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Above the Rim: Peaceful Activism for a New Year

Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball
Written by Jen Bryant
Illustrated by Frank Morrison
Published by Abrams, October 6, 2020
ISBN: 978-1419741081

Book Review
The end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 heralds the opening of the NBA basketball season. As we enter the new year, we are reminded of the athlete activism that has changed the landscape of professional sports. In the summer of 2020, teams of athletes across different professional sports leagues went on strike to protest the anti-Black violence and racism perpetrated by sworn law enforcement officers. As described by Dr. Abraham Khan in The Conversation on August 28, 2020, the summer’s work stoppage in professional sports was, “the most significant moment of athlete activism in a half century not because it ‘raised awareness’ or ‘started a conversation,’ but because it exercised labor’s most elemental form of political power: the strike” (n.p.). He explains that following bigoted forms of police violence and anti-racists protests across the nation, the August 2020 shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin “forced athletes to… embrace their capacity for leverage. T-shirts and television commercials do not yield phone calls with attorneys general and lieutenant governors, but strikes do” (n.p.).

The team strikes followed the legacies of individual professional athletes who risked their careers to peacefully protest discrimination, bias, and inequality across local, regional, national, and global communities. Author Jen Bryant and illustrator Frank Morrison’s picturebook, Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball, which was recently released in October 2020, describes the way Baylor sat out a game in 1958 to stand against Jim Crow laws and the discriminatory practices of local businesses that provided lodging and/or meals to White visitors, but not Black athletes. The winner of NCTE’s 2021 Orbis Pictus Award for Excellence in Nonfiction, this visually stunning biography transports readers to the 1950s when Elgin Baylor was finishing high school, attending college, and cultivating a spontaneous air-bound style of playing that had never before appeared on the court.

At the same time, as presented through Bryant’s lyrical text and Morrison’s signature style oil paintings, Rosa Parks (1955) was arrested for not giving-up her seat and the first Black students in Arkansas (1957) sat down in an all-white classroom. Morrison depicts the latter in a black-and-white double-page spread in which Elgin Baylor’s image appears in the background. In the foreground, one of the Little Rock Nine, embracing a red textbook, walks toward her education and past the letters, HATE. Next, while Elgin was beginning his career as the number-one NBA draft pick with the Minneapolis Lakers, the following double-page spread of the picturebook features the young people of the Wichita, Kansas chapter of the NAACP who, in 1958, were preparing to sit at the lunch counter of the Dockum Drug Store until they received service. Extensive back matter, including an author’s statement, timeline, endnotes, and resources for future reading, complete this important book, making it a must-have for any classroom.

Grades K-8

Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom

A Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!

Establish A Contemporary Context. Contextualize the recent release of Above the Rim: How Elgin Baylor Changed Basketball within the contemporary movement to dismantle anti-black racism across the U.S. For ideas, see the CBS entries: Taking stock and taking action to educate ourselves and design anti-racist curriculum and Confronting Anti-Black racism with the middle grade novel What Lane? Explain how Elgin Baylor’s protest against discrimination remains ever relevant today.

Freedom of Speech & Peaceful Protests. On tour in West Virginia, Elgin Baylor refused to play a game for spectators to peacefully protest the discrimination he experienced as a Black visitor to the state. Engage students in inquiry projects about the First Amendment and about peaceful forms of protest among athletes and everyday people. Introduce students to the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment. Guide students through a visual tour of the protest images featured in the resources below. Invite students to consider issues that are significant to their neighborhood and school communities. In what ways might they engage in contemporary forms of peaceful protest to advocate for change?

Civil Rights Movement. As mentioned in the book review, Jen Bryant and Frank Morrison contextualized Elgin Baylor’s act of peaceful protest, which led the NBA to reject hotels, restaurants, and businesses that practiced discrimination, alongside significant events of the Civil Rights movement. Use the resources below to engage students in multimodal text set studies about Rosa Parks and the Bus Boycott in Montgomery, AL, the Little Rock Nine of Arkansas, and the Dockum Drug Store Sit-in of Wichita, KS., among others. In addition, see Duchess Harris’ SLJ article, “Unlearning false histories: A Rosa Parks resource list” for the anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. For more information about teaching with text sets, see the CBS entry: Teaching with Text Sets.

