As I very slowly work my way through older titles, this one is one that any basketball fan might want to take a look at. Here is my review of "Black Ball."
“Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation that Saved the Soul of the NBA” by Theresa Runstedtler
4½ of 5 stars (very good)
The decade of the 1970’s was a decade of both progressive change and a decline in the interest of mostly white fans of professional basketball. Some call it the “dark age” of the sport, but this book by Theresa Runstedtler tells why that is not necessarily the case.
The book has some great prose and well-written sections. One example is when she is writing about the American Basketball Association (ABA), a short-lived but very important professional league that directly competed for players against the more established NBA. She writes that the red, white and blue basketball the league used was not the only example of a change of color. This passage is typical of the language used in the book: “Little did ABA team owners realize that their upstart league would change the color of the game in more ways than one. It would soon be the incubator for a new style of pro ball - black ball - and its existence would help spur black players to lead a more forceful push for higher compensation, better contract terms, and more control over their careers."
This prose is not the only excellent feature of this book as it is well-researched and the arguments presented are backed up well with factual evidence. More than just basketball, issues that either are directly part of civil rights and racial justice or tangentially related such as labor relations are discussed in great detail. While that is the main focus of the book, it also describes how the game itself changed. With more Black players gaining jobs in both leagues, especially the ABA, the game changed from set plays and jump shots to a more freewheeling style with dunks and creativity.
All of this is told with racial integration and justice as a key theme and for the most part, Runstedtler is very convincing and will make a reader think, no matter their race. The only downfall of this argument was the last section about a punch thrown by Kermit Washington, a Black player, on a white player, Rudy Tomjanovich. Having seen that game and also having read other sources about the two men and the incident, there isn’t much agreement about the racial aspects of this and sadly, this isn’t of the same high quality as the rest of the book. However, don’t let that one chapter discourage you from reading this one. Anyone interested in civil rights or basketball from that era will enjoy it.
I wish to thank Bold Type Books for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.