Johnny Smith is an assistant professor of history at Georgia Tech, where he has won numerous teaching awards. His research investigates the history of American sports, and he is especially interested in sports icons who have left imprints on American culture. His first book, The Sons of Westwood: John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty that Changed College Basketball (2013), explores the emergence of college basketball as a national pastime and the political conflicts in college athletics during the 1960s and 1970s. Most recently, he is a coauthor, with Randy Roberts, of Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X (2016)—named one of Amazon's best history books of the year—and A Season in the Sun: The Rise of Mickey Mantle (2018).
For more than a decade, the UCLA dynasty defined college basketball. In twelve seasons from 1964 to 1975, John Wooden's teams won ten national titles, including seven consecutive championships. The Bruins made history by breaking numerous records, but they also rose to prominence during a turbulent age of political unrest and youthful liberation. At the height of his career, Wooden coached a new generation of athletes who spoke out against racism, poverty, and the Vietnam War. Challenging the political boundaries of of the sport, the most prominent players of the era, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, and Bill Walton, shaped the revolt of the college athlete. While college youth rebelled against authority, Wooden emerged as a cultural icon, a symbol of moral leadership during America's moral crisis. This is the story of America's culture wars played out on the basketball court by some of college basketball's most famous players and its most memorable coach.