A Season on the Reservation

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9780671788490: A Season on the Reservation

If there was ever anyone who can be called a living legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the genuine article. Dubbed "history's greatest basketball player" by Time magazine, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's place in NBA lore is assured.

But even legends sometimes find themselves at the crossroads. Tired of life in Los Angeles, disillusioned with the state of basketball, and devasted by the death of his mother, Abdul-Jabbar accepted an invitation from the White Mountain Apache reservation in Arizona to coach the high school basketball team.

He encountered a complex reality. The kids on the Alchesay Falcons team don't easily embrace what he's trying to teach them on the court. But gradually he teaches them to get out of their comfort zone and try new things, both in sports and in life. They give him something he didn't quite expect: a way to reconnect with his passion for basketball.

This is the story of Abdul-Jabbar's "sojourn" with the Falcons. He connects with the kids, and with their culture and customs. An avid student of history, Abdul-Jabbar discovers new truths about the connections between Native Americans and African-Americans -- and learns some deep lessons about the inter-racial care of America's heritage.

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Review:

Nearly a decade after leaving professional basketball, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar decided to return to the sport he loved by becoming the assistant coach of the Alchesay Falcons--a high school team composed mostly of White Mountain Apaches. But in A Season on the Reservation, he may have actually learned more than he taught.

An outsider at the beginning, Abdul-Jabbar found ways to learn more about his athletes and the tribe. He discovered cultural traditions that made it difficult to coach the team (discomfort at being singled out for criticism, for example) and became more sensitive to the special challenges faced by young Native Americans. As Abdul-Jabbar notes, by working with the students he moved from a historical appreciation for the White Mountain Apaches as a people to an understanding of them as individuals. That said, Abdul-Jabbar can't quite seem to shake his romantic image of the young Apaches: "Sometimes I would glance his way and imagine him sitting astride a paint pony two hundred years earlier, ready to ride off into the mountains and hunt."

Through his players, Abdul-Jabbar finds himself getting caught up in the competition--his passion for basketball obviously rekindled. Readers may find the end of the Falcons' season rather abrupt, but perhaps that's the nature of high school sports. They also may be a bit put off by Abdul-Jabbar's occasional arrogance, especially when talking about his professional days ("The 1985 Lakers would have taken [Jordan's Bulls] in a championship series.") or when dissing later NBA stars such as Shaq ("He's publicly referred to the way I used to play as 'old man's basketball,' which it may have been, but it earned me six more rings than he's got so far."). Overall, however, A Season on the Reservation is infused with an obvious love of the White Mountain Apaches, their land, and the sport of basketball. --Sunny Delaney

About the Author:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is recognized by Sports Illustrated and Time magazine as history's greatest basketball player (he is the NBA's all-time leading scorer). The author of several New York Times bestsellers, Kareem's previous books include Giant Steps, Kareem, Black Profiles in Courage, A Season on the Reservation, and Brothers in Arms. Since his retirement as a player in the NBA, Kareem has worked as a special assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers and acted as a volunteer coach for children on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona. On the Shoulders of Giants is currently in production as a documentary film.

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