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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About the Author
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.
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.