Other than that, Abdul-Jabbar had his eyes set on a very different prize: using his platform to highlight the importance of social issues and the need for reform.
This new annual honor will recognize a current NBA player for “pursuing social justice and upholding the league’s values of equality, respect and inclusion for decades”.
Born in 1947, Abdul-Jabbar was 17 when he met civil rights leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
“We are dealing with voter suppression, violence, lack of educational opportunities, lack of adequate health care, so none of the issues have changed. It’s just that the clock keeps ticking.”
Hero at a young age
Growing up in New York City, Abdul-Jabbar was open to the teachings of people who spoke about activism and change from a young age.
After converting to Islam in 1971, he changed his name from Lew Alcindor Jr. to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In Arabic, his name means a noble and powerful servant of Allah.
In addition to Dr. King, Abdul-Jabbar remembers politician and civil rights reformer Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. as an influence and Malcolm X.
And although he preferred the peaceful approach taken by Dr King, Abdul-Jabbar says that by choosing to speak out on social and political issues as an athlete, he was forced to “pay the price for that “and was considered” a bit militant. “
However, if Abdul-Jabbar were to have his time again, he would do nothing differently. “I know I would have the same approach. We have to change these things and that takes commitment.”
In 1990, a Senate race in North Carolina presented a dilemma for fellow NBA star Michael Jordan. Charlotte’s first African-American mayor, Harvey Gantt, a Democrat, was trying to topple Republican Jesse Helms to become the state’s first black senator.
Helms had waged a fierce campaign to try to prevent the Senate from approving a federal holiday in honor of civil rights icon Dr. King.
Gantt lost the election, but it was Jordan’s improvised remark on the team bus – “Republicans buy sneakers, too” – that defined his position in the eyes of his critics. Jordan admits he said it, “like a joke,” but he’s been haunted by those four words for decades.
While the Chicago native, former President Barack Obama, would have preferred Jordan to enter the political fray, he has some sympathy for his position, saying in the film: “America is very quick to kiss a Michael Jordan, an Oprah Winfrey or a Justice Barack Obama, provided it is understood that you are not becoming too controversial on broader social issues. “
Fast forward to 2021 and the debate continues over whether athletes should just ‘shut up and dribble’.
Next, LAPD officers beat motorist King after leading police in a high-speed chase in Los Angeles County. Video of the incident showed that police beat King more than 50 times with their batons. King suffered 11 broken bones and other injuries.
The initial acquittal of the four officers involved led to massive riots in Los Angeles that left more than 50 dead and caused nearly $ 1 billion in property damage.
Yet the ostracism of Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who began kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality in 2016, and was not signed in a team since 2017, shows that the United States seems uncomfortable with the notion of activism.
And the way Kaepernick was treated is a lesson for the United States, says Abdul-Jabbar, who is the two-time NBA Finals MVP.
“Kaepernick was kicked out of the league, but the league ended up having to come to an agreement with him, and they had to admit that they were wrong to deny him his peaceful protests,” said Abdul Jabbar, who played for the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers during his rich career.
“He was doing a peaceful protest against police violence. There was nothing contrary to the American about it. People just chose to interpret it that way because they were unhappy that he take his opportunity to use his platform. So we have to tell the truth here and understand what happened. “
With the increase in the number of athletes eager to take a stand for what they believe in, Abdul-Jabbar hopes that a change in attitude will occur.
“We are heading to a better place. It will take continued effort, but we can get there,” said the 74-year-old.
To be recognized
The winner of the new NBA award will select an organization to receive a contribution of $ 100,000 on their behalf. The other four finalists will each select an organization that will receive a contribution of $ 25,000.
And after a year of NBA players and teams playing an active role in tackling racial injustice and voter suppression, there are plenty of options to be the first winner, according to Abdul-Jabbar.
“It’s hard to say because there are so many people now who are motivated this way,” he said. “We have people who are very important like LeBron James, which he did. He sends a whole school district to college. There are other people you might not know who are not so prominent. in terms of sport but always doing good things.
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