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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Life, On and Off the Court

This Program Is Rebroadcast From October 16, 2013

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is with us on turning his own childhood struggles into stories of inspiration.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an NBA legend, author, actor and global cultural ambassador. His new novel for young adults, "Sasquatch in the Paint," is the first in a planned series of novels. (Disney Publishing Worldwide)

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is an NBA legend, author, actor and global cultural ambassador. His new novel for young adults, “Sasquatch in the Paint,” is the first in a planned series of novels. (Disney Publishing Worldwide)

Towering basketball master of the “sky hook,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an NBA superstar of the very highest order.  Top career scorer in the history of the NBA.  More MVP awards than Jordan.  “The most beautiful athlete in sports,” Magic Johnson called him.  But he was always more than his 7-foot-2-inch height and stats.  Born Lew Alcindor, he adopted Islam and the famous name that means “generous servant of the mighty one.”  Always read.  Always studied.  Including studying humankind.  Now he’s got advice to give.  Up next On Point:  superstar, thinker, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

– Tom Ashbrook


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, retired NBA superstar for the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, leading scorer in history of the league, author of “Sasquatch in the Paint,” “Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement” and a U.S. global cultural ambassador. (@kaj33)

From Tom’s Reading List

Chicago Tribune: NBA’s Best All Time? You Be The Judge — “The NBA’s all-time leading scorer is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He also led the league in blocked shots four times. And he matched Jordan’s total of six NBA championships with the Lakers and Bucks.Abdul-Jabbar was a six-time league MVP and 19-time All-Star. Jordan was a five-time MVP and 14-time All-Star. And we haven’t even introduced to the conversation Wilt Chamberlain, who once scored a record 100 points in a single game, won seven league scoring titles, 11 rebounding titles and even led the league in assists. ‘There are several layers of talent you have to deal with when you’re talking about the game,” Abdul-Jabbar told me last week. “Most young people today are only aware of the NBA, like, since 2005. So it’s difficult to get through to them about all of the things that happened before they were born.’”

New York Times: U.S. Drafts Abdul-Jabbar As Cultural Ambassador – “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s life has been a case study in the art of the possible, from his humble Harlem roots to N.B.A. fame and through his life after basketball as a historian and scholar. His next endeavor will draw on all of it. Abdul-Jabbar was named a United States cultural ambassador Wednesday, with a mission of promoting education, racial tolerance and cultural understanding among young people around the world. He leaves Sunday for a six-day assignment in Brazil and will visit at least four more countries this year.”

Los Angeles Times: Talking With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — “38,387 points? 3 NCAA titles? 6 NBA titles, matching the league MVP tallies? 50 Greatest Players status and HOF membership? Or just the classic ‘Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.’ Any way you slice it, summarizing the career of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar into a neat little paragraph is no walk in the park.”

Read An Excerpt of “Sasquatch In the Paint” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Ramond Obstfeld

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  • Lindam

    Abdul-Jabbar has been an inspiration since the 60s! He demonstrates a life well lived. I loved to watch him play and have admired him both on and off the court!

  • truegangsteroflove

    I was always a fan of the teams Kareem played on. Looking back on those days, I think it was because of his quiet, understated manner. It made the teams distinctive, and they won.

    When he changed his name there was a lot of criticism, but he remained quiet. It was the perfect response, a counterpoint to Muhammad Ali’s thunder – great for what he was doing, but not great for everyone. In both cases, converting to Islam was considered a threat by “white” people, men mostly. An enterprising author might want to write a book about their parallel influence.

  • Steve Murphree

    I turned on the radio today just in time to hear your guest make disparaging remarks about the Confederate Battle Flag and state that the Civil War was fought only because of slavery. I suggest that Mr. Abdul-Jabbar and those who agree with him exercise their minds by reading a bit more broadly on this topic. Below is a Washington Post review of two scholarly texts for starters. Also below is a poem by an academic colleague of mine which might also bring a different perspective.

    “This exceptionally fine book is in effect a companion
    piece to its author’s The Confederate War, published in 1997… Now, in The Union War, Gallagher is back to take issue with what has become the new conventional wisdom, that the North fought the war in order to achieve the emancipation of the slaves. While welcoming the post-civil-rights-era emphasis on “slavery, emancipation, and the actions of black people,
    unfairly marginalized for decades in writings about the conflict,”
    Gallagher makes a very strong case–in my view a virtually irrefutable one–that the overriding motive in the North was preservation of the Union…Gallagher, who holds a distinguished professorship in history at the University of
    Virginia, is far more interested in pursuing historical truth than in massaging whatever praiseworthy sentiments he may harbor on race, gender, class or anything else. He knows that for the historian the central obligation is to understand and interpret the past, not to judge it.”

