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Heaven Is a Playground

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4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,029 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
Heaven Is a Playground was the first book on the uniquely American phenomenon of urban basketball. Rick Telander, a young photojournalist and former high school basketball player, spent part of the summer of 1973 and all of the summer of 1974 in Brooklyn living the playground life with his subjects at Foster Park in Flatbush. He slept on the floor of a park regular’s apart ...more
Paperback, Third edition, 256 pages
Published November 1st 2009 by Bison Books (first published 1976)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Mattmiller
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: basketball
This book is a classic for a reason. Telander masterfully unfolds how the culture of basketball functions on and around the courts of Brooklyn during the early 1970s. We meet kids who dream of getting out of the inner-city via basketball scholarships. We meet kids who have left to play in college and simply can't function and so they return. We learn about one of the biggest stars of the street ball scene (Fly Williams) and how self-destructive his impulses can be.

One of the more fascinating st
...more
Matt
Mar 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An Eye-Opening inside Look: Heaven is a Playground
5 out of 5 stars

Imagine yourself in a basketball game, or whatever sport you love; that rush of adrenaline, the excitement of competition and the amazing feeling you get when you make a good play. Although it may be hard to believe, those who play basketball in the inner-city feel the same way. Heaven is a Playground gives a never-before-seen inside look at the purity of basketball, even in one of the most beleaguered places on Earth. This book
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Jose
Apr 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Afros, tubesocks, Pro Keds, finger rolls, stuff shots, the ABA, and Kool and the Gang are all the rage among the basketball youths of the inner-city in Heaven is a Playground. Set in Brooklyn during the summer of 1974, Rick Telander spends a tumultuous off-season logging the stories of the project playgrounds. In particular, the book revolves around self-styled basketball agent Rodney Parker, troubled superstar "Fly" Williams, middle-school phenom Albert King, and the various Foster Park youths, ...more
Peter Nolan
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rick Telander, a writer for Sports Illustrated, hoped to spend a few days in New York in order to write a piece on inner-city basketball. He stayed a whole summer. He became so drawn to the people and the ideals, he kept wanting more. Observant and intrigued, his motives for staying bleed through the ink, and as a result enhance the substance and value in the book.
Telander implores a very unique style. While he remains just a fly on the wall just calling things as he hears them, his words elusi
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Emma
Aug 08, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If heaven is a playground then basketball is God: immortal, omnipotent, indifferent. Players come and go, but the playground remains, and in many ways that is the gift of this book. The victory of those high priests rewarded for their devotion with college places and accolades, and the tragedy of those who succumb to limited options, to the ghetto, to lack of skill, who never get a chance to blow, are really all parts of the same tapestry and the game doesn't stop for them or anyone. The court s ...more
Rebecca McNutt
I was rather reluctant to read this book. Let's just say that sports and I aren't exactly the best of friends, not since the forced gym classes of my junior high school days. I know nothing at all about basketball aside from the horror of them being used as potential weapons by bullying kids. But Heaven is a Playground isn't just about sports. It's about history, it's about the kids who grew up in that history, it's about Seventies nostalgia, and it's about fun.
Chris J
While reading about the upcoming Kansas vs. Austin Peay game in the first round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament I was reminded of a book I read long ago about a New York City playground legend named James "Fly" Williams who later played two seasons of college basketball at Austin Peay in the 1970s. I don't remember much about it. It was one of my brother's attempts to get me to become a reader.
Tommy meeker
Dec 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Josh Schneier
In May of 1974, Rick Telander, a sports journalist, traveled to the heart of Brooklyn, New York, for a whole summer. Rick wanted to write a book about inner city basketball and life in these conditions. Not only did he get the information he wanted for his book, but he also made many friends and relationships with the black adults and youths of the Flatbush, he even created and coached a basketball team, named the Subway Stars. One of the first people Rick met in Brooklyn was a man named Rodney ...more
Elijah
Feb 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
By Elijah Okagbare


