Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.; April 16, 1947) is an American retired professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. During his career as a center, Abdul-Jabbar was a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), a record 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member. A member of six NBA championship teams as a player and two more as an assistant coach, Abdul-Jabbar twice was voted NBA Finals MVP. In 1996, he was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. NBA coach Pat Riley and players Isiah Thomas and Julius Erving have called him the greatest basketball player of all time.
After winning 71 consecutive basketball games on his high school team in New York City, Alcindor was recruited by Jerry Norman, the assistant coach of UCLA, where he played for coach John Wooden on three consecutive national championship teams and was a record three-time MVP of the NCAA Tournament. Drafted with the first overall pick by the one-season-old Bucks franchise in the 1969 NBA draft, Alcindor spent six seasons in Milwaukee. After leading the Bucks to its first NBA championship at age 24 in 1971, he took the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Using his trademark "skyhook" shot, he established himself as one of the league's top scorers. In 1975, he was traded to the Lakers, with whom he played the final 14 seasons of his career and won five additional NBA championships. Abdul-Jabbar's contributions were a key component in the "Showtime" era of Lakers basketball. Over his 20-year NBA career, his teams succeeded in making the playoffs 18 times and got past the first round 14 times; his teams reached the NBA Finals on 10 occasions.
At the time of his retirement at age 42 in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA's all-time leader in points scored (38,387), games played (1,560), minutes played (57,446), field goals made (15,837), field goal attempts (28,307), blocked shots (3,189), defensive rebounds (9,394), career wins (1,074), and personal fouls (4,657). He remains the all-time leader in points scored, field goals made, and career wins. He is ranked third all-time in both rebounds and blocked shots. In 2007, ESPN voted him the greatest center of all time, in 2008, they named him the "greatest player in college basketball history", and in 2016, they named him the second best player in NBA history (behind Michael Jordan). Abdul-Jabbar has also been an actor, a basketball coach, and a best-selling author. In 2012, he was selected by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be a U.S. global cultural ambassador. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Early life and high school career
Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. was born in New York City, the only child of Cora Lillian, a department store price checker, and Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., a transit police officer and jazz musician. He grew up in the Dyckman Street projects in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan. Alcindor was unusually large and tall from a young age. At birth he weighed 12 lb 11 oz (5.75 kg) and was 22 1⁄2 inches (57 cm) long, and by the age of nine he was already 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) tall. By the eighth grade (age 13–14) he had grown to 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) tall and could already slam dunk a basketball.
Alcindor began his record-breaking basketball accomplishments when he was in high school, where he led coach Jack Donahue's Power Memorial Academy team to three straight New York City Catholic championships, a 71-game winning streak, and a 79–2 overall record. This earned him a nickname—"The tower from Power". His 2,067 total points were a New York City high school record. The team won the national high school boys basketball championship when Alcindor was in 10th and 11th grade and was runner-up his senior year. Alcindor had a strained relationship with his coach. In his 2017 book "Coach Wooden and Me," Abdul-Jabbar relates an incident where Donahue called him a nigger.
Alcindor played on the UCLA freshman team in 1966 only because the "freshman rule" was in effect, but his prowess was already well known. He received national coverage when he made his varsity debut in 1967: Sports Illustrated described him as "The New Superstar." From 1967 to 1969, he played on the varsity under head coach John Wooden. He was the main contributor to the team's three-year record of 88 wins and only two losses: one to the University of Houston in which Alcindor had an eye injury, and the other to crosstown rival USC who played a "stall game" (i.e., there was no shot clock in those days, so a team could hold the ball as long as it wanted before attempting to score). In his first game, Alcindor scored 56 points, which set a UCLA single-game record.
During his college career, Alcindor was twice named Player of the Year (1967, 1969); was a three-time First Team All-American (1967–1969); played on three NCAA basketball champion teams (1967, 1968 and 1969); was honored as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament three times and became the first-ever Naismith College Player of the Year in 1969.
In 1967 and 1968, he also won USBWA College Player of the Year, which later became the Oscar Robertson Trophy. Alcindor became the only player to win the Helms Foundation Player of the Year award three times. The 1965–66 UCLA Bruin team was the preseason #1. On November 27, 1965, the freshman team, led by Alcindor, defeated the varsity 75–60 in the first game in the new Pauley Pavilion. Alcindor scored 31 points and had 21 rebounds in what was a good indication of things to come. After the game, the UCLA varsity was #1 in the country but #2 on campus. If the "freshman rule" had not been in effect at that time, UCLA would have had a much better chance of winning the 1966 National Championship.