    I Am Their Flag
    by Dr. Michael Bradley

    In 1861, when they perceived their rights to be threatened, when those who would alter the nature of the government of their fathers wereplaced in charge, when threatened with change they could not accept, the mighty men of valor began to gather.
    A band of brothers, native to the Southern soil, they pledged themselves to a cause: the cause of defending family, fireside, and faith.
    Between the desolation of war and their homes they interposed their bodies and they chose me for their symbol.
    I Am Their Flag.
    Their mothers, wives, and sweethearts took scissors and thimbles, needles and thread, and from silk or cotton or calico ­ whatever was the best they had ­ even from the fabric of their wedding dresses, they cut my pieces and stitched my seams.
    I Am Their Flag.
    On courthouse lawns, in picnic groves, at train stations across the South the men mustered and the women placed me in their hands. “Fight hard, win if possible, come back if you can; but, above all, maintain your honor. Here is your symbol,” they said.
    I Am Their Flag.
    They flocked to the training grounds and the drill fields. They felt the wrenching sadness of leaving home.
    They endured sickness, loneliness, boredom, bad food, and poor quarters. They looked to me for inspiration.
    I Am Their Flag.
    I was at Sumter when they began in jubilation. I was at Big Bethel when the infantry fired its first volley.
    I smelled the gun smoke along Bull Run in Virginia and at Belmont along the Mississippi.
    I was in the debacle at Fort Donelson; I led Jackson up the Valley.
    For Seven Days I flapped in the turgid air of the James River bottoms as McClellan ran from before Richmond.
    Sidney Johnston died for me at Shiloh as would thousands of others whose graves are marked “Sine Nomine,” – without a name – unknown.
    I Am Their Flag.
    With ammunition gone they defended me along the railroad bed at Manassas by throwing rocks.
    I saw the fields run red with blood at Sharpsburg. Brave men carried me across Doctor’s Creek at Perryville.
    I saw the blue bodies cover Marye’s Heights at Fredericksburg and the Gray ones fall like leaves in the Round Forest at Stones River.
    I Am Their Flag.
    I was a shroud for the body of Stonewall after Chancellorsville. Men ate rats and mule meat to keep me flying over Vicksburg.
    I tramped across the wheat field with Kemper and Armistead and Garnett at Gettysburg.
    I know the thrill of victory, the misery of defeat, the bloody cost of both.
    I Am Their Flag.
    When Longstreet broke the line at Chickamauga, I was in the lead. I was the last off Lookout Mountain.
    Men died to rescue me at Missionary Ridge. I was singed by the wildfire that burned to death the wounded in the Wilderness.
    I was shot to tatters in the Bloody Angle at Spotsylvania. I was in it all from Dalton to Peachtree Creek, and no worse place did I ever see than Kennesaw and New Hope Church.
    They planted me over the trenches at Petersburg and there I stayed for many long months.
    I Am Their Flag.
    I was rolled in blood at Franklin; I was stiff with ice at Nashville. Many good men bade me farewell at Sayler’s Creek.
    When the end came at Appomattox, when the last Johnny Reb left Durham Station, many of them carried fragments of my fabric hidden on their bodies.
    I Am Their Flag.
    In the hard years of so-called “Reconstruction,” in the difficulty and despair of years that slowly passed, the veterans, their wives and sons and daughters, they loved me.
    They kept alive the tales of valor and the legends of bravery.
    They passed them on to the grandchildren and they to their children, and so they were passed to you.
    I Am Their Flag.
    I have shrouded the bodies of heroes, I have been laved with the blood of martyrs,
    I am enshrined in the hearts of millions, living and dead. Salute me with affection and reverence.
    Keep undying devotion in your hearts. I am history. I am heritage, not hate. I am the inspiration of valor from the past.
    Look Away, Dixie Land!
    I Am Their Flag.

    © 1995 Michael R. Bradley. All rights reserved.

  • HonestDebate1

    It was fair, they weren’t interviewing Lew Alcindor.

    • brettearle

      You missed her point.

      If Alcindor becomes Abdul-Jabbar, he doesn’t have to be a spokesman for Islam and what it might mean to its adherents..

      Nor should he be.

      • HonestDebate1

        Sure but the question was fair, that’s all.

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