I think I've mentioned before that my son is a basketball fan and he loves non-fiction reading.
This is the perfect memoir for anyone with "baller" stars in their eyes, or even just readers who want to read a smart, intelligent memoir of a scholar-athlete and what it took to get to the NBA.
My son had no idea Kareem was known by altogether a different name, one he gave up for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, nor did he know about Kareem's journey to name himself.
The story starts with Lewis Alcindor and at least while he's in school, it's heart-breaking. His parents don't really understand him, nor what he needs to succeed. They don't understand how he's mercilessly bullied at school, but they do emphasize school and learning. They don't understand that sending him to a private Catholic school is setting their already-very-tall son up for even more bullying than he experienced at public school.
It follows his experience with his high school coach, and that tale is heart-wrenching. He recounts how his coach used the n-word to "motivate" him to win a game, and what a betrayal it is to him. It makes him question many things about himself, like his sense of trust in the coach, which he never regains, although he does forgive the man, many years later. It throws a lot of things into question for him and by the time Wilt Chamberlain shows him what life could be like as a basketball star, he's willing to grab for the brass ring -- but he wants it on his terms, not those set by others.
He talks about playing basketball in college, at UCLA, and how he learns to trust a coach again. The lesson on putting on your shoes and socks was eye-opening to my son. The fact that a coach at that "level" would still focus on the basics, the very basics, was mind-boggling. But he also highlights the unequal juxtaposition of how much money colleges make off student-athletes while the athletes themselves are forced to live in near-poverty conditions by NCAA rules (something the state of California is trying to change; read about that here).
He writes of studying Islam and his conversion while he was in college, although that is only a small fraction of the book. It's characterized by his determination, by this point, to be the architect of his own life, on his terms and God's.