The Original Bucky Lew: Basketball’s First Black Professional by Chris Boucher

The Original Bucky Lew: Basketball’s First Black Professional by Chris Boucher
Publisher: Wings ePress
Genre: Young Adult (14 – 18 y.o.), Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Bucky Lew burst through pro basketball’s color barrier to become the first Black player in an otherwise white league. And playing was just a start. He wanted to dominate in every single role in the game—from player to coach to general manager to owner.

His dream looked to be deferred when Harry Hough, the league’s best player, refused to play against him in a regular season matchup that the press billed as a preview of the championship. Not only were their teams the best, Hough was the league’s top scorer and Bucky its best defender.

All eyes were on the pair. What would Bucky do? Should he just go away or could he rally his teammates around him?

What about the fans—the thousands in the arena and those around the league following the rivalry in the papers? Or the league as a whole? Would they support him or move on without him?

The stakes were high—it was a fight for the future of the season, the future of the game, and maybe even the future of sports.

Hard work can make all sorts of things possible.

Being a trailblazer isn’t easy. I hadn’t realized how suspicious many people were of playing basketball as a career a century ago, and that was only one of the many obstacles the main character faced in his lifetime. His patience and perseverance only made me like him even more. Bucky experienced a lot of hard times, but he also paved the way for countless black athletes behind him.

While I admired the author’s desire to stick as closely as possible to historical facts about the protagonist’s life, it would have been helpful to have more character development in this novel. I learned a lot about Bucky’s accomplishments but not much about what it might be like to sit down and talk to him other than the fact that he was clearly quite intelligent. Was he also as quietly confident as I thought he might be based on some other context clues? Knowing more about what sort of personality he had and how fame affected him would have gone a long way to bumping up my rating for this book.

Some of the most memorable scenes were the ones that talked about how both the players and fans reacted to this brand new sport. For example, games could become a little violent or cause injuries in part because there wasn’t a clear understanding of what was and wasn’t acceptable on the court or off it. Other passages talked about how white people reacted to a racially integrated sport were also well worth checking out. There were a lot of nuances to these reactions depending on who the narrator was talking about and how far into Bucky’s career things had progressed, and some of them pleasantly surprised me.

The pacing was slow for my tastes, especially in the first third or so of this novel. Being the first Black professional basketball player is a huge deal, and I was hoping for more descriptions of how Bucky felt about it and how his life changed as people began to take notice of him. These things were addressed later on, but I struggled a bit to remain interested because of how slowly certain conflicts developed and how much time was spent describing other things instead.

Friendship was another theme of this book that I connected with. The number of people who played basketball well enough to do so professionally back then was small, so the same folks were often mentioned over and over again throughout the years. I enjoyed the stories about the friendships that were forged through the early days of this sport and how much kindness they showed to each other when someone was injured or otherwise in need of help.

The Original Bucky Lew: Basketball’s First Black Professional was a thought-provoking read.

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