Monument Study. In 2018, the Lakers commissioned a statue of Elgin Baylor to welcome NBA fans to the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. Monuments and statues are located across the country in honor of Rosa Parks, the Little Rock Nine, and the Dockum Drug Store Sit-in. See the resource list for links to images. Invite students to share their ideas on the purpose of statues and monuments. How do these public art structures influence the way people think about history and about contemporary issues? Why are people urging governmental offices to take-down and/or relocate certain monuments? After, invite students to imagine that they have been commissioned to build a monument. For whom would it be? Where would they locate it? Why?

Monument Tour & Road Trip. Going further, engage students in the planning of a hypothetical road trip to visit each of the aforementioned monuments. What kind of transportation, food, and lodging resources would they need? What kind of budget and time frame would be required for such a trip? What other sites might they visit along the way? Could they include a trip to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame? Alternatively, would it be more practical to plan separate trips?

What’s in a Team Name? Elgin Baylor played for the Lakers. As described in Encyclopedia Britannica, the team originated in 1946 as the Detroit Gems. “The team moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1947, and its name was changed to the Lakers to reflect the Minnesota state nickname, ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’.” The Lakers’ name-changed was inclusive of the natural features of their new home state. Engage students in learning about the recent name changes of some sports teams (e.g., The Washington Redskins). After, invite the class to imagine that they have been commissioned to establish a set of new sports teams for their community. In small groups, the children can brainstorm how they would involve the community in determining the name of the new team. Then, welcome them to generate a list of three possible names. They should be ready to explain why each of the names is appropriate.

Team Mascots. Going further, the Lakers do not have a team mascot. However, most professional teams do. Investigate some of the controversies about the mascots for professional and college sports teams (e.g., The Cleveland Indians). Then, invite the students to identify mascots for their own sports teams and to explain why their mascot selections are relevant.

Basketball in Children’s Books. Invite students to brainstorm everything they know about the game of basketball. After brainstorming, divide your class into groups. Welcome each group to visit Epic! to read one of the many free digital books about playing the game of basketball and about the professional basketball teams and players. In addition to the books available online, also consider titles such as Salt in His Shoes, Dream Big, Little Shaq, Hoop Genius, and Swish!: The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters. For older readers, add Pick-Up Game: A Full Day of Full Court. Also see the CBS entries on Kwame Alexander’s books, Rebound and The Crossover. Encourage students to generate a list of what they learned from the book(s) they read. After, conduct a jigsaw in which the students gather together to share information. Discuss similarities and differences across these different books.

Indoor Basket & Ball Games. Lead indoor basket and ball team games on days that the weather inhibits students from playing outside. These games provide a context for understanding basketball as a team sport, which can support children’s interaction with basketball books like Above the Rim. Team games also help children to learn about collaboration and cooperative work. Consult the resources below for ideas.

STEAM Connections to Basketball. Connect students’ reading of Above the Rim with an interdisciplinary unit on basketball that includes STEAM investigations. See the resources below for teachers’ recommendations on engaging students in building basketball towers and designing basketball shoes.

Author Study. Gather a collection of author Jen Bryant’s titles and conduct an author study. What patterns do students notice across the books in the text and the visuals? What commitments and values are evident in the body of work? How does Bryant use language to convey nonfiction information? What can your students learn about word choice and content organization from Bryant’s books? Augment your study by exploring Bryant’s website and the many online interviews with Bryant. See the CBS entries about Bryant’s books, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus and A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. Also, consult the list below for resources.

