Udoh: A Bookish Baller

Ekpe Udoh
Ekpe Udoh, B.S. ’11
(photo:Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)

In more than a decade of playing professional basketball, Ekpe Udoh, B.S. ’11, has learned to stay flexible and adapt quickly.

Udoh was selected sixth overall by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2010 National Basketball Association (NBA) Draft, following one of the most highly decorated individual seasons in Baylor basketball history. He has played eight seasons in the NBA with the Warriors, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. Additionally, Udoh also is a two-time Turkish League champion and has played with seven different clubs in four different countries.

Through it all, there has been one constant in his professional career. Udoh started Ekpe’s Book Club during his time with the Bucks as a unique opportunity to connect with fans. A devoted core of readers enjoy diving into the books and directly interacting with the basketball star.

“Athletes weren’t doing book clubs; you just didn’t see that,” Udoh said. “Everywhere I went, I took the book club with me.”

The club features author talks, events and screenings as well as weekly Twitter conversations and occasional Zoom calls. Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and Tara Westover’s Educated are some of the modern classics the club has studied. 

In February 2019, the club received a significant boost when former First Lady Michelle Obama quote-tweeted Udoh’s poll on what book the club would tackle next. She asked a simple question: “Do I get a vote?” Her memoir, Becoming, was the overwhelming fan selection.

After garnering national and international attention from the interaction with the former First Lady, the Ekpe Book Club started 2021 with the selection of former President Barack Obama’s A Promised Land

Udoh began the Twitter discussion, asking the club’s readers, “Why do y’all think that President Obama named his memoir A Promised Land? How do you define a promised land?” President Obama joined the discussion with a 45-second recorded response to Udoh’s question and the club’s readers. The video message, which has been viewed more than 1 million times on Twitter, surprised Udoh.

“I had it on my radar, like maybe it was going to be a tweet, ‘Thanks for reading my book.’ But to see that video — and he said my name right — that was out of this world,” Udoh said. “It was great for the members in the book club who’ve been at it for years now. Getting recognition on that level from President Obama was special.”

The digital forum has allowed the book club to stay viable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Club members interact directly with Udoh through the hashtag #EkpeBookClub.

Udoh will have more free time for his passion of reading and literary efforts when his professional basketball career eventually comes to an end. For example, he hopes to pursue opportunities to be involved in after-school programs.

Ekpe’s Book Club typically meets Thursdays via Udoh’s Twitter account (@EkpeUdoh) using the hashtag #EkpesBookClub. Readers interested in joining the club should direct message Udoh’s account for the sign-up link and more information.