Second Wind Critical Context - Essay

Taylor Branch, Bill Russell

Critical Context

Sports novels and biographies have always been popular with young adults, primarily because of their subject matter. Russell is only one of many professional basketball players who have produced autobiographies that have been shaped by a second writer. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Peter Knobler’s Giant Steps (1983) and Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Richard Levin’s Magic (1983) are good examples. In many respects, Second Wind helped to set the tone for some of the biographies that followed, particularly with its emphasis on the ideas and feelings of, rather than the facts about, the writer.

While celebrity biographies are sometimes popular merely because of their subjects, Second Wind makes interesting reading because it goes beyond the basketball court and explores one celebrity’s experiences with prejudice at a time of social upheaval in the United States. This emphasis may, in part, reflect the interests of Russell’s coauthor, Branch, who went on to write the Pulitzer Prize-winning social history Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 195463 (1988).

Second Wind is also outstanding for its vivid portraits of interesting people, from the famous to the less well known. Russell is a realist, shooting down the myth of love at first sight and the idea that people are born athletes. In the end, it is Russell’s voice and ideas that make this book more than a superficial sports biography.