Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA

Hachette Audio. Mar. 2023. 11 hrs. ISBN 9781549158483. $27.99. SPORTS
Runstedtler (African American history, American Univ.; Jack Johnson, Rebel Sojourner) offers a detailed look at basketball in the 1970s, focusing on the influx of Black athletes to the NBA and ABA and their dominance. Many view the 1970s as a low point in basketball history because of the cocaine crisis, on-court fighting, and players demanding better contracts. Runstedtler disagrees, making the case that this was the decade that shaped the NBA into the empowered and exciting league that it is today. Runstedtler outlines the rise of Black superstars during an era of widespread resistance to racial desegregation, when the mainly white coaches, team owners, media, and fans were more critical than ever. At the time, many Black players learned to play on their neighborhood courts, with uneven surfaces, bent rims, and other conditions that gave them an improvisational, razzle-dazzle style. Now considered a hallmark of the sport, this style was viewed with suspicion by many. This book, which also dives deep into labor rights, the war on drugs, and masculinity, is flawlessly narrated by Xenia Willacey, who imbues every syllable with excitement and enthusiasm.
VERDICT Sports writing at its finest. A winner for fans or anyone interested in basketball’s complex history.
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