“The Red-Headed League” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
On his first road trip for the Milwaukee Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar brought a Sherlock Holmes compilation he had recently been gifted. He was hooked, and began devouring all the crime fiction and spy thrillers he could: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Martin Cruz Smith, John Le Carre, and Robert B. Parker, to name a few. “The Red-Headed League,” the second of 12 short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892), is his favorite Doyle tale. “It has all the elements you’d expect from a Sherlock Holmes story—you’re presented with a number of things that would help you solve the question, but you can’t or you don’t. When you get to the end and Sherlock explains everything, you say, ‘Aw, I should have noticed that!’ All the facts are there. It’s hard to piece things together without the background and the inquisitive mind Holmes has.”
Abdul-Jabbar says Holmes’ powers of observation have even inspired him to win NBA games: “I overheard the ball boys gossip that a player on the opposite team would sneak a smoke at halftime,” he says. “After the break, I ran him and ran him until he lost his breath and his stamina. We won.”
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré
Le Carré was a spy in the British Security Service during the ‘50s and ‘60s until Kim Philby, a Soviet double agent within the organization, betrayed him and his colleagues. After his tenure in British intelligence, he started writing spy novels full-time. Abdul-Jabbar began reading le Carré’s work in high school and returned to it years later. He enjoyed the author’s inside take on the Cold War, particularly in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974), in which the traitorous spy closely resembles Philby. “It’s all very fascinating, the background and the authenticity that Mr. le Carré brings to the things that he writes,” Abdul-Jabbar says.