Abdul-Jabbar has written a terrific new book, Coach Wooden and Me. But here’s the thing: It’s not brooding or aloof or angry or controversial, and it’s not dunking on anyone’s head. It’s tender, melancholy, and made me tear up. It’s also funny and contains a lot of basketball ... Coach Wooden and Me is no 'as told to.' Abdul-Jabbar is an actual writer. And a skillful, accomplished one ... While Wooden can sometimes come off as a too-good-to-be-true storybook father figure, there are enough accounts of his saltiness to keep it from being hagiography ... He and his coach met in the place where the verities of friendship, mutual respect, and kindness hold sway. His themes remain timeless and yet, in these cruel and corrupt days we currently endure, they could not be more relevant.
For all his decency, and his homilies about winning not being all that important, Wooden most certainly wanted to win. The suffering of the black athlete did not really move him. Abdul-Jabbar touches upon this, but far too delicately. The scenes of fans spearing him with the n-word after games — or in public, with Wooden standing close by in shameful silence — are stomach-churning. Wooden later apologizes in private to his star player about these incidents, but it’s too late indeed ... Still, even if there is some hagiography in this chronicle, there is much to admire. There is a host of lovely revelations of how player and coach managed to stay in touch and connected after both left the game ... One of his unforgettable players — the tall black kid from Harlem — has bequeathed him an eloquent book about the mysteries of time and remembrance. The coach would be proud.
There is an incredibly moving passage toward the end of the book in which Abdul-Jabbar and a very frail Wooden are leaving a UCLA game, and Wooden subtly slips his hand in his friend’s for support. Abdul-Jabbar and Wooden shared a priceless friendship, and this sensitive, sharply written account brings it to full, vivid life.