Alcindor had considered transferring to Michigan because of unfulfilled recruiting promises. UCLA player Willie Naulls introduced Alcindor and teammate Lucius Allen to athletic booster Sam Gilbert, who convinced the pair to remain at UCLA.
The dunk was banned in college basketball after the 1967 season, primarily because of Alcindor's dominant use of the shot. The rule was not rescinded until the 1976–77 season, which was shortly after Wooden's retirement.
During his junior year, Alcindor suffered a scratched left cornea on January 12, 1968, in a game against Cal when he was struck by Tom Henderson in a rebound battle. He would miss the next two games against Stanford and Portland. This happened right before the showdown game against Houston. His cornea would again be scratched during his pro career, which subsequently caused him to wear goggles for eye protection.
Conversion to Islam and 1968 Olympic boycott
During the summer of 1968, Alcindor took the shahada twice and converted to Sunni Islam, though he did not begin publicly using his Arabic name until 1971. He boycotted the 1968 Summer Olympics by deciding not to try out for the United States Men's Olympic Basketball team, who went on to easily win the gold medal. Alcindor's decision to stay home during the 1968 Games was in protest of the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the United States.
Alcindor was one of only four players who started on three NCAA championship teams; the others all played for Wooden at UCLA: Henry Bibby, Curtis Rowe and Lynn Shackelford. At the time, the NBA did not allow college underclassmen to declare early for the draft. He completed his studies and earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in history in 1969. In his free time, he practiced martial arts. He studied Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee.
Game of the Century
On January 20, 1968, Alcindor and the UCLA Bruins faced coach Guy Lewis's Houston Cougars in the first-ever nationally televised regular-season college basketball game, with 52,693 in attendance at the Astrodome. Cougar forward Elvin Hayes scored 39 points and had 15 rebounds, while Alcindor, who suffered from a scratch on his left cornea, was held to just 15 points as Houston won 71–69. The Bruins' 47-game winning streak ended in what has been called the "Game of the Century". Hayes and Alcindor had a rematch in the semi-finals of the NCAA Tournament, where UCLA, with a healthy Alcindor, defeated Houston 101–69 en route to the national championship. UCLA limited Hayes, who was averaging 37.7 points per game, to only ten points. Wooden credited his assistant, Jerry Norman, for devising the diamond-and-one defense that contained Hayes. Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on the game and used the headline: "Lew's Revenge: The Rout of Houston."
As of the 2011–12 season, he still holds or shares a number of individual records at UCLA:
- Highest career scoring average: 26.4;
- Most career field goals: 943 (tied with Don MacLean);
- Most points in a season: 870 (1967);
- Highest season scoring average: 29.0 (1967);
- Most field goals in a season: 346 (1967);
- Most free throw attempts in a season: 274 (1967);
- Most points in a single game: 61;
- Most field goals in a single game: 26 (vs. Washington State, February 25, 1967).
Milwaukee Bucks (1969–1975)
The Harlem Globetrotters offered Alcindor $1 million to play for them, but he declined and was picked first in the 1969 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, who were in only their second season of existence. The Bucks won a coin-toss with the Phoenix Suns for first pick. He was also chosen first overall in the 1969 American Basketball Association draft by the New York Nets. The Nets believed that they had the upper hand in securing Alcindor's services because he was from New York; however, when Alcindor told both the Bucks and the Nets that he would accept only one offer from each team, the Nets bid too low. Sam Gilbert negotiated the contract along with Los Angeles businessman Ralph Shapiro at no charge. After Alcindor chose the Milwaukee Bucks' offer of $1.4 million, the Nets offered a guaranteed $3.25 million. Alcindor declined the offer, saying, "A bidding war degrades the people involved. It would make me feel like a flesh peddler, and I don't want to think like that."
Alcindor's presence enabled the 1969–70 Bucks to claim second place in the NBA's Eastern Division with a 56–26 record (improved from 27–55 the previous year). Alcindor was an instant star, ranking second in the league in scoring (28.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (14.5 rpg), for which he was awarded the title of NBA Rookie of the Year. Until Jayson Tatum in 2018, Alcindor would be the only rookie to record 10 or more games of 20+ points scored during the playoffs.
