I don’t watch sports talk shows and have never seen Perkins in his post career role as an opiniated ESPN talking head. I picked up The Education of Kendrick Perkins expecting to read the memoir of a player who won the NBA championship with the ‘Big Three’ in Boston and was at OKC Thunder at a pretty interesting time during the Durant/Westbrook era (as chronicled wonderfully in the fantastic Boom Town book). Instead I found myself reflecting on much broader, often uncomfortable, questions about American society and how history shapes the lived experience of Black Americans today
While we all know not to judge a book by its cover, I definitely judge books by their titles. As a title, The Education of Kendrick Perkins promises something deeper than a standard retelling of an athletic career – and the promise is more than delivered open. The book opens with one of the strongest opening chapters I have ever read – as Perkins is travelling to his new life in the NBA he reflects on the experiences that have led him to that point and his expectations for the future. It’s a great framing device but mainly an exceptionally well written chapter that captures a young man at a pivotal point and introduces the reader to who he is at that point in his life and the influences that have shaped him.
Chapters alternate between a conventional, but very interesting, retelling of Perkins career and a broader discussion of the experience of Black Americans and the impact that history has on the present day. Similar to Howard Bryant’s excellent Rickey, it discusses the legacy of the Great Migration post Civil War and the resettlement of Black Americans across the USA. Subsequent chapters build on this history using this knowledge to put modern events in a broader historical context.
The discussion on fatherhood really stands out as the most powerful and eye-opening part of the book. Perkins reflects on the fact that so few NBA players grow up knowing their fathers and highlights the need to center the public narrative on absent fathers as part of broader societal issues rather than being a standalone issue often used to chastise Black men. It is as interesting and well reasoned a piece of social commentary I’ve read in a long time and not what you expect to find in a typical NBA players autobiography!
From a purely sporting perspective, it’s a quality autobiography of a player who had a successful NBA career without being a superstar. Perkins talent and hard work saw him become a popular choice as a ‘normal’ player on a superstar team which led him to play alongside many of the era’s best players. The main takeaway is the sheer scale of the challenge of moving from being a talented young player to playing alongside and against established stars while adjusting to a very different way of life.
Ultimately The Education of Kendrick Perkins strikes a nice balance between being an interesting sports book and being a broader call-to-action on issues involving racial and social justice. Perkins couldn’t have fully written about his life without reflecting on these broader themes – but the depth of his consideration and the clarity of his thinking is what really makes this book stand out.
The Education of Kendrick Perkins: A Memoir by Kendrick Perkins with Seth Rogoff
[Book in stores in stores February 21st]
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Great work by @SprtBookReviews who polled over 150 sportswriters on which sports books they really love. Below is a list of the best basketball books from those responses, so everyone can easily reference it moving forward. 07 Seconds or Less, Second Wind and The Jordan Rules are personal favs of mine!
The full list includes a compilation of all of answers from the writers polled, listed by sport, totaling more than 300 books. For @SprtBookReviews‘s analysis of which books were the most loved check out his commentary on the list in the All Sports Books Newsletter. If you want to see which writer chose which books then check out the alternative version of the list at The List – Writers’ Choices.
Apparently this list will be maintained and updated as a living document every time @SprtBookReviews gets feedback from other sports writers, so make sure to check back in periodically.
- The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam
- Loose Balls: The Short Wild Life of the American Basketball Association by Terry Pluto
- A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton by John McPhee
- The Punch: One Night, Two Lives, and the Fight That Changed Basketball Forever by John Feinstein
- A Season on the Brink: A Year with Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers by John Feinstein
- Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga Of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding… Its Purloined Basketball Team, And The Dream Of Becoming A World Class Metropolis by Sam Anderson.
- The City Game: Basketball from the Garden to the Playgrounds by Pete Axthelm
- Three Ring Circus Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty by Jeff Pearlman.
- Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s by Jeff Pearlman
- Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson by Kent Babb
- 07 Seconds or Less: My Season on the Bench with the Runnin’ and Gunnin’ Phoenix Suns by Jack McCallum
- The Miracle of St Anthony’s: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball’s Most Improbable Dynasty by Adrian Wojnarowski
- The Great Nowitzki: Basketball and the Meaning of Life by Thomas Pletzinger
- Go Up For Glory by Bill Russell
- The Last Shot: City Streets, Basketball Dreams by Darcy Frey
- Second Wind: The Memoirs of an Opinionated Man by Bill Russell’s with Taylor Branch
- Giant Steps: The Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Peter Knobler,
- Michael Jordan: The Life by Roland Lazenby
- The Hot Hand: The Mystery and Science of Streaks by Ben Cohen
- Blood in the Garden: The Flagrant History of the 1990s New York Knicks by Chris Herring
- Play Their Hearts Out: A Coach, His Star Recruit, and the Youth Basketball Machine by George Dohrmann
- The Jordan Rules by Sam Smith
- The Grads Are Playing Tonight!: The Story of the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club by M. Ann Hall
- I Came as a Shadow: An Autobiography by John Thompson with Jesse Washington
- Long Shot: The Triumphs and Struggles of an NBA Freedom Fighter by Craig Hodges
- Boys Among Men: How the Prep-To-Pro Generation Redefined the NBA and Sparked a Basketball Revolution by Jonathan Abrams
- The Whore of Akron: One Man’s Search for the Soul of LeBron James by Scott Raab
- Heaven Is A Playground by Rick Telander
- Hoop Dreams: True Story of Hardship and Triumph by Ben Joravsky
- Pistol – The Life of Pete Maravich by Mark Kriegel
- Let Me Tell You a Story: A Lifetime in the Game by John Feinstein and Red Auerbach
- The Last Pass: Cousy, Russell, the Celtics, and What Matters in the End by Gary Pomerantz
- Miracle on 33th Street: The New York Knickerbockers’ Championship Season by Phil Berger
- Rockin’ Steady: A Guide to Basketball and Cool by Ira Berkow and Walt “Clyde” Frazier
- In These Girls, Hope Is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais
- Foul! The Connie Hawkins Story by David Wolf
- My Losing Season by Pat Conroy
- Fall River Dreams: A Team’s Quest for Glory, A Town’s Search for Its Soul by Bill Reynolds
- Forty-Eight Minutes: A Night in the Life of the N.B.A. by Bob Ryan and Terry Pluto
More ‘Best-of’ Basketball Books Lists to Check Out:
True Hoop: The Ten Best Basketball Books of All Time [ESPN.com]
Chris Herring: 10 Best Books About Basketball [Publishers Weekly]
Seth Davis: The Best Books About Basketball [Men’s Journal]
Amazon Best Sellers List for Basketball Books