Theresa RunstedtlerMar 11, 2023
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA
Bold Type Books 2023
Against a backdrop of ongoing resistance to racial desegregation and strident calls for Black Power, the NBA in the 1970s embodied the nation’s imagined descent into disorder. A new generation of Black players entered the league then, among them Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Spencer Haywood, and the press and public were quick to blame this cohort for the supposed decline of pro basketball, citing drugs, violence, and greed. Basketball became a symbol for post-civil rights America: the rules had changed, allowing more Black people onto the playing field, and now they were ruining everything.
Enter Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA (Bold Type Books, 2023)l, a gripping history and corrective in which scholar Theresa Runstedtler expertly rewrites basketball’s “Dark Ages.” Weaving together a deep knowledge of the game with incisive social analysis, Runstedtler argues that this much-maligned period was pivotal to the rise of the modern-day NBA. Black players introduced an improvisational style derived from the playground courts of their neighborhoods. They also challenged the team owners’ autocratic power, garnering higher salaries and increased agency. Their skills, style, and savvy laid the foundation for the global popularity and profitability of the league we know today.
Paul Knepper covered the Knicks for Bleacher Report. His first book, The Knicks of the Nineties: Ewing, Oakley, Starks and the Brawlers That Almost Won It All was published in 2020. You can reach Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @paulieknep.