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Capsule Reviews (IV): Bios of Pistol Pete and AI, Jabbar on the Reservation

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bios of two of the most culturally unassimilable and phenomenally skilled individual players to ever play the game -- Pistol Pete Maravich and Allen Iverson -- are featured here, along with Kareem Abdul Jabbar's memoir of his mid-life crisis spent as an assistant coach for a high school team on White Mountain Apache reservation.

Mark Kriegel, Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich (2007) Excellent biography of the hoops prodigy and college wonder whose pro career rarely lived up to its promise. Kriegel is a terrific prose stylist, and is both sensitive and thorough in portraying the powerful and powerfully vexed relationship between the Pistol and the father who formed him in the image of his own fantasies, as well as the social and athletic environment that shaped them both. Maravich emerged for me as a skill wizard whose growth as an all around player was stunted by a combination of his father's unwillingness to let go and his own unwillingness to accept opportunities to break away. By the end, when Pistol is carrying his father, dying of cancer, around his house in his arms, the full force of the story Kriegel had been telling hit me like an anvil. A touching, absorbing, sometimes humorous, informative must read.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apache (1999) Nearly ten years after his retirement from the NBA as the all-time leading scorer, Kareem's interest in Native American history leads him unexpectedly to a one-season assistant coaching gig on the reservation. The strength of this book lies in the honesty with which Kareem lays out the surprises and difficulties he encountered along the way and in his attempt to connect his historical interests to his contemporary encounter with these teenagers. There's no simple tale of underdog triumph, or even of middle-age enlightenment. It's just a quietly told (perhaps a bit too quietly told), real-feeling story of some people thrown together in many ways by history and chance, who make each others' lives a little bit better by sharing a passion for the game.

Larry Platt, Only the Strong Survive: The Odyssey of Allen Iverson (2003). Nearly a decade old, I turned to this recently because of Iverson's decision to play ball in Turkey when no NBA team would pick him up. Despite his explicit intentions to the contrary, Platt's take veers pretty close to the hagiographical. But that's okay because AI is a saint. No, seriously, the book is at its strongest in helping to see the forces in AI's formative years that would shape not only his style of play on the court, but also his relationship to coaches and other players. AI may not have been a saint, but he is certainly a human being, and Platt does a good job of portraying the fear and the courage that drove one of the most exciting college and NBA players of the past two decades. Anyone who has dismissed AI for anything other than his play on the court needs to read this book and wake up. The book is also strong in its analysis of the cultural and economic meaning of AI as he entered the NBA from Georgetown and in this sense intersects well with Todd Boyd's book and others that I reviewedhere


j December 28, 2010 at 3:55 PM  

Have you reviewed / read Heaven is a Playground?

Also, would you consider posting your reading list for your course The Culture of Basketball?



Yago Colás December 28, 2010 at 4:29 PM  

Hi Justin,

I've just finished reading it, haven't gotten around to reviewing it yet, but I can already say I think it's a fabulous book.

And I will definitely be posting the reading list and syllabus here within a week or two.

thanks for stopping by!


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