The next season, the Bucks acquired All-Star guard Oscar Robertson. Milwaukee went on to record the best record in the league with 66 victories in the 1970–71 season, including a then-record 20 straight wins. Alcindor was awarded his first of six NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, along with his first scoring title (31.7 ppg). He also led the league in total points, with 2,596. In the playoffs, the Bucks went 12–2 (including a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals), and won the championship, while Alcindor was named Finals MVP. On May 1, 1971, the day after the Bucks won the NBA championship, he adopted the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Arabic: كريم عبد الجبار, Karīm Abd al-Jabbār), its translation roughly "noble one, servant of the Almighty [i.e., servant of Allah]". He had converted to Islam while at UCLA.
Abdul-Jabbar remained a dominant force for the Bucks. The following year, he repeated as scoring champion with (34.8 ppg and 2,822 total points) and was named NBA Most Valuable Player. He helped the Bucks to repeat as division leaders for four straight years. In 1974, Abdul-Jabbar won his third MVP Award in five years and was among the top five NBA players in scoring (27.0 ppg, third), rebounding (14.5 rpg, fourth), blocked shots (283, second), and field goal percentage (.539, second).
Abdul-Jabbar remained relatively injury-free throughout his NBA career, but he twice broke one of his hands. The first incident occurred during a pre-season game in 1974, when he was bumped hard and got his eye scratched; this angered him enough to punch the basket support stanchion. He returned after missing the first 16 games of the season and started to wear protective goggles. In the second incident, he broke his hand during the opening game of the 1977–78 season. Two minutes into the game, Abdul-Jabbar punched Milwaukee's Kent Benson in retaliation for an overly aggressive elbow; the punch broke Benson's jaw. As a result of the injury to his hand, Abdul-Jabbar was out for two months, and it was unnecessary for the NBA to suspend him.
Although Abdul-Jabbar always spoke well of Milwaukee and its fans, he said that being in the Midwest did not fit his cultural needs. In October 1974, he requested a trade to either the New York Knicks or Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Lakers (1975–1989)
In 1975, the Lakers acquired Abdul-Jabbar and reserve center Walt Wesley from the Bucks for center Elmore Smith, guard Brian Winters, and rookie "blue chippers" Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman. In the 1975–76 season, his first with the Lakers, he had a dominating season, averaging 27.7 points per game and leading the league in rebounding, blocked shots, and minutes played. His 1,111 defensive rebounds remains the NBA single-season record (defensive rebounds were not recorded prior to the 1973–74 season). He earned his fourth MVP award, but missed the post-season for the second straight year.
Once he joined the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar began wearing his trademark goggles (he briefly ditched them in the 1979–80 season). Years of battling under NBA backboards, and being hit and scratched in the face in the process, had taken their toll on his eyes and he developed corneal erosion syndrome, where the eyes begin to dry out easily and cease to produce moisture. He missed one game in the 1986–87 season when his eyes dried out and swelled.
In the 1976–77 season, Abdul-Jabbar had another strong performance. He led the league in field goal percentage, finished second in rebounds and blocked shots, and third in points per game. He helped lead the Lakers to the best record in the NBA, and he won his record-tying fifth MVP award. In the playoffs, the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semi-finals, setting up a confrontation with the Portland Trail Blazers. The result was a memorable matchup, pitting Abdul-Jabbar against a young, injury-free Bill Walton. Although Abdul-Jabbar dominated the series statistically, Walton and the Trail Blazers (who were experiencing their first-ever run in the playoffs) swept the Lakers, behind Walton's skillful passing and leadership.
Abdul-Jabbar's play remained strong during the next two seasons, being named to the All-NBA Second Team twice, the All-Defense First Team once, and the All-Defense Second Team once. The Lakers, however, continued to be stymied in the playoffs, being eliminated by the Seattle SuperSonics in both 1978 and 1979.
In 1979, the Lakers acquired first overall draft pick Magic Johnson. The trade and draft paved the way for a Laker dynasty as they went on to become the most dominant team of the 1980s, appearing in the finals eight times and winning five NBA championships. Individually, while Abdul-Jabbar was not the dominant center he had been in the 1970s, he experienced a number of highlight moments. Among them were his record sixth MVP award in 1980, four more All-NBA First Team designations, two more All-Defense First Team designations, the 1985 Finals MVP, and on April 5, 1984 breaking Wilt Chamberlain's record for most career points. Later in his career, he bulked up to about 265 pounds (120 kg), to be able to withstand the strain of playing the highly physical center position into his early 40s.
