Seth Rogoff, a writer and teacher at the University of Southern Maine and the Maine College of Art & Design, teams up with NBA and media star Kendrick Perkins in “The Education of Kendrick Perkins,” an entertaining if scorching memoir.

Perkins, who had a 14-year career in the NBA, including a championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, begins at the beginning: with his challenging childhood in Beaumont, Texas. Perkins’ father abandoned the family to play basketball in New Zealand when the boy was 2; Perkins did not see his dad again until he was a young man in his early 20s – the meeting went badly. Three years after his father left, Perkins’ mother was shot and killed.

“There are no words to describe the devastation of losing my mama,” writes Perkins, or “Perk,” as he is affectionately known. “It’s not something to get over – it’s a loss I carry with me to this day.”

He was raised by his grandparents in a “ramshackle” but spotlessly clean house that his grandfather had built. His grandparents raised their own 12 children in the same house, “six to a room, two to a bed.” The family attended the local Catholic church, where his grandfather worked as the caretaker and janitor, “earning around five hundred dollars a week at his peak,” according to Perkins.

Perkins credits his grandfather with instilling in him the value of hard work. “He had a moral core as hard as steel. It would be his values, more than anything else, that shaped my life.” His grandfather encouraged the boy’s athletic gifts, which were evident by the time he reached junior high. By high school, Perkins was playing in clubs and tournaments with Lebron James and other basketball stars.

On his website, Rogoff writes he and Perkins hope “The Education of Kendrick Perkins” “challenges and changes the genre of the sports memoir.” Indeed, this memoir goes beyond personal history to illuminate the racist history of our nation.


Perkins begins Chapter 1, “The Pear Orchard,” a reference to the Pear Orchard section of Beaumont where he grew up, with the history of the Great Migration, when, after World War II, “tens of thousands of Black families, millions of people, were on the move.” Their numbers included Perkins’ own family, who migrated from the Deep South and landed in Pear Orchard, a Black neighborhood of Beaumont near the first major gusher of the Texas oil boom.

In Texas, Perkins family was able to find work that was a step up from sharecropping. But residents of Pear Orchard could not work on the rig itself, only on its periphery. Beaumont’s oil boom, Perkins writes, brought good jobs for white people but left the city’s Blacks with few opportunities. He details the harsh realities of life under Jim Crow and tells the story of the riot in Beaumont in 1943 when whites rampaged through the city after a white woman alleged she’d been raped by a Black man.

Perkins, now a well-known ESPN commentator, also loads his memoir with plenty for basketball fans to relish. He describes how he managed to wrest a spot on the Celtics against tough competition, with others, and more importantly, with himself; when he showed up in Boston he was overweight, due in part to a foot injury and also his inability to control his eating. His Celtic trainers helped him shape up, and from that time on, he was able to control his diet.

His description of how hard both players and coaches work on and off the court – studying films of games, dissecting strategies and counter-strategies for specific players – is fascinating. Perkins maintains that even more important is the chemistry between the players, and he argues that statistics can’t measure that. Coaches and owners, he says, make mistakes when they forget about this unquantifiable quality.

He blames such a mistake for a pivotal moment in his own career: The Celtics traded him to the Oklahoma City Thunder and subsequently lost to the Miami Heat in the playoffs two years in a row. “A team wasn’t going to beat the Heat by being more like them,” he writes. “The Heat could be beaten only by a team playing its own game.”

Perkins also brilliantly re-creates the years he played, the big games and series, and the personalities of the players, coaches and owners he shared the court with: especially Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Rajon Rondo, Doc Rivers, and Danny Ainge of the Celtics, and later, in Cleveland, Lebron James, whom, he writes, he could never beat to the gym for a workout before practice.


Perkins does not spare himself in his memoir; he acknowledges his struggles with anger and depression. But he writes that he was always open to learning and aware that he couldn’t achieve success alone. He counts among his teachers his grandfather; fellow players and coaches; writers such as Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, and W.E.B. Du Bois; his wife, Vanity, and the couple’s four children.

“It is impossible to deny that we are living through very troubled times regarding issues of race, equality and social justice,” Perkins writes. “To me, it feels worse now than ever before in my lifetime. … Belief, following Martin Luther King Jr., that ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’ has been deeply shaken, if not entirely swept away.”

A page later, however, he sounds more hopeful: “It is up to us to find our way together, to hold firm against hate, injustice, and inequality.”

His memoir, entwining the personal and political, helps mightily with that mission.

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