cover image On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance

On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Simon & Schuster, $26 (274pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-3488-4

Former NBA superstar Abdul-Jabbar continues to pursue his inner historian (Brothers in Arms, A Season on the Reservation, etc.), using his childhood in the late 1940s to bring an engaging personal perspective to this cultural examination. Abdul-Jabbar does a fine job celebrating the already well-celebrated legacies of musicians like Bessie Smith and writers like Langston Hughes; what sets this book apart is Abdul-Jabbar's vantage from the waning edge of Harlem's cultural revolution, at a time when ""white America ... was looking around for some other in vogue ethnic group"" to excite their repressed urges. In a ""call-and-response"" format, Abdul-Jabbar alternates between straightforward history lessons and his personal take on them; thus, a chapter on ""Master Intellects and Creative Giants"" is followed by ""How Harlem Writers Influenced My Life."" Basketball fans will most enjoy Abdul-Jabbar's chronicle of Harlem's basketball team, the New York Renaissance Big Five, which in 1939 became the first black team to win a world professional title in any sport, paving the way for the integration of the ABL (forerunner to the NBA). Abdul-Jabbar's passion for history, literature and jazz, however, prove just as fundamental to the legendary Laker's journey, and this accessible, passionate account presents each ""giant"" as a vital part of Abdul-Jabbar's development and rise to fame.