While in Los Angeles, Abdul-Jabbar started doing yoga in 1976 to improve his flexibility, and was notable for his physical fitness regimen. He says, "There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga."
In 1983, Abdul-Jabbar's house burned down. Many of his belongings, including his beloved jazz LP collection of about 3,000 albums, were destroyed. Many Lakers fans sent and brought him albums, which he found uplifting.
On June 28, 1989, Abdul-Jabbar was 42 years old when he announced that he would retire at the end of the season after twenty years in the NBA. On his "retirement tour" he received standing ovations at games, home and away and gifts ranging from a yacht that said "Captain Skyhook" to framed jerseys from his basketball career to an Afghan rug. In his biography My Life, Magic Johnson recalls that many Lakers and Celtics legends participated in Abdul-Jabbar's farewell game. Every player wore Abdul-Jabbar's trademark goggles and had to try a skyhook at least once, which led to comic results. The Lakers made the NBA Finals in each of Abdul-Jabbar's final three seasons, defeating Boston in 1987, and Detroit in 1988. The Lakers lost to the Pistons in a four-game sweep in his final season.
At the time of his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar held the record for most games played by a single player in the NBA; this would later be broken by Robert Parish. He also was the all-time record holder for most points (38,387), most field goals made (15,837), and most minutes played (57,446).
Since 2005, Abdul-Jabbar has served as a special assistant coach for the Lakers. He had been interested in coaching since his retirement, and given the influence that he exerted on the league during his playing days, he thought that the opportunity would present itself. However, during his playing years, Abdul-Jabbar had developed a reputation for being introverted and sullen. He did not speak to the press, which led to the impression that he disliked journalists. In his biography My Life, Magic Johnson recalls instances when Abdul-Jabbar brushed him off when he was a ball boy and asked him for an autograph. Abdul-Jabbar also froze out reporters who gave him a too-enthusiastic handshake or even hugged him, and he refused to stop reading the newspaper while giving an interview.
Abdul-Jabbar believes that his reticence, whether through disdain for the press or simply because of introversion, contributed to the dearth of coaching opportunities offered to him by the NBA. In his words, he said he had a mindset he could not overcome, and proceeded through his career oblivious to the effect his reticence may have had on his future coaching prospects. Abdul-Jabbar said: "I didn't understand that I also had affected people that way and that's what it was all about. I always saw it like they were trying to pry. I was way too suspicious and I paid a price for it." Since he began lobbying for a coaching position in 1995, he has managed to obtain only low-level assistant and scouting jobs in the NBA, and a head coaching position only in a minor professional league.
Abdul-Jabbar has worked as an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Seattle SuperSonics, helping mentor, among others, their young centers, Michael Olowokandi and Jerome James. Abdul-Jabbar was the head coach of the Oklahoma Storm of the United States Basketball League in 2002, leading the team to the league's championship that season, but he failed to land the head coaching position at Columbia University a year later. He then worked as a scout for the New York Knicks. Finally, on September 2, 2005, he returned to the Lakers as a special assistant to Phil Jackson to help the Lakers' centers, and in particular their young draftee Andrew Bynum. Abdul-Jabbar's influence has been credited with Bynum's emergence as a more talented NBA center. Abdul-Jabbar also served as a volunteer coach at Alchesay High School on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona in 1998.
In 2016, he performed a tribute to friend Muhammad Ali along with Chance the Rapper. He is also co-author of a comic book published by Titan Comics entitled Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook.
On offense, Abdul-Jabbar was a dominant low-post threat. In contrast to other low-post specialists like Wilt Chamberlain, Artis Gilmore or Shaquille O'Neal, Abdul-Jabbar was a relatively slender player, standing 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) tall but only weighing 225 lb (102 kg) (though in his latter years the Lakers listed Abdul-Jabbar's weight as 265 pounds (120 kg)). However, he made up for his relative lack of bulk by showing textbook finesse, strength and was famous for his ambidextrous skyhook shot, which was impossible for defenders to block. It contributed to his high .559 field goal accuracy, making him the eighth most accurate scorer of all time and a feared clutch shooter. Abdul-Jabbar was also quick enough to run the Showtime fast break led by Magic Johnson and was well-conditioned, standing on the hardwood an average 36.8 minutes. In contrast to other big men, Abdul-Jabbar also could reasonably hit his free throws, finishing with a career 72% average.
