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  • Billy “the Hill” and the Jump Hook: The Autobiography of a Forgotten Basketball Legend by Mcgill, Billy and Eric Brach
  • Robert A. Bennett III
Mcgill, Billy and Eric Brach. Billy “the Hill” and the Jump Hook: The Autobiography of a Forgotten Basketball Legend. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2013. Pp. xi+293. Illustrations. $29.95 cb.

Bill McGill grew up in Los Angeles, California, during the 1940s and 1950s and matriculated as one of the best high school basketball players in the United States. His famous “jump hook” provided him with great opportunities, primarily in the realm of athletics. McGill went on to a successful college career at the University of Utah setting a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) career scoring record for a center. He played professionally in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the American Basketball [End Page 520] Association (ABA) over the span of five seasons in the 1960s. Unfortunately for him, his professional career was hampered by a lingering injury to his left knee he suffered in high school. McGill’s autobiography explores the trials and triumphs he had to face as he struggled to survive without basketball.

Billy “the Hill” and the Jump Hook examines more than the jump hook shot that Bill McGill made famous. It chronicles the life of the Los Angeles native and reveals a common narrative amongst many professional athletes: great success in athletic competition but a life of hardship when making the transition from celebrated athlete to a life of obscurity. His athletic feats began when he was 6’5” as a preteen in junior high school honing his athletic ability. While a youth, he despised school and this disdain continued while he was in high school where McGill had trouble earning high grades. Yet, he had success on the basketball court earning All-American honors his senior year. During the 1960s many institutions of higher education had racial restrictions on their student body. In McGill’s case, these limitations coupled with poor grades, led him to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah where he entered as the first black basketball player in the school’s history.

While at the school, McGill was celebrated for his success on the court and the notoriety he brought the university, but he was not accepted socially. This was illustrated when some Salt Lake City residents became embittered with McGill’s relationship with a white woman. The school’s president summoned him to his office to inform him that he needed to stop dating the young co-ed. Despite the efforts by the school’s administration to control his dating life, McGill led the school to conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances as basketball allowed him to forget about the racism prevalent in the city. Overall, McGill left the school as the highest scoring center at that time in the history of college basketball, a three-time All-American, had his number retired, but no college degree.

McGill also explores the inequities in the NBA during the 1960s, particularly the financial pay black players received in comparison to white players. Drafted as the first pick overall by the Chicago Zephyrs in the 1962 NBA draft, he agreed to a contract that paid him $17,000 per year. The team’s second round pick was Terry Dischinger, a white male, who signed a $40,000 a year contract with the team. McGill played out his contract in Chicago and played the next three years with the New York Knicks, St. Louis Hawks, and Los Angeles Lakers. Politics and constant injuries ushered him out of the league and led him to play in the ABA for a few seasons. Bad investments and a lackadaisical attitude towards financial savings left him bankrupt shortly after his playing career. He was homeless, often cleaning himself in a laundromat. For McGill, he recognized “scoring titles, ABA shooting titles—somehow a history of dedication and effort in athletics doesn’t make an impression on the job market” (p. 248). In the latter half of the book, the Los Angeles native details his struggle to find consistent and meaningful work. He took jobs as a clerk for...


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pp. 520-522
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