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]