Abdul-Jabbar maintained a dominant presence on defense. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Team eleven times. He frustrated opponents with his superior shot-blocking ability and denied an average of 2.6 shots a game. After the pounding he endured early in his career, his rebounding average fell to between six or eight a game in his latter years.
As a teammate, Abdul-Jabbar exuded natural leadership and was affectionately called "Cap" or "Captain" by his colleagues. He had an even temperament, which Riley said made him coachable. A strict fitness regime made him one of the most durable players of all time. In the NBA, his 20 seasons and 1,560 games are performances surpassed only by former Celtics' center Robert Parish.
Abdul-Jabbar was well known for his trademark "skyhook", a hook shot in which he bent his entire body (rather than just the arm) like a straw in one fluid motion to raise the ball and then release it at the highest point of his arm's arching motion. Combined with his long arms and great height—7 ft 2 in (2.18 m)—the skyhook was difficult for a defender to block without committing a goaltending violation. It was a reliable and feared offensive weapon and contributed to his high lifetime field goal percentage of 0.559. He was adept at shooting the skyhook with either hand, which made him even more difficult to defend against, though as a right-handed player, he was stronger shooting the skyhook with his right hand than he was with his left. According to Abdul-Jabbar, he learned the move in fifth grade after practicing with the Mikan Drill and soon learned to value it, as it was "the only shot I could use that didn't get smashed back in my face".
Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, and he won a league-record six MVP awards. He earned six championship rings, two Finals MVP awards, fifteen NBA First or Second Teams, a record nineteen NBA All-Star call-ups and averaging 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. He is ranked as the NBA's third leading all-time rebounder (17,440). He is also the third all-time in registered blocks (3,189), which is even more impressive because this stat had not been recorded until the fourth year of his career (1974).
Abdul-Jabbar combined dominance during his career peak with the longevity and sustained excellence of his later years. He credited Bruce Lee with teaching him "the discipline and spirituality of martial arts, which was greatly responsible for me being able to play competitively in the NBA for 20 years with very few injuries." After claiming his sixth and final MVP in 1980, Abdul-Jabbar continued to average above 20 points in the following six seasons, including 23 points per game in his 17th season at age 38. He made the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team, and was named one of its 50 greatest players of all time in 1996. Abdul-Jabbar is regarded as one of the best centers ever, and league experts and basketball legends frequently mentioned him when considering the greatest player of all time. Former Lakers coach Pat Riley once said, "Why judge anymore? When a man has broken records, won championships, endured tremendous criticism and responsibility, why judge? Let's toast him as the greatest player ever." Isiah Thomas remarked, "If they say the numbers don't lie, then Kareem is the greatest ever to play the game." Julius Erving in 2013 said, "In terms of players all-time, Kareem is still the number one guy. He's the guy you gotta start your franchise with." In 2015, ESPN named Abdul-Jabbar the best center in NBA history, and ranked him No. 2 behind Michael Jordan among the greatest NBA players ever. While Jordan's shots were enthralling and considered unfathomable, Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook appeared automatic, and he himself called the shot "unsexy".
NBA career statistics
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field goal percentage||3P%||3-point field goal percentage||FT%||Free throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game||Bold||Career high|
|†||Denotes seasons in which Abdul-Jabbar's team won an NBA championship|
- Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (May 15, 1995)
- 2× Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year (1967, 1969)
- 2× Oscar Robertson Trophy winner (1967, 1968)
- 2× UPI College Basketball Player of the Year (1967, 1969)
- Three-time First Team All-American (1967–1969)
- Three-time NCAA champion (1967–1969)
- Most Outstanding Player in NCAA Tournament (1967–1969)
- Naismith College Player of the Year (1969)
- 3× First-team All-Pac-8 (1967–1969)
- National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame (2007)
- National Basketball Association:
- Rookie of the Year (1970)
- Six-time NBA champion (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
- NBA MVP (1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980)
- Sporting News NBA MVP (1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980)
- Finals MVP (1971, 1985)
- Sports Illustrated magazine's "Sportsman of the Year" (1985)
- One of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996)
- First player in NBA history to play 20 seasons
- Ranked No.2 in ESPN's 100 greatest NBA players of all time #NBArank
- November 16, 2012 – A statue of Abdul-Jabbar was unveiled in front of Staples Center on Chick Hearn Court, in Los Angeles.