The book that I just finished reading is called Heaven Is A Playground by Rick Telander . This is a nonfiction book, as Rick Telander gathered this information by spending four months on the dangerous streets of Harlem while doing an article on the lives of several young aspiring basketball players. One of these players in particular is very special. His name is Albert King and he’s the main character in this book.
Albert is a fifteen year old basketball phenom, with immense ta
...more
Jake Graziano
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jake Graziano
Ms. Pryle
English II H
7 March 2014
5 out of 5
From Worst to First
In May of 1974, Rick Telander, a sports journalist, traveled to the heart of Brooklyn, New York, for a whole summer. Rick wanted to write a book about inner city basketball and life in these conditions. Not only did he get the information he wanted for his book, but he also made many friends and relationships with the people of the Flatbush. He even created and coached a basketball team, named the Subway Stars. One of the
...more
Schuyler
Jan 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the summer of 1974, Telander, a writer for Sports Illustrated, spent his time in and around Foster's Park, the notorious training ground for street ballers, befriending the rotating cast of neighborhood characters.

Probably the best thing about this book is Telander's remarkable ability to evoke a sense of time and place. Flatbush, New York, concrete jungle, hot hot summer, city playgrounds, deteriorating basketball courts, drinking cold beer in the shade, radios, endless noise, endless heat.
...more
Dave
Mar 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: basketball
A bit dated ... What was ground-breaking in the mid-'70's - not so much anymore. But, it was still a fascinating read by a white guy who spent a summer sleeping on the floor of somebody's sparsely-furnished apartment in a Brooklyn ghetto, spending his days at the local park.

One of my favorite excerpts:
"Shortly after the rain lets up the awards ceremony for the age-group basketball league is held at Foster Park. A small platform has been erected, and the presentations are made over a fuzzy p.a. s
...more
Yusuf Proctor
Okay, so heaven is a playground is a book that is viewed from a photographers stand point, That photographers name is Rick Telander. This book is in the 1973 and 1974 summer. He discovered a playground kids who all are good basketball players but it was one who was a playground legend by the name of Fly Williams. Rick is a dedicated photographer he even slept on basketball courts and spent the night at courts in Brooklyn. He even eventually coaching a basketball team of playground players.

I lik
...more
Bill Talley
Jul 13, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
This is a great book about life that also happens to be about basketball. Like "The Basketball Diaries", the backdrop of this book is about real people who have some real problems. In my opinion the book shows how little it really takes to give people in some really depressed situations hope about themselves and their future. It also shows how little it takes to derail any hopes that some people have. It is obvious from this book that several of the characters have what it takes to really improv ...more
Dave
Jan 10, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who want or need to know what happens to those who don't make it
Before there was "Hoop Dreams," there was "Heaven is a Playground." Sports writer Rick Telander, who does very little wrong in my estimation, spent the summer in New York City coaching and playing hoops with a group of youngsters who starred at this particular court. It's one of the best sports books ever, I think, as well as a cautionary tale for those who are tempted to put all their eggs into one basket, so to speak. At the same time, it's life-affirming in the sense that the reader sees that ...more
Jemille Edwards
May 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jemille Edwards
05/21/2015
Heaven is a playground was a great book I recommend it to everyone because it is very inspiring and motivative. It basically talks about how Rodney a great basketball coach that helps players get scholarships and get into college that are from the streets. But he did way more than that with his team he took them to travel to play other basketball teams, which made them so better. Also they Rodney trained the whole team to be the best. Every player had different skills bu
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Adam
Aug 15, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is cool, if only to know what it's like for the guys who DON'T make it to the NBA. This book tells the story of one guy named Fly Williams who had all the talent to go to the pros, but got caught up in a bunch of shit and instead became just another dude who coulda/shoulda been.

The best part is, it was written by this guy who went down to write a 2 or 3 page piece on a Bed-Stuy court in the '70s, and ended up staying, playing, and eventually coaching some of the guys he met. Very cool
...more
Mrlunch
Nice non-fiction documentary capturing a time in New York history where the city was almost bankrupt, crime was out of control, and heroin use was growing. Telander takes us deep into the Brooklyn ghetto and introduces us to a dozen young African-American men whose only hope of getting ahead is by playing ball.
A bit of a "slow-burner," this book starts off feeling a little rambling and dated, but by its half-way point, Telander weaves together the lives, dreams, and special moments he found on
...more
Lauren
Jul 24, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lauren by: Khanh
Originally when this book was recommended I was concerned that the sports theme would cause this book to be boring, but that wasn't the case at all. Although Telander does use technical as well as slang basketball terms throughout, this book is much more about life than basketball, or more specifically how basketball can greatly influence life. The real-life characters in Telander's account of life in Brooklyn during the summer of 1974 are not at all perfect, but they are endearing and it become ...more
Tom
Dec 31, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, sports
This book leaves the reader with some melancholy. Some of the young players the author encounters go on to great success like Bernard King but also other players who have slipped into the perils of poverty and crime. The book presents some interesting adult characters too, such as a promoter who helps talk up players to prep schools and colleges. For another look at street basketball, this current article is pretty good too, covering its international presence.
Kobe Mandell
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm reading Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander. It is a really good book. It explains how people live in bad neighborhoods. This one takes place in New York, at Foster Park. Foster Park is a place where people play basketball all day long. One day they can hope that they can escape their neighborhood and make it far in basketball. This book explains the lifestyle and how hard theses people have to work to get to the top. This city is not safe and not good but basketball is one of their only ...more
Justin
Oct 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sports
Telander's account of inner-city basketball, and life, in New York in the mid 70's is a riveting account of how basketball and life can be intertwined. Being a fan of basketball, streetball, and New York City life this book should have made it to the top of my priority list sooner, but the wait was well worth it. Telander recounts a summer well spent amongst the hoopers and dreamers of inner city New York and the account is eye-opening and informative. His lessons on life, and basketball, are a ...more
Matt Moran
SI's top 100 seems to overrate their own writers.

This is a good piece of journalism documenting the basketball scene in a specific section of Brooklyn, one summer in 1971. Telander is a good writer and a he has a distinct voice as he describes the scene.

It isn't a book that made me love basketball or think "heaven is a playground." For the author, it seems like he was young, he loved the game, and he he didn't have to stay. As the reader, I was depressed about life in the ghetto and the overwhel
...more
Masaaki Shima
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very good reading. One of the best nonfictional books I have ever read and now I know why it is referred to as a classic. If you want to know what's behind that NBA final that just happened, this is the book for you. This go me thinking about a lot of things. But first and foremost, how the kids live in the back of the city got to me (I knew but to know in general is one thing but to face concrete cases is another. Ignorance is indeed bliss).
Salaar Williams
Heaven is a playground is a book that is written from a photographers point.The photographers name is Rick Telander. This book is in the 1973 and 1974 summer. He found a playground with kids who all are good basketball players but there was a playground legend by the name of Fly Williams. Rick is a dedicated photographer he even slept on basketball courts and spent the night at courts in Brooklyn New York. He eventually costarted coaching a basketball team of playground players.
David Kravetz
Sep 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
'Heaven Is A Playground' is a wonderful slice of life - taking place in the summers of 1973 and 1974. Rick Telander follows a handful of bball players from Brooklyn's Foster Park opening a door into the (at times, false) promises that bball offers them and the dangers that are around every corner. Touching, funny, heartbreaking and - in its way - inspiring; 'Heaven Is A Playground' is like a 70's 'Hoop Dreams'. A fantastic book.
Kelly
Jan 12, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i'm a sucker for most nonfiction books about the inner-city and this was no exception. one character is particularly interesting...a great one for discussion and a major reason why i read this book, as my friend wanted to talk about him with someone else. worth the read and what's more it's super short and reads very fast.
Russell
Oct 16, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nerdy jocks. Or jock-y nerds.
Normally non-fiction puts me to sleep with the quickness, but this was an interesting look at ghetto life in the 70s as well as a cool bit of background into how the NBA (and basketball in general) got from where it was to where it is now. Despite that, the best part of the book was the photo montage. I've never seen so many dudes playing sports in skin-tight jean-shorts. Sexy.
Biwi
Jul 28, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cim-bookclub
Let me preface the rating by saying, I don't read much non-fiction, and I read even less about sports. But as far as those kind of books go, this wasn't was bad. A little bit of a downer, but that's the harsh reality of life I guess. Well written, I think any guys who like sports can appreciate the descriptive athletic abilities of the players.
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106350
Happy to be an author. Happier to have readers! Let me know if you'd like me to talk about anything from my books. I think I remember most of them. (joke)
I went to Richwoods High School in Peoria, got a football scholarship to Northwestern University, and started writing for money (mere pittance) after graduation in 1971.
If you need to know more, let me know. I can go on and on. PS-- I once sco
...more
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