By Chet Walker with Chris Messenger
Another excellent autobiography! I didn't know what to
expect when I started this book, but after I started, I found it very hard to put
down! Walker grew up in the deep south and moved to Detroit with his mother and
siblings at a young age, escaping an abusing father. There he still faced racism, but of a
different flavor. He doesn't have a bitter "white men are evil" attitude
in his voice. He tells it in a rather matter-of-fact voice. He tells of
growing up, going to Bradley (where they loved his talent, but off the court reminded him
that he was allowed the same privileges as white students) and becoming an All-American
and playing professional basketball with the Syracuse Nationals, the Philadelphia 76ers,
and the Chicago Bulls.
When he was in college in the NIT finals (back when the NIT was a very prestigious tournament), a disguised bellhop brought him food and Walker got food poisoning (probably from a mobster who had money on the game). The coach coerced Walker into playing and Walker played while dehydrated. This gave him permanent kidney problems. He does sound bitter about this, and this seems to be a major defining point in his life. The Bulls tried to play hardball with him at the end of his career. The reserve clause was still in effect (saying a player could not be a free agent). The Bulls tried to stiff him on his contract, so he left, going to a Caribbean island for awhile. The Bulls sucked without him (the season before they made the conference finals). He returned to find they desperately wanted to talk with him. The idiot owner tried continued playing hardball and informed Walker he could not sign with another team -- but he really screwed up in how he said it: he said he had talked to the league's legal rep, David Stern (the sleaze ball is also mentioned in Foul -- the Connie Hawkins Story) and his message from Stern was that "we [Bulls] own you." Ooops. Bad move. The owner left the room with the "final" contract offer on the table for Walker to think about. Walker thought of all the racial crap he put up with his life and how he was mistreated in college, and after you read this, you are not surpassed when he walks away and never returns. He leaves the league with his dignity intact. He didn't retire because he lacked the talent. He left the game because his conscience told him he was through with people trying to control him. He is a very admirable man.
He also tells of his life after basketball and he is very proud of receiving an Emmy for producing a movie about Isiah Thomas' mother. The entire book is about a growing experience, and in the end it has a nice sense of completion, as you sense that he has found the peace he searched for all his life.
Long Time coming: A Black Athlete's Coming-of-Age in America. Chet Walker with Chris Messenger. Grove Press. 1995.