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Book Review :: Black Ball by Theresa Runstedtler

Black Ball by Theresa Runstedtler book cover image

Guest Post by Kevin Brown

Theresa Runstedtler digs deep into the NBA of the 1970s to show how a group of African American basketball players brought a new style of play to the sport, honed on playgrounds rather than high school and college gyms, where white players trained. More importantly, though, she shows how these same athletes stood up to the white owners and coaches, bringing lawsuits against them when necessary, to carve out more freedom and agency for the players. Those owners had almost full control of players in the 1960s, dictating who could play for which team when and limiting player salaries and the almost non-existent benefits. One player after another, though, began to push back against that control, winning one court battle after another, while also bringing a different style of play to the courts. Near the end of the book, Runstedtler shows how these changes reinvented the NBA and led to the strong performances of the 1990s and early 2000s, but also to the more politically outspoken players of more recent years. Runstedtler brings her experience as a Toronto Raptors dancer and scholar and professor of African American history to create a readable, insightful look at an important decade of development in Black activism and labor history.

Black Ball: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Spencer Haywood, and the Generation That Saved the Soul of the NBA by Theresa Runstedtler. Bold Type Books, March 2023.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.

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