Black Planet: Facing Race
During An NBA Season

Crown Publishers, 1999


Author’s Note

During the 1994-1995 NBA season, I attended nearly all of the Seattle SuperSonics’ home games; watched on TV nearly all their away games; listened to countless pre- and post-game interviews and call-in shows on the radio; talked to or tried to talk to players, coaches, agents, journalists, fans, my wife; corresponded with members of the Sonics newsgroup on the Internet; read articles and articles and articles. Although I’m a passionate basketball fan and Sonics fan, when I was writing the book I wasn’t interested in the game per se—who won, who lost, the minutiae of strategy. I was interested in how the game gets talked about. By the end of the season I’d accumulated hundreds of pages of often utterly illegible notes, the roughest of rough drafts. Over the last three years I transformed those notes into this book—a daily diary which runs the length of one team’s long-forgotten season and which is now focused, to the point of obsession, on how white people (including especially myself) think about and talk about black heroes, black scapegoats, black bodies.

What John Edgar Wideman calls “our country’s love/hate affair with the black body” can be seen nowhere more clearly than in the National Basketball Association, which is a photo negative of American race relations: strong young black men have some of the power, much of the money, and all of the fun. The NBA is a place where, without ever acknowledging it — and because it’s never acknowledged, it’s that much more potent and telling — white fans and black players enact and quietly explode virtually every racial issue and tension in the culture at large. Race, the league’s taboo topic, is the league’s true subject.



  • Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award
  • Finalist, PEN USA Award
  • named of the ten best nonfiction books of the year by Esquire, Newsday, LA Weekly, and



“A risky and brilliant book. . . . It compares favorably to Frederick Exley’s classic A Fan’s Notes…Shields [is] willing to write himself naked about the hungers and envies that move across the grandstand like the wave.”
Robert Lipsyte, The New York Times

“Brilliant. In Black Planet, Shields uses his gift for meditated observation to astounding effect. He has produced one of the best books ever written on the subject of sport in America, which is to say a book that is about a great deal more than sport.”
A.O. Scott, Newsday

“Filled with intelligent juxtapositions, bold observations and graceful writing, Shields’s narrative is highly personal and studded with humor (which almost always comes at his own expense).”
Publishers Weekly

“A provocative and thought-provoking treatment of a central issue in American society.”
Dennis Dodge, Booklist

Black Planet captures the uneasy tension of the modem sports fan, with an honesty and intelligence as unexpected as it is profound.”
David L. Ulin, Newsday

“One of Shields’s gifts as a writer is this ability to delve into such buried, squirmy things and make it seem unrehearsed. It may sound odd to say this, but I think only a writer could have written this book…[A] brave book.”
Sallie Tisdale, Salon

Black Planet accomplishes a rare feat by tackling race head on, gamely examining what Shields calls ‘white people’s reverence for, resentment toward, and colonization of black people’s bodies.”
Steven Hill, Chicago Tribune

Black Planet is a brief but complex book…[a] book that deserves respect only because it refuses to stop picking at the scabs over America’s racial wounds.”
Ben Greenman, Time Out New York

“One of Our Favorite Reads of 1999. Black Planet blends a deceptive informality with a relentless tendency toward self-reflection. . . . [Shields] picks apart nearly every illusion we have about race and athletics in America.”
Los Angeles Weekly