Film and television
Playing in Los Angeles facilitated Abdul-Jabbar's trying his hand at acting. He made his film debut in Bruce Lee's 1972 film Game of Death, in which his character Hakim fights Billy Lo (played by Lee).
In 1980, he played co-pilot Roger Murdock in Airplane!. Abdul-Jabbar has a scene in which a little boy looks at him and remarks that he is in fact Abdul-Jabbar—spoofing the appearance of football star Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch as an airplane pilot in the 1957 drama that served as the inspiration for Airplane!, Zero Hour!. Staying in character, Abdul-Jabbar states that he is merely Roger Murdock, an airline co-pilot, but the boy continues to insist that Abdul-Jabbar is "the greatest", but that, according to his father, he doesn't "work hard on defense" and "never really tries, except during the playoffs". This causes Abdul-Jabbar's character to snap, "The hell I don't!", then grab the boy and snarl he has "[heard] that crap ever since ... UCLA", he "busts his buns every night" and the boy should tell his "old man to drag [Bill] Walton and [Bob] Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes". When Murdock loses consciousness later in the film, he collapses at the controls wearing Abdul-Jabbar's goggles and yellow Lakers' shorts.
Abdul-Jabbar has had numerous other television and film appearances, often playing himself. He has had roles in movies such as Fletch, Troop Beverly Hills and Forget Paris, and television series such as Full House, Living Single, Amen, Everybody Loves Raymond, Martin, Diff'rent Strokes (his height humorously contrasted with that of diminutive child star Gary Coleman), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Scrubs, 21 Jump Street, Emergency!, Man from Atlantis, and New Girl. Abdul-Jabbar played a genie in a lamp in a 1984 episode of Tales from the Darkside. He also played himself on the February 10, 1994 episode of the sketch comedy television series In Living Color.
He also appeared in the television version of Stephen King's The Stand, played the Archangel of Basketball in Slam Dunk Ernest, and had a brief non-speaking cameo appearance in BASEketball. Abdul-Jabbar was also the co-executive producer of the 1994 TV film Road to Freedom: The Vernon Johns Story. He has also made appearances on The Colbert Report, in a 2006 skit called "HipHopKetball II: The ReJazzebration Remix '06" and in 2008 as a stage manager who is sent out on a mission to find Nazi gold. Abdul-Jabbar also voiced himself in a 2011 episode of The Simpsons titled "Love Is a Many Strangled Thing". He had a recurring role as himself on the NBC series Guys with Kids, which aired from 2012 to 2013. On Al Jazeera English he expressed his desire to be remembered not just as a player, but somebody who had many talents and used them.
Abdul-Jabbar has also appeared with Robert Hays (Ted Striker) in a 2014 Airplane! parody commercial promoting Wisconsin tourism. In 2015, he appeared in an HBO documentary on his life, Kareem: Minority of One.
Writing and activism
Abdul-Jabbar is also a best-selling author and cultural critic. His first book, his autobiography Giant Steps, was written in 1983 with co-author Peter Knobler. (The book's title is an homage to jazz great John Coltrane, referring to his album Giant Steps.) Others include On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, co-written with Raymond Obstfeld, and Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, World War II's Forgotten Heroes, co-written with Anthony Walton, which is a history of an all-black armored unit that served with distinction in Europe.
Abdul-Jabbar has also been a regular contributor to discussions about issues of race and religion, among other topics, in national magazines and on television. He has written a regular column for Time, for example, and he appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, January 25, 2015, to talk about a recent column, which pointed out that Islam should not be blamed for the actions of violent extremists, just as Christianity has not been blamed for the actions of violent extremists who profess Christianity. When asked about being Muslim, he said: "I don't have any misgiving about my faith. I'm very concerned about the people who claim to be Muslims that are murdering people and creating all this mayhem in the world. That is not what Islam is about, and that should not be what people think of when they think about Muslims. But it's up to all of us to do something about all of it."
In November 2014, Abdul-Jabbar published an essay in Jacobin magazine calling for just compensation for college athletes, writing, "in the name of fairness, we must bring an end to the indentured servitude of college athletes and start paying them what they are worth."
In 2007, Abdul-Jabbar participated in the national UCLA alumni commercial entitled "My Big UCLA Moment". The UCLA commercial is featured on YouTube.
