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Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court Hardcover – November 21, 2017
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* "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.... 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 skyhook, this timely book is a clear score."―Kirkus, starred review
* "More than a play-by-play sports story, it's an honest, powerful exposition of what it means to be black in white America, offering a de facto history of the civil rights movement."―Booklist, starred review
* "This timely and unforgettable memoir is essential for middle and high school collections, and affords rich opportunities for classroom and book club discussions."
―SLJ, starred review
"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is... as gifted an intellect as he is an athlete... It's a tale by a wise elder-- about basketball, sure, but also about cultural, political, social, and religious awakenings, big stuff narrated in a very accessible way."―The New York Times Book Review
About the Author
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer and a Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. Since retiring, he has been an actor, a basketball coach, and the author of many New York Times bestsellers. Abdul-Jabbar is also a columnist for many news outlets, such as The Guardian and The Hollywood Reporter, writing on a wide range of subjects including race, politics, age, and pop culture. In 2012, he was selected as a U.S. Cultural Ambassador and in 2016 Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award which recognizes exceptional meritorious service. He lives in Southern California.
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About twenty-seven years ago I read Kareem’s autobiography… and have also read his book about coaching at an Apache Reservation… and this book is totally unique… in the way Kareem talks to the audience about how he truly became himself… himself being Kareem… who the author goes through very “smooth”… pain taking steps… to share… how he… somewhat unknowingly… learned who he truly wanted to become. One of the things… that makes this book so poignant… is that despite being (in my opinion) the greatest college basketball player of all-time… and one of the top ten NBA players of all-time… this heart-sharing-soul-sharing… story… is really not centered on basketball… though basketball is everywhere… but not the (excuse the Kareem-basketball-sized-pun) center of the story. The former Lew Alcindor… who after a (then) lifetime of not feeling totally at ease in his own skin… he slowly but unrelentingly… changed his life… and of utmost importance… though very sad and hurtful to his parents… eventually changed his name… as part of his spiritual… and religious quest.
Since I was only a couple of years younger than the author… and basketball was my life also… I followed Lew’s career. (his name till he announced his change in the pro’s) I knew of Alcindor and his exploits and followed him since his days at Power Memorial High in New York. Having been born in New York myself… and then moving to Los Angeles as a child the same year as my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers… as I excelled in basketball… my dream was to play college ball for St. Johns… and that was one of the four colleges Alcindor narrowed his choices down to before picking UCLA. (Interestingly… growing up… Lew’s favorite sport was baseball… even though he was SIX-FOOT-TEN-INCHES-TALL when he was FOURTEEN-YEARS-OLD.) With all of Lew’s and Kareem’s record setting… and countless victories… and championships… the things that seemed to form his ultimate creation of “Kareem”… surprisingly… was all the deceptions of friendship… the (according to the author) “tone-deafness” to real world issues by his parents… teachers… and everyday figures. I was really surprised at the aloofness that he attaches to his Father… because the only real memories I had from my following the author was when Pat Riley famously let Kareem’s father get on the Laker team bus… the game after the famous Celtic Memorial Day Massacre… of the Lakers. It was always portrayed in my mind as a really close father-son-relationship.
The true core of Kareem’s story… are the people that he considered “coaches” in his life of educational… religious… spiritual… day in… day out growth. Sadly… but part of the growth process… are the people Alcindor let inside his defenses… that then let him down and hurt him in ways… someone on the outside couldn’t. His high school coach Jack Donahue… who Lew really respected… until ONE AWFUL MOMENT… when Donahue threw out a racial slur… in front of the whole team… after a bad half of basketball. I literally got a tear in my eyes… and my heart dropped… just reading this… I of course could imagine the awful impact on young Lew… and it scarred him for decades… until Coach Wooden intervened. And there was also a sad moment with Coach Wooden… when he was by Lew’s side… and a grandmotherly type passerby… threw out a racial slur… that Wooden didn’t respond to… as Lew would have hoped.
As I look back on my life… I remember… not always agreeing with some of the public stands that Lew Alcindor took… but I always respected the way he carried himself… and vocalized his beliefs. After reading this book… whether I totally agree or not… has been put aside… because this book succeeded… I believe in accomplishing what Kareem wanted… he explained how he internally became who he was… to form these opinions.
My basketball dreams were put on the shelf when I proudly served and became an Honorably Discharged Viet Nam era veteran… where… like the racism Lew faced… I faced more anti-Semitism than I ever did in my entire life… but before I went in Lew affected my life in a negative way… he was so unstoppable in his college basketball career… that the NCAA passed the ABSOLUTE-WORST-RULE-CHANGE-IN-THE-HISTORY-OF-SPORTS… they outlawed the dunk! I was a top scoring six-foot-two-inch white guy… who could slam dunk… high school player in Los Angeles… and high school adopted the same stupid rule. In warm ups before our league opener… I dunked and hung on the rim… and my coach sat me out the first quarter… even though I was the eleventh highest scorer in the City of Los Angeles. But Kareem more than made up for it… when he came to my hometown Los Angeles Lakers… and helped lead them to five NBA championships in a ten-year period. His sky-hook… remains to this day… as the most unstoppable shot in basketball history. With that being said… to summarize this book… rather than saying it was an intimate “slam-dunk”… I’ll give it an even higher rating… I’ll give it an intimate “sky-hook” rating!
Personal Note to Kareem: I also read “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” in 1966… and still have the book… sitting right here on my shelf by my desk… over fifty-years later. My favorite part that I have been quoting to many people since I was seventeen-years-old… was after he returned from Mecca… Malcolm stated…
“I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept in the same bed—while praying to the same God—with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of the blue, whose hair was the blondest of the blond, and whose skin was the whitest of the white…we were truly all the same.”
Personal Note 2 to Kareem: It was wonderful… after all these years… to see you write about the positive impact that Wilt Chamberlain’s kindness had on your life.