Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Books: "The Education Of Kendrick Perkins" By An Anchor Of The Last Celtics' Championship


The Education of Kendrick Perkins

By Kendrick Perkins, with Seth Rogoff

St. Martin's Press; hardcover, 304 pages; $29.99; available today, Tuesday, February 21st

Kendrick Perkins was one of the most dominant centers in the NBA, most known for anchoring the paint for the 2008 Boston Celtics, the hallowed franchise's 17th championship, and first since 1986.

The Beaumont, Texas, native who is currently an NBA commentator on ESPN and who's known as "Perk," was part of a starting five that included Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo. After they won it all in '08 over the Los Angeles Lakers, and appeared to be on the verge of winning another title over their rivals two years later until Perkins suffered an injury in the sixth game of the 2010 Finals, and L.A. wound up winning in seven games.

The Celtics then traded him the following season to the Oklahoma City Thunder, denying that five a chance at redemption. Perkins, of course, delivered just what OKC wanted, as he provided the muscle needed in a lineup that included Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and would make it to the NBA Finals in 2012.

Perkins played 14 years in the NBA, and established a reputation as a fierce defender and an enforcer, a quiet presence on teams that enjoyed plenty of success.

In his new memoir, The Education of Kendrick Perkins, he writes about his life beyond basketball and the reality of growing up Black in America.

After he was abandoned by his father, and then his mother was tragically murdered, Perkins was raised by his grandparents in Beaumont, Texas. He left home at the age of 18 and was drafted into the NBA out of high school by the Celtics in 2003.

Boston, a city that did not have the best reputation at the time, was quite an adjustment, as was getting used to playing in an NBA that included superstars like Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, and he was part of a draft class that included LeBron James.

Perkins reveals that his education went beyond just getting used to life on the road as a professional athlete. He grew a consciousness about larger issues that impacted him, his fellow players, and Black Americans, starting with the history of slavery and how that trauma affects generations of Black life. He also learned how many NBA players grew up in broken families and in difficult circumstances; the truths told by writers James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and others; the false myths about the Black family and fatherhood, and why George Floyd's murder forced a reckoning about race in the United States. It all is part of Perkins showing how we can "carry the hell on."

In this excerpt, Perkins writes about leaving home and joining the Celtics: "What was I leaving behind in Beaumont? The short answer is all I had and all I was - everything I'd ever known. The long answer is too long to write here, but here's some of it. I was leaving behind the ghost of my mama, Ercell Minix, who was murdered when I was five years old. I carried her memory out of Beaumont's Pear Orchard neighborhood with me, embodied in the small rose tattoo on my shoulder. I was leaving behind the shadow of my father, Kenneth Perkins. It was the shadow of a man I hardly knew. I'd heard plenty about him. He had been a star player at the local Lamar University and had moved overseas to play when I was about three, leaving me and the rest of the family behind. Gone. Didn't look back - a man from the Tribe of Lot.

I was leaving behing in Beaumont my dominance. It was a combination of size and skill that enabled me to plow through Texas high school basketball, reigning supreme. My Ozen High School team had been to three straight Texas state championship games. I'd averaged around 28 points per game at Ozen, over 16 rebounds, and nearly 8 blocks, numbers that surpassed those of Shaquille O'Neal. Our Ozen team had won over one hundred games in those years against a mere three losses, one at the hands of future NBA star Chris Bosh's Lincoln High in the 2002 Texas state championship game, another in my final high school game against Fort Worth Dunbar.

That was high school.

I knew enough about the NBA to know what lay ahead of me. I would be trading my three years of utter domination for a steep climb toward relevance. It would be a battle for survival. In March, some months before the draft, I'd played for the West in the McDonald's All-American Game. On our roster we had guys like Shannon Brown, Aaron Brooks, Kris Humphries, and Leon Powe, all future NBA players. And the East - they had a player named LeBron James and a point guard heading to Wake Forest University named Chris Paul...

Just being good didn't matter. It was no guarantee, even among the elite, the guys headed to Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, or Michigan State. They had given everything they had to the game; they'd lived and breathed basketball for their first eighteen years. They'd sacrificed more than you can imagine in pursuit of the NBA dream. And they'd made it to the court to play with or against a young LeBron James in Cleveland's Gund Arena in front of eighteen thousand fans.

Little did they know, it was not the beginning for them, but the beginning of the end.

That could have been me, too, at the end of my high school career. I couldn't let that happen.

I drove east. Though our destination was Boston, and I'd been to Boston a few times by this point, I didn't have much of an idea about specifically where I was going. I was going. That was enough. When a person is eighteen years old and leaving home for the first time, it doesn't really matter where. What seems to matter is the movement, the path ahead to the next bend in the road. What matters is the speed...

My youth was encompassed by the Jordan era, when the Boston Celtics were at best a footnote to the season, at worst an utter irrelevancy. Boston would finish behind Ewing's Knicks, Iverson's 76ers, the emerging Nets. I grew up as a Rockets fan and was especially a fan of one of the greatest centers to ever play the game, Hakeem Olajuwon. Hakeem 'The Dream' had all of the pieces - speed, power, footwork, touch, and finesse. During the two seasons when Jordan went to play baseball, The Dream was unstoppable, leading Houston to back-to-back championships. I relished Olajuwon's performance in the 1995 NBA championship series against the young Shaq. It was a legendary display of dominance, as The Dream owned Shaq, not through force or raw power, but through the polish of his game, his fine-tuned skill. It was like watching a musical virtuoso at work...

To become a Celtic is to enter into one of the most storied of all basketball traditions. For me, as a big man, I thought immediately about the legacy of Bill Russell. Russell created the model for the modern big man, especially a big man like me who didn't have the silky touch of Kareem Abdul-Jabaar or the footwork of Olajuwon. Russell combined scoring his share of points with stout rebounding and tenacious defense. He was the heart and soul of the Celtics from the mid-1950s until around 1970, for a few of those years serving as both player and head coach. He was the first Black head coach in NBA history. He was a true leader. The fact is that Bill Russell won more NBA championships, by far, than any other player in any era. Russell's eleven rings will probably never be matched. And his game face, that mean Russell look, was my model for a center - the enforcing big man, a look that told anyone in the world, no matter who it was, 'Don't mess with me.'

The vets on the 2003 Celtics team welcomed me with open arms, and I can say with all sincerity that their guidance allowed me to build the foundation of a fourteen-year NBA career. Tony Delk, Walter McCarty, Tony Battie, Eric Williams, Paul Pierce - these were the guys who taught me how to be a professional basketball player, how to act responsibly, how to be accountable to my own high standards and to to team. Be in the gym first, leave last, work hard, avoid getting enticed by the inevitable allures of NBA life, the clubbing, fashion, cars, money - a lifestyle that pulls a man away from who he is at his core, creates distraction, shortens or ends careers, even ruins or ends lives. Because of the guys on my first Celtics team, because of the upbringing I'd had from my grandparents and others in Beaumont, I was prepared to hear the advice and to act on it.

Later, when I got closer with Danny Ainge, he told me that he always went into the NBA draft looking for guys with heart. Ainge built a championship team with that mentality: Garnett - you can't find a guy with more heart than KG - Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, James Posey, Eddie House, Leon Powe, and all the others, myself included. We were brothers on and off the court, a family of warriors with a common goal: to win it all. When Doc Rivers came on as coach in 2004, everything started coming together for me, and these core principles were etched in stone."

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