The book, published in 1975, tells the story of urban, playground basketball in New Your City, and introduces a group of playground legends – some of whom were playing college and professional basketball, some of whom would never escape their urban circumstances. Written by Rick Telander, then a young sportswriter who spent a summer in Brooklyn researching the book and learning about the importance of basketball to urban youth, “Heaven Is A Playground” has been recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the great sports books of all time.
Telander is the senior sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, a former Senior Writer at Sports Illustrated, and multiple winner of the Illinois Sportswriter of the Year Award. He has also written eight books. He is also widely known for his television appearances and his perceptive writing about sports.
Through a series of events, Telander learned that his book was part of the Wabash College tutorial. Telander offered to drive down from Chicago to meet with the class. Wednesday evening, he met with the group, explaining how he wrote “Heaven Is a Playground.” He shared old photos and his original notebooks from his summer in Brooklyn. Answering questions from the class, Rick gave the eager freshmen a first-person account of what it is like to be a writer, what it was like for a 24 year old to walk into street basketball and learn about the players and their culture, and how he has maintained those friendships over the years. He also shared his ideas about how to enjoy life and strive for success.
The final moment of the evening came when Rick noticed one of the students wearing a Beta Theta Pi pledge pin. Telander, a member of Beta Theta Pi at Northwestern University, began discussing the Beta house at Wabash. When last seen, he and the three Beta pledges were off to Beta Theta Pi before Telander drove back to Chicago.