From Publishers Weekly
Former NBA superstar Abdul-Jabbar continues to pursue his inner historian (Brothers in Arms, A Season on the Reservation, etc.), using his childhood in the late 1940s to bring an engaging personal perspective to this cultural examination. Abdul-Jabbar does a fine job celebrating the already well-celebrated legacies of musicians like Bessie Smith and writers like Langston Hughes; what sets this book apart is Abdul-Jabbar's vantage from the waning edge of Harlem's cultural revolution, at a time when "white America ... was looking around for some other in vogue ethnic group" to excite their repressed urges. In a "call-and-response" format, Abdul-Jabbar alternates between straightforward history lessons and his personal take on them; thus, a chapter on "Master Intellects and Creative Giants" is followed by "How Harlem Writers Influenced My Life." Basketball fans will most enjoy Abdul-Jabbar's chronicle of Harlem's basketball team, the New York Renaissance Big Five, which in 1939 became the first black team to win a world professional title in any sport, paving the way for the integration of the ABL (forerunner to the NBA). Abdul-Jabbar's passion for history, literature and jazz, however, prove just as fundamental to the legendary Laker's journey, and this accessible, passionate account presents each "giant" as a vital part of Abdul-Jabbar's development and rise to fame.
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*Starred Review* Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is committed to leaving a legacy well beyond the basketball court. In his new book (after Brothers in Arms, 2004), the former Milwaukee Buck and Los Angeles Laker pays tribute to the black artists, activists, athletes, and intellectuals whose lives have shaped--and continue to shape--his own. In four sections that reflect his passions (Harlem, basketball, jazz, and writing), Abdul-Jabbar, with coauthor Obstfeld, views American history and his own life through the lens of the Harlem Renaissance, the flowering of black culture that took place in New York City after World War I. On the Shoulders of Giants celebrates the lives of such influential individuals as James Weldon Johnson and W. E. B. Du Bois and the extraordinary history of the first world-championship basketball team, the New York Renaissance Big Five. (Contrary to popular belief, the "Harlem Rens," as they were locally known, were the first all-black professional team, not the Harlem Globetrotters.) Abdul-Jabbar accompanies his insightful personal reflections with a wealth of lively anecdotes (like how the slippery dance floor of Harlem's Renaissance Casino and Ballroom became the site of the Harlem Rens' first games) and hundreds of poignant and powerful quotes. Among the latter are these words of charismatic--and controversial--Harlem Renaissance leader Marcus Garvey: "A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without its roots." A thoroughly accessible and engaging mix of memoir and cultural history. Allison Block
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