the racial and political climate of the times. In this way he paints a balanced portrait of Bill Russell as both athlete and cultural symbol. Overall an excellent read.
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on July 5, 2010
I'm not really a sports person, but I could not stop reading this book.

I found myself drawn into the stories that Goudsouzian tells. One is the story of Bill Russell himself, an amazing athlete and quirky personality who rose to be one of the greatest basketball players of all time and a founder of the Celtics mystique.

But this is not simply a biography of one man. Goudsouzian also narrates the civil rights movement and the "rise of the black athlete" through the story of Russell's life. Like all good books about a single person, Goudsouzian puts Russell the man into his times to show how each shaped the other. Russell became a crusader for racial equality and black pride both in his on-the-court play and his off-the-court life. This is also the tale of the evolution of modern sports and how basketball went from being a small-time enterprise to an enormous cultural influence in America, thanks in large part to men like Russell.

Goudsouzian is a master historian who has done an amazing amount of research, but he's also a fabulous writer. The book sizzles with a "you-are-there" style of sports writing that puts the reader into the heat of the action. At the same time, Goudsouzian is able to step back with the historian's breadth of vision to show us what it all means and why the life of this one man -- impressive on its own terms -- points to larger themes in American history.

This book is a must-read for anyone interested in recent US history, especially African-American history, as well as the history of sports in America.
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on November 29, 2010
With all due respect to Michael Jordan, this book in a profile of, if not the greatest player, certainly the greatest winner in NBA history. If scoring all the points with all the fanciest moves is the criteria for determining greatness, then Jordan is your guy. If winning the championship darn near every year of your career, both college and pro, then you have to go with Russell. The book goes into where Russell "decided to win in college" and did nothing but win the rest of his playing days. Mr. Russell was never particularly popular with fans nor with writers and ne never particularly cared. As long as he had the respect of his teammates and his team won the game, that was what was most important to Mr. Russell. An excellent book.
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on August 8, 2015


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on December 28, 2015
A complicated, interesting man, that Bill Russell.

That's makes it a daunting task for a biographer to sort everything out. So kudos to Aram Goudsouzian for taking such a project on.

Goudsouzian has written a full, almost academic-style biography of the former basketball great. "King of the Court" features exhaustive (and probably exhausting, based on the number of footnotes) research into the life of Russell, someone who could keep a team of psychologists busy for quite a while. We know a lot about Russell's accomplishments, but it's been difficult to put the other parts of his life into focus. That's in spite of the fact that Russell himself has written four books during the various stages of his life. Therefore, it's a good idea to sort out the information on Russell.

The Basketball Hall of Famer's basketball life is pretty well known. He came out of a San Francisco high school and virtually reinvented aspects of the game of basketball, partly with intelligence and partly with his athletic skills. He led the University of San Francisco to two straight NCAA championships, captured an Olympic gold medal, and took his talents to Boston to play for the Celtics.

There Russell and a cast of talented, equally unselfish teammates focused only on winning, and they didn't care how it happened. The Celtics ran off 11 championships in 13 seasons with Russell at center. Russell might not be the greatest player in basketball history, but he might be the greatest winner in professional sports. If you had your pick of any athlete to represent you in a Game Seven with your life at stake, Russell would be a good choice. After all, he never lost a Game Seven. And he played a lot of them.

The rest of the story doesn't fit neatly into records and categories. Russell lost his mother to illness at a young age. He then came to prominence in the late 1950's, just as the civil rights struggle was gearing up in earnest. When Russell got to Boston, he embraced the only part of society that was color-blind to him -- the portion on the basketball court.

Respect for an African American off the court back then was a little harder to find -- OK, a lot harder. Russell would hear cheers at Boston Garden, and then go home and find racial insults painted on the walls of his suburban house. He wanted respect, but only on his terms, and it sounds as if he didn't give many clues as to what those terms might be at a given moment.

Goudsouzian spends almost all of the book covering the years of Russell's playing career, which ended in 1969. The major theme might be the relationship with Wilt Chamberlain -- speaking of complicated fellows -- which had its ups and downs but stayed up, perhaps, when both men realized there was a lot more bringing them together than separating them.

Post-basketball, Russell certainly has been his own man, wandering from topic to topic depending on what interested in him. Interestingly, it's only been in the last decade that Russell seems a little more comfortable accepting praise for his achievements. For example, the most valuable player award in the NBA Finals is now named after Russell.

It's pretty clear that Goudsouzian has a great deal of admiration for Russell, personally and professionally. Still, the author isn't afraid to point out stories about Russell's flaws. Heroes generally don't come in neat packages.

It's hard to say if anyone will completely put together the pieces of Bill Russell's life. But Goudsouzian puts those pieces out on the table in "King of the Court." It's probably the best one-stop of account of the life of one of sport's true individuals.
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on March 21, 2015
Goudsouzian places Russell in his proper place as the preeminent place as the star who broke racial barriers in the NBA. Neither Jack Johnson nor Jackie Robinson, Russell would assert himself as not just a black athlete but a black man who claimed his place in the postwar era of the consumer republic and civil rights activism. Bouyed against his rival Wilt Chamberlain, Russell is able to emerge as the face of victory on and off the court. Goudsouzian's unique ability to craft Russell's identity through the narrative of Russell's career while place his activism into the heart of the historical movement makes this a valuable addition to the discourse on black athletes during this era.
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on January 22, 2014
If you like sports biographies, this one is first rate, honest and critical of its subject when the need arises. It also creates the era in which Russell played as both a collegiate and professional as well as any that I have read.i would recommend it highly.
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on April 24, 2016
This is a great book so much detail on games played and the book is good with all the other Bill Russell books I bought (5 altogether). An amazing man.
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on January 6, 2013
Great book because I am a Celtics fan and Bill was once my hero when I was a kid.
The best center ever, in my opinion.
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