Illustrator Study. Gather a collection of books illustrated by Frank Morrison (see his Instagram account @FrankMorrison). Invite students to notice patterns in his illustrative style and to read biographical information, view interviews and videos, and learn more about his life. As a mentor image, select one or more of the drawings or videos on Morrison’s Instagram account, and invite students to emulate Morrison’s drawing style using pencils and paper. Some of the images on Morrison’s Instagram account show his initial drawings next to the final oil paintings. Consult the list below for a range of resources.

Further Explorations

Book Review
Khan, A. I. (2020, August 28). Let’s call athletes ‘workers,’ and let’s call these NBA protests what they were – strikes. The Conversation. Retrieved from:

Author and Illustrator Resources
Abrams Books. (2020, October 8). Beyond the Book with Frank Morrison. Retrieved from:

Bird, E. (2020, September 29). Above the rim: An interview with Jen Bryant and Frank Morrison. A Fuse #8 Production of School Library Journal. Retrieved from.

Bryant, Jen:

Christenson, M. (2020, October 19). Sixty years on: An NBA story teaches about racial injustice. MPR News. Retrieved from:

Cunningham, K. (2013, October 14). A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin. The Classroom Bookshelf. Retrieved from:

Enriquez, G. (2014, November 3). The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. The Classroom Bookshelf. Retrieved from:

Van Auken, L. (2020, October 1.) Book Review: Above the rim: How Elgin Baylor changed basketball. School Library Journal. Retrieved from:

Establish A Contemporary Context
Cunningham, K. (2020, October 26). Confronting Anti-Black racism with the middle grade novel, What Lane? The Classroom Bookshelf. Retrieved from:

Cunningham, K. (2020, June 3). Taking stock and taking action to educate ourselves and design anti-racist curriculum. The Classroom Bookshelf. Retrieved from:

Freedom of Speech & Peaceful Protests

Elgin Baylor’s Life & Career
Baylor, E. & (2018). Hang Time: My Life in Basketball. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

National Basketball League (2018, April 06). Elgin Baylor Best Career Highlights. Retrieved from:

Free Speech & The First Amendment
First Amendment Center of the Freedom Forum Institute:

Garber, S. (2018, September 12). Freedom of speech? A lesson on understanding the protections and limits of the First Amendment. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

History and Civics Resources at the Bill of Rights Institute:

National Endowment for the Humanities. (n.d.). The First Amendment: What’s fair in a free country? Retrieved from:

National First Ladies’ Library. (n.d.) First lady lesson plan: Should students have free speech? Retrieved from:

The Free Speech Center. (n.d.). Resources for Teaching in the Classroom. Middle Tennessee State University. Retrieved from:

Peaceful Protests in Sports & Elsewhere
5 peaceful protests that led to social and political changes. (2016, July 8). Global Citizen.

13 peaceful protests and whether they worked. (2011, October 20). Mental Floss.

40 methods of non-violent protest. (2019, September 18). The Earthbound Report.

198 methods of nonviolent action. (n.d.). Albert Einstein Institution – Advancing Freedom Through Nonviolent Action.

Most Americans support athletes speaking out, say anthem protests are appropriate, Post poll finds. (2020, September 10). The Washington Post.

N.F.L. Kicks off season with nods to unrest and focus on anthem. (2020, September 13). The New York Times.

Ten protests in sports history. (n.d.). Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective.

Wulf, S. (2019, January 31). Athletes and activism: The long, defiant history of sports protests. The Undefeated.

Civil Rights Events highlighted in Above the Rim

Cappiello, M. (2012, October 01). Teaching with text sets. The Classroom Bookshelf.

Dockum Drug Store Sit-in of Wichita, KS
Eckels, C. (2018, August 10). ‘Hope for the future’: The Dockum sit-in, sixty years on. KMUW, Wichita Public Radio.

Kansas Historical Society. (2020). Dockum drug store sit-in. Retrieved from:

Visit Wichita. (2020, January 21). Dockum drugstore sit-in: Why it matters to Wichita’s rich cultural history. Retrieved from:

Little Rock Nine of Arkansas
Beals, M. (2018) March Forward, Girl: From Young Warrior to Little Rock Nine. Illustrated by F. Morrison. New York, NY: HMH Books for Young Readers.

C-SPAN Classroom. (n.d.) Little Rock Nine. Retrieved from:

Facing History and Ourselves: Choices in Little Rock.(n.d.).

Lost year. (2019, December 17). Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved from:

The Little Rock Nine and the children’s movement. (2017, July 24). Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from:

The Little Rock Nine. (n.d.). Junior Scholastic Magazine. Retrieved from:

U.S. National Park Service. (n.d.). Little Rock central high school national historic site. Retrieved from:

Rosa Parks and the Bus Boycott in Montgomery, AL
Harris, D. (2020, November 30). Unlearning false histories: A Rosa Parks resource list for the anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott. School Library Journal. Retrieved from:

Rosa Parks Museum (n.d.). Virtual Tour. Retrieved from:

Monument Study & Virtual Tour

Making and Teaching About Monuments
Making monuments. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Morris, P. (2020, June 29). As monuments fall, how does the world reckon with a racist past? National Geographic. Retrieved from:

Teaching with Monuments. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Teaching Tolerance. (2017, July 20). Set in stone. Retrieved from:

Statue of Elgin Baylor & Basketball Hall of Famers
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame:

Reid, J. (2018, April 7). Elgin Baylor holds back tears during statue ceremony. The Undefeated.

Vejar, A. (2018, April 7). Lakers unveil statue of Elgin Baylor outside staples center. Retrieved from:

Monument to Dockum Drug Store Sit-in
Visit Wichita. Dockum sit-in of 1958. (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Monument to the Little Rock Nine
US Civil Rights Trail. (n.d.). Little Rock Nine memorial at the state capitol. Retrieved from:

Monuments to Rosa Parks
Associated Press. (2019, December 3). Alabama unveils statue of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Sports Team Names and Mascots

Benson, K. & Draper, K. (2020, September 10). Washington N.F.L. team to drop name. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.) Los Angeles Lakers. Retrieved from:

Waldstein, D. & Schmidt, M. (2020, December 13). Cleveland’s baseball team will drop its Indian team name. The New York Times. Retrieved from:,with%20the%20decision%20said%20Sunday

Basketball in Children’s Books

Aronson, M. (2011). Pick-Up Game: A Full Day of Full Court. New York, NY: Candlewick Press.

Coy, J. (2013). Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball. Minneapolis, MN: Carolrhoda Books

Cunningham, K. (2015, February 23). 2015 Newbery Medal Winner: The Crossover. The Classroom Bookshelf. Retrieved from:

Cunningham, K. (2018, April 30). Rebound. The Classroom Bookshelf. Retrieved from:

EPIC! Digital Reading Platform:

Jordan, D. (2012). Dream Big: Michael Jordan and the Pursuit of Olympic Gold. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Jordan, D. & Jordan. R. (2000). Salt In His Shoes: Michael Jordan in Pursuit of a Dream. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

O’Neal, S. (2015). Little Shaq. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Slade, S. (2020). Swish!: The Slam-Dunking, Alley-Ooping, High-Flying Harlem Globetrotters. New York, NY: Little Brown.

Indoor Basket & Ball Games
6 Fun Indoor Ball Games and Activities (n.d.). Retrieved from:

Plymouth Rock Teachers Lounge. (2020, February 24). March Madness games and activities for your classroom. Retrieved from:

STEAM Connections to Basketball
American Society for Engineering Education. (2017). Full Court STEM. Retrieved from:–March-Madness-STEM–student-contests—more-.html?soid=1102261797598&aid=GojurQAcIC8

Candler, L. (n.d.). Will building a tower with newspaper REALLY benefit my students? Retrieved from:

More Than a Worksheet (2016). Basketball Tower STEM Challenge. Retrieved from: