A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apaches


The NBA legend's stirring account of a season spent coaching, mentoring, and learning from a unique high school basketball team.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has always been fascinated by history-nineteenth-century American history in particular. Tired of L.A., restless and looking for new adventure, challenge, and discovery, he decides to go live among the Apaches he's read about.

He encounters a complex reality. The kids on the Alchesay Falcons team ...

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Scranton, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. 2000 Hard Cover First Edition New in New jacket Signed by Author Signed by author Abdul-Jabbar on title page. 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 roman Read more Show Less

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The NBA legend's stirring account of a season spent coaching, mentoring, and learning from a unique high school basketball team.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has always been fascinated by history-nineteenth-century American history in particular. Tired of L.A., restless and looking for new adventure, challenge, and discovery, he decides to go live among the Apaches he's read about.

He encounters a complex reality. The kids on the Alchesay Falcons team don't easily embrace what he's trying to teach them on the court. Gradually they begin to learn from him as he begins to learn from them. He teaches them to push 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 a story about the qualities we have in common and the things that still divide us in terms of race, culture, and history. Along the way, we get to know the kids, the coaches, the town of Whiteriver and Alchesay High, the tribe-but most of all, we get closer to Kareem, a man well into middle age who wants to pass along his knowledge and experience in basketball and life. Kareem gives something back, and in so doing receives more than he ever imagined.

About the Author:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired from basketball in 1989. The author of bestsellers Giant Steps and Kareem: Reflections from Inside, he remains a devout Muslim and an active, articulate spokesperson for African-Americans.

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Editorial Reviews

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Connecting the Past, Present, and Future

What to do after a Hall of Fame career? Once retired from the hoop life, can the passion truly return? In an unusual and ultimately rewarding move, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar accepts an invitation to coach an Apache boys' team in Arizona, the Alchesay Falcons. What follows is a journey of self-discovery and basketball purity.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
More contemplative than action-packed, this is the account of a season Kareem spent working with the Alchesay Falcons, a high school basketball team on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Whiteriver, Ariz. Guiding the young men to the state tournament, Kareem reflects upon his own life and on the state of the game, as well as upon present-day professional players and aspiring youth ("Athletes need to stay in school until they have graduated from college"). Throughout the account, he explains basketball moves, but his focus is on more abstract matters, like his philosophy of teaching. The games themselves are straightforwardly recounted but lack dramatic punch, mainly because the season ends with a loss. But drama for Kareem lies elsewhere--in his learning about the social, cultural and economic hardships faced by the boys, who live in one of the poorest counties in the nation, and in the boys learning to push beyond the comfort zone of their community. As he has demonstrated in his previous books (Giant Steps; Black Profiles in Courage), Kareem has a passion for history, which he shares when, as part of his effort to motivate the team, he relates elements of the Native American past and attempts to link it to African-American history. At the end of the season, Kareem leaves with a feeling of having found a second home. TV and radio satellite tours. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Abdul-Jabbar, away from basketball for ten years, having recently entered his fifth decade of life and devastated by the loss of his mother, returns to the game in an unusual fashion: a one-year stint as an assistant coach for the Alchesay High School Falcons of the White Mountain Apache reservation in Arizona. This work chronicles Abdul-Jabbar's experience with Alchesay's brand of "Apache basketball" as the team attempts to return to the state high school championship finals. Much more than a basketball book, Abdul-Jabbar's collection of interactions with players and coaching staff provide a framework for his examination of the historic connections between Native American and African American peoples from the time of the Buffalo Soldiers to the present day. This is as solid a work on experiencing life in another culture as it is on Arizona hoops. It is as appropriate for ethnic, multicultural, and history collections as it is for sports. The audio abridgment is carefully done, nicely produced, and excellently read by Carl Lumbly. Highly recommended for listeners of all ages.--Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State Univ. Libs., OH Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
School Library Journal
YA-The death of his mother, interest in a Buffalo Soldier named Glass, and a growing friendship with Apache Indian Edgar Perry all lead the former NBA star to White River, AZ, and the reservation of the White Mountain Apaches. He came full circle as he volunteered to help coach the Alchesay Falcons during their 1998-99 basketball season. After eight years of retirement, coaching was both frustrating and meaningful for the athlete. He saw the same desire in these players to run and gun in lieu of the fundamentals that he had seen in young professional players who want only the huge bonuses. Just as the former superstar has learned to step out of his own "comfort zone," so too did he want to teach that skill to these young men. This is Abdul-Jabbar's story and readers not only learn his feelings about cultural differences but also about his own need to find his center and have thinking time. Exciting replays of basketball games juxtaposed against a look at one facet of Native American culture from a minority's perspective add up to a solid book.-Pam Spencer, Young Adult Literature Specialist, Virginia Beach, VA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Abdul-Jabbar makes clear the process taking place: we see these raw talents -- player and coach alike -- working to pierce their differences of culture and history. The straightforward exposition of strategy offers a view of the interior game, the mental chess match that is modern coaching. In Abdul-Jabbar's unabashed devotion to the place and its people, the reader can witness to how a season on the other side of the stripe can yield truths about a world on the other side of one's experience.
The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780688170776
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 209
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.65 (h) x 0.83 (d)

Meet the Author

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, is the author of the New York Times bestseller Giant Steps, as well as Kareem and A Season on the Reservation. ANTHONY WALTON is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir Mississippi, as well as the coauthor of Reverend Al Sharpton’s book Go and Tell the Pharoah.

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Read an Excerpt

An Excerpt from A Season on the Reservation by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

In the spring of 1998, Edgar Perry visited my home in Los Angeles, which is filled with 19th century Western and military artifacts: guns and swords and saddles and uniforms, tomahawks and knives and drums, buckskin outfits and paintings of great open landscapes. Edgar traveled around the country with younger kids from the tribe and they danced at fairs, universities, and other performing venues. Just as I'd danced with the White Mountain Apache two years earlier at the Sunrise ceremony, Edgar now performed another ritual dance at my house in Beverly Hills.

It served as a reminder that I was still attached to him and his people and was always welcome on the reservation. I was still a member of the Eagle Clan. He went back to Arizona and not long afterward, we were talking on the phone.

He asked me what I'd been up to lately and I told him that I was looking for a way to reconnect with basketball.

"What do you really want to do?" he asked me.

"I want to coach," I said.

"Would you consider coaching here?"

"What do you mean?"

"You could coach the Alchesay Falcons -- the high school boys' team on the reservation."

I thought he was joking and asked if he were.

"No," he said. "You want me to look into this and get back to you?"

"Sure," I replied, still not thinking he was serious.

The next day I got a call from John Clark, the superintendent of the White Mountain Apache school system, headquartered in Whiteriver. For the past half-dozen years, Clark had been a positive force for many changes within the school district.

"You want to coach our boys' team?" he asked me.

"Yes," I said, more certain than I had been the day before.

"Do you have a teaching certificate?"


"If you don't have a teaching certificate in Arizona, it would have to be volunteer work." He paused and laughed. "What's your fee?"

"One dollar," I said. We laughed some more.

"All right," he replied.

"When does practice start?"

"The first of November."


The trip to Arizona had begun early on a cloudy and cool October morning. I'd left my home in Beverly Hills before dawn in a black Ford Expedition and wound my way through the endless L.A. traffic, heading east. It had taken many miles to put the cars and smog of Los Angeles behind me, but by the time I'd reached the California state line, Los Angeles seemed a world away. The flat, sepia-colored desert was quiet and looked lifeless through the windshield.

A few hours later, I pulled into Phoenix and soon reached the small community of Miami, where I stopped for gas. As I stood beside the pump filling the tank, a stranger approached me and smiled, raising his hand in greeting. There was nothing unusual about this, but what happened next reminded me that I was not just starting a new job but a new life.

"Hey, Kareem!" the man said. "How's your team?"

I had to laugh at his enthusiasm. It was October 29, and the basketball season was still several days away.

"Are they tall?" he asked.

"I don't know," I told him. "I haven't even seen the guys yet."

"Good luck, coach," he said, turning to leave.

I watched him go and let the word sink in: "Coach." It had a fresh and promising ring. During my long career as a high school player at Power Memorial in New York City, a college center at UCLA, and twenty years as a pro in the NBA, I'd been called many things by many people, but 'Coach' wasn't one of them. Change was definitely in the damp autumn air, and not just when it came to basketball. "Coach Kareem." I liked the way that sounded.

I paid for the gas and got back in the Expedition, moving north on Highway 60, getting closer to my new home. As I drove up through central Arizona, the landscape changed, the desert giving way to thin-necked stands of cactus; deep, rusty-sided ravines; and high, reddish mesas. After passing through the town of Globe, with its huge abandoned mounds of mining debris from copper deposits, I reached the Salt River Canyon. This ancient hole in the ground was encircled by sheer walls and evergreen trees. It marked the southern boundary of the White Mountain Apache Reservation and was a clear sign that I was crossing into new territory.

Carefully, I steered the truck down to the bottom of the canyon floor and up its sides, bending around sharp turns and narrow corners, on the lookout for reckless drivers or falling boulders. Emerging from the canyon, I felt the same rush of excitement I always felt when entering an Old West landscape. Back in L.A., I displayed oil paintings of this terrain on the walls of my living room. Looking at them kept me connected to the beauty and history of the region, but the real scenery was always better.

The land appeared much as it did in the last century. Only power lines and paved roads gave evidence of the modern world. Hawks flew overhead and the woods alongside the road were thick with elk, cougar, wild pigs, and bears. The Mexican gray wolf had lately been reintroduced into this environment. I liked the thought of this great animal hunting and surviving and thriving in these ponderosa pine forests. The gray wolf had nearly been exterminated, just as the Apache and other Native American tribes had in recent times. But they, too, had found a way to live and were still trying to adapt to contemporary life in the United States.

White crosses with names painted on the stood by the shoulder of the highway, designating where people had been killed in car wrecks. Some of the dead, I would later learn, had been Native Americans who were driving drunk.

I entered the reservation and pulled over, shutting off the engine. Stepping outside, I took in the land, the ancestral home of the White Mountain Apache tribe. They'd come to the Southwest from northern Canada, where they'd been known as the nomadic Athabascans. They'd come here centuries before the American Revolutionary War, long before the English colonists landed at Plymouth Rock, and more than a hundred years before Columbus sailed for what would become America. Since around 1350, they'd been roaming these forests, hunting the local game and growing crops in these fields.

My vision of the past was broken by the sound of an 18-wheel timber truck barreling down the road toward me, carrying stacks of just-cut pine logs. I got back inside the Expedition and drove on.

Excerpted from A Season on the Reservation by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with Stephen Singular. Copyright © 2000 by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2002

    Kareem's greatest basketball experience

    The backdrop of the book parallels the history of the White Mountain Apaches reservation to Kareem's connection with his native roots. At the sametime, Kareem has to relate to a cultures he is very unfamiliar with, teens and native americans. The book opens the reader up to the issues native americans and Apaches face, and shows how sports can bring people together. This is a great book for coaches, players and historians

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2000

    Wonderful book

    I think this was a great book. I didn't know Kareem Abdul-Jabar was such a good author. I learned many things about Native Indians that I didn't know before.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2000

    On the Rez...

    Kareem shares some of his own family history and much basketball lore. I don't doubt the impact that his stay on the reservation had on his life and his wavering love of the sport, but his writing lacks the strength to convey all of this. This memoir resembles more of a journal. Many times in the book, he starts to scratch the surface of a topic only to move onto another. He has a great opportunity to go deeper into story telling about his own family and embellishing his thoughts, but he doesn't take quite enough time to do it.

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