Monday, January 25, 2021

Review of "Big A: The Story of Lew Alcindor," by Joel Cohen

 Review of

Big A: The Story of Lew Alcindor, by Joel Cohen

Four out of five stars

Before he was Kareem he was Lewis

 Kareem Abdul Jabbar was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. His sky hook remains the most undefendable play in basketball. While it has been blocked a few times, if Kareem went up properly it took a tall defender with great leaping ability having perfect timing to ever have a chance against it.

 Before he converted to the Muslim faith and took the name Kareem Abdul Jabbar, his name was Lewis (Lew) Alcindor. His agility and ability to move laterally were extraordinary for a man so tall. The ease with which he moved led many to  believe that he did not put out enough effort. The only real difficulty he had in going from college to the pro game was getting acclimated to the increased amount of physical contact. Many defensive actions that were fouls in college were no-calls in the NBA.

 Alcindor/Jabbar is also very much a scholarly man, he is widely read in philosophy and has no trouble writing a column of intelligent commentary for a national publications. He grew up in New York and was a star in high school there.

 Given his talents, this is not a story of triumph over adversity, for given his physical skills, Alcindor/Jabbar was destined for basketball stardom. This is the story of a man with obvious talents learning how to channel them properly. If there is a weakness in this book it is that not enough ink is used describing his college coach John Wooden. It was Wooden that put the teams together and kept his players focused through their many opportunities to let down and have an inferior team defeat them. Other than that, this is a good biography of a man that made the most of his enormous talent, on the court and as a writer.

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