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How a former NBA player from Kansas City overcame illiteracy and earned his master's degree

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Dean Tolson, a former Seattle SuperSonics player who grew up in Kansas City.
Dean Tolson
Dean Tolson, a former Seattle SuperSonics player who grew up in Kansas City.

Kansas City native and former Seattle SuperSonics basketball player Dean Tolson made it to college without learning to read. Now, he holds an advanced degree, and is advocating for education with a new memoir, "Power Forward."

Former NBA power forward Dean Tolson's story is full of rebounds.

Growing up in Kansas City in the 1950s and 60s, he was a star on the basketball court — but struggled in school. Tolson graduated from high school, went to college and was drafted to the Seattle SuperSonics. But he couldn't read or write.

After years playing in the NBA and internationally, he re-enrolled at the University of Arkansas, determined to overcome illiteracy. Now, he holds a bachelor's — and a master's — degree.

Tolson's story is chronicled in the upcoming memoir "Power Forward: My Journey From Illiterate NBA Player to a Magna Cum Laude Master's Degree." He hopes the story will raise awareness for the importance of education.

"[Forty years ago] I would have thought it'd been impossible, but that's what I want people to understand," Tolson told KCUR's Up To Date. "They can do the impossible if they choose to. Education is not a lukewarm feeling. Education is you either all in, or you all out [sic]."

  • Dean Tolson, former power forward for the Seattle SuperSonics
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When I host Up To Date each morning at 9, my aim is to engage the community in conversations about the Kansas City area’s challenges, hopes and opportunities. I try to ask the questions that listeners want answered about the day’s most pressing issues and provide a place for residents to engage directly with newsmakers. Reach me at steve@kcur.org or on Twitter @stevekraske.
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As a producer for Up To Date, my goal is to inform our audience by curating interesting and important conversations with reliable sources and individuals directly affected by a topic or issue. I strive for our program to be a place that hosts impactful conversations, providing our audience with greater knowledge, intrigue, compassion and entertainment. Contact me at elizabeth@kcur.org or on Twitter at @er_bentley_ruiz.
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