Neither Chris nor TJO received any compensation for this review.
As a Syracuse alum, I am very familiar with the jerseys that hang in the rafters of the iconic Dome in Central New York. Legendary names of former football and basketball greats circle the interior of the stadium.
Most will instantly recognize the number 44 worn by Jim Brown, Ernie Davis and Floyd Little. Billy Owens, Pearl Washington, Derrick Coleman and, of course, Carmelo Anthony all have their jerseys in the rafters. I actually witnessed Roosevelt Bouie’s number 50 shirt unveiled as a student just a few years ago. I had heard the stories of so many of these great athletes and appreciated their place in Orange history.
However, I was missing a very significant piece of the puzzle. That missing puzzle piece would be Dave Bing. I had often heard him referred to as coach Jim Boeheim’s former roommate and a great player, but those accounts drastically undersold the impact he had on the game of basketball and the city of Detroit.
I approached reading Bing’s new autobiography, Dave Bing: Attacking the Rim My Journey from NBA Legend to Business Leader to Big-City Mayor to Mentor, as nothing more than a novice in his life story. By the end of the first chapter, I felt I had a pretty clear understanding of his personality and his outlook on life.
He was easygoing, yet competitive. His drive for success clearly extended beyond the game of basketball. In writing this book, he somehow checked his ego at the door, but still managed to brag about all the elbows he rubbed and buckets he scored.
While certainly not a page-turner, the book is incredibly conversational and an easy read throughout. Bing manages to write as if he is sitting in your living room recounting the story.
There are so many fun tidbits to unpack early on, from learning that Bing reached the Basketball Hall of Fame despite lacking peripheral vision in one eye since the age of five, to him attending pickup games featuring Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor at his own junior high school.
Readers looking to relive Bing’s Syracuse days will be disappointed. The former All-American devotes just one chapter to his time at SU. There are some memorable moments from his time spent as Boeheim’s roommate and a sobering evaluation of the school’s diversity at the time. What makes it sobering is how little some of the diversity issues facing the school have changed since Bing’s time on campus in the 1960s.
While Bing does not explicitly focus on racism, he does discuss race quite a bit. He talks about attending an all-Black high school and how that impacted his experience at a predominantly white college. Bing also devotes a lot of time to describing the racial makeup of the business world he found so much success in after basketball. He offers a perceptive look at the automotive industry’s approach to diversity and working with “minority companies.”
The first half of the book details much Bing’s career arc as a basketball player before shifting heavily into his career as a businessman and, eventually, a politician. The title of the book really fits his approach to everything he did in life. I was blown away by how many business ventures he was involved in.
One of my biggest criticism’s of the book is the disjointed story telling. For example, Bing opens the book focused on his arrival in Detroit. He introduces many crucial characters in his life. However, he then turns to childhood, eventually returning to his time in Detroit some 60 pages later. There is no real reintroduction to many of those characters. Readers are forced to flip back to the early pages for a quick refresher.
There are also several points where the passage of time is truly unclear in Bing’s recounting. Many of his early chapters are linear, building off one another. However, it is a much more difficult task when dealing with events outside of a school-year or NBA-season time frame.
It is a challenge I do not think Bing met well, often times forcing me to scan for a date to reaffirm what time period he was discussing. The book drags a bit in some of the later sections as a result. The monetary figures, dates and polling numbers make those spots a bit more tedious.
Overall, Bing pulls back the curtain on his life to showcase his multifaceted persona. After all, he was a titan of industry, an all-time great basketball player and a dedicated civil servant. He covers sports, family life, race politics, business, urban development and so much more. There is a little bit of something for everybody. By the time you finish reading the book, Bing might not feel like your best friend, but at least like a long-time acquaintances.