On February 10, 2011, Abdul-Jabbar debuted his film On the Shoulders of Giants, documenting the tumultuous journey of the famed yet often-overlooked Harlem Renaissance professional basketball team, at Science Park High School in Newark, New Jersey. The event was simulcast live throughout the school, city, and state.
Commenting on Donald Trump's 2017 travel ban, he strongly condemned it, saying, "The absence of reason and compassion is the very definition of pure evil because it is a rejection of our sacred values, distilled from millennia of struggle."
In January 2012, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Abdul-Jabbar had accepted a position as a cultural ambassador for the United States. During the announcement press conference, Abdul-Jabbar commented on the historical legacy of African-Americans as representatives of U.S. culture: "I remember when Louis Armstrong first did it back for President Kennedy, one of my heroes. So it's nice to be following in his footsteps." As part of this role, Abdul-Jabbar has traveled to Brazil to promote education for local youths.
President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition
Former President Barack Obama announced in his last days of office that he has appointed Abdul-Jabbar along with Gabrielle Douglas & Carli Lloyd to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.
Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee
In January 2017, Abdul-Jabbar was appointed to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee by United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. According to the United States Mint, Abdul-Jabbar is a keen coin collector whose interest in the life of Alexander Hamilton had led him into the hobby. He resigned in 2018 due to what the Mint described as "increasing personal obligations".
Abdul-Jabbar met Habiba Abdul-Jabbar (born Janice Brown) at a Lakers game during his senior year at UCLA. They eventually married and together had three children: daughters Habiba and Sultana and son Kareem Jr, who played basketball at Western Kentucky after attending Valparaiso. Abdul-Jabbar and Janice divorced in 1978. He has another son, Amir, with Cheryl Pistono. Another son, Adam, made an appearance on the TV sitcom Full House with him.
Religion and name
At age 24 in 1971, he converted to Islam and became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means "noble one, servant of the Almighty." He was named by Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. Abdul-Jabbar purchased and donated 7700 16th Street NW, a house in Washington, D.C., for Khaalis to use as the Hanafi Madh-Hab Center. Eventually, Kareem "found that [he] disagreed with some of Hamaas' teachings about the Quran, and [they] parted ways." He then studied the Quran on his own, and “emerged from this pilgrimage with my beliefs clarified and my faith renewed.”
Abdul-Jabbar has spoken about the thinking that was behind his name change when he converted to Islam. He stated that he was "latching on to something that was part of my heritage, because many of the slaves who were brought here were Muslims. My family was brought to America by a French planter named Alcindor, who came here from Trinidad in the 18th century. My people were Yoruba, and their culture survived slavery... My father found out about that when I was a kid, and it gave me all I needed to know that, hey, I was somebody, even if nobody else knew about it. When I was a kid, no one would believe anything positive that you could say about black people. And that's a terrible burden on black people, because they don't have an accurate idea of their history, which has been either suppressed or distorted."
In 1998, Abdul-Jabbar reached a settlement after he sued Miami Dolphins running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar (now Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar, born Sharmon Shah) because he felt Karim was sponging off the name he made famous by having the Abdul-Jabbar moniker and number 33 on his Dolphins jersey. As a result, the younger Abdul-Jabbar had to change his jersey nameplate to simply "Abdul" while playing for the Dolphins. The football player had also been an athlete at UCLA.
In November 2009, Abdul-Jabbar announced that he was suffering from a form of leukemia, Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The disease was diagnosed in December 2008, but Abdul-Jabbar said his condition could be managed by taking oral medication daily, seeing his specialist every other month and having his blood analyzed regularly. He expressed in a 2009 press conference that he did not believe that the illness would stop him from leading a normal life. Abdul-Jabbar is now a spokesman for Novartis, the company that produces his cancer medication, Gleevec.
In February 2011, Abdul-Jabbar announced via Twitter that his leukemia was gone and he was "100% cancer free". A few days later, he clarified his misstatement. "You're never really cancer-free and I should have known that", Abdul-Jabbar said. "My cancer right now is at an absolute minimum".
In April 2015, Abdul-Jabbar was admitted to hospital when he was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Later that week, on his 68th birthday, he underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery at the UCLA Medical Center.
In 2011, Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Double Helix Medal for his work in raising awareness for cancer research. Also in 2011, Abdul-Jabbar received an honorary degree from New York Institute of Technology. In late 2016, Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama.
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- Kareem, with Mignon McCarthy (1990) ISBN 0-394-55927-4
- Selected from Giant Steps (Writers' Voices