Story Monsters Ink

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Tacko Fall is hard to miss. At a height of 7 feet, 6 inches, he’s one of the tallest living humans. But once you dive into his story and background, you find that Fall stands out in more ways than just physical appearance.

With the recent publication of his children’s book, Tacko Fall: To New Heights, which Fall penned with his sports agent, Justin Haynes, young readers and adults alike can learn more about his journey to where he is today—as a rising basketball star.

Fall was born and raised in Dakar, Senegal, where he enjoyed going to school with friends and playing soccer in the streets. In 2011, Ibrahima N’Diaye, who started a basketball academy for youth in Senegal, heard from one of the academy’s coaches about an exceptionally tall teenager he’d seen playing outside. That boy was Fall.  

One day shortly thereafter, N’Diaye drove to Dakar to see the teen for himself. What he found was a 15-year-old who already stood over seven feet tall. N’Diaye walked up to Fall, introduced himself, and asked to see his mother. Upon their meeting, he persuaded Fall’s mom to allow him to attend his basketball academy.

Fall wasn’t a great basketball player at first, but with hard work and perseverance, he improved. At the age of 16, with just a suitcase and pair of homemade sandals, Fall moved to the United States. He eventually played college ball at the University of Central Florida, where he studied computer science before being signed to the Boston Celtics in 2019 and then the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2021. This past year, Fall signed a one-year deal with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, where he plays today.

Co-author, Justin Haynes

The challenge with writing Tacko Fall: To New Heights was how to condense the bits and pieces of this remarkable journey into a picture book. “The thing for us was, how do we compress all of that and make it sound readable for children,” says Haynes, who’s been a sports agent for more than 20 years and began representing Fall in summer 2019.

The writing process for Fall and Haynes looked like this: They’d hop on a phone or Zoom call, and Fall would just talk, sharing nuggets from his childhood in Senegal to the emotions he felt traveling to the United States and leaving his family behind. Then, Haynes worked on writing it into a story. Fall would read it and offer ideas for changes until the two of them got to a final draft they felt good about.

“In the book, Tacko starts out as a child and ends up as an adult in the NBA, so it’s hard to stretch that through and do it in a way that is being fair to his story yet created in a way that a child can understand,” Haynes says.

For Fall, though, perhaps the hardest part of bringing the story to life was strolling down memory lane. Some things just simply weren’t easy to remember, and he’d get emotional talking about them with Haynes. But, overall, hearkening back on the details of his life was worth it for Fall.

“Whenever you get to look back on how far you’ve come, you start to become really grateful, and I think throughout that process, I was in a really good mental state because of that,” Fall says. “I was able to think about how far I came along, even though I was still striving to do more and become more and solidify myself.”

Working with Haynes on the book is also something Fall is grateful for. He’d always wanted to write a book, but at first, he thought it’d be a memoir. When Haynes approached him with the idea of a children’s book, though, Fall felt that would be a good place to start. In fact, Haynes’ inspiration to do a picture book was Fall himself, in addition to his three daughters.

“I felt like every night, the stories we were reading to the girls were very similar to Tacko’s: an adult or child who had to overcome a great deal of adversity to get to a certain point or to overcome something,” Haynes says. “And that’s exactly what Tacko’s story is.”

Tacko Fall: To New Heights touches on immigration, determination, hard work, and the long road to success. The illustrations by Reggie Brown help showcase these themes in ways young readers can digest, particularly on one spread where the book discusses Fall leaving his family for America.

“I thought that particular page and how Reggie illustrated it—the reaction of his family—is a powerful moment in the book,” Haynes says. The book shares how Fall has overcome everything from being bullied about his height and feeling like an outcast to leaving his family to move across the ocean as a teenager.

“So many things that he’s had to endure and overcome that I asked him, would you want to work on this together?” Haynes says. For Fall, his answer of “yes” was a quick one. “Haynes is a good family guy, and to me, that’s important because I’m a family person as well,” he says. “Seeing that made me really appreciate him.”

The two have built a high level of trust with each other over the past three years that they’ve worked together as athlete and sports agent, which made the decision easy as well. “It was great, because it helped him and me get a lot closer,” Haynes says of the writing process. “I knew his story, but maybe not every intimate detail that you would need to write a book.”

Ultimately, Haynes feels proud of Tacko Fall: To New Heights because it helps young readers learn more about Fall and inspires them to persevere—a theme Fall hopes they take away from reading the book.

“No matter what life throws you,” says Haynes, “you can always find a way to make the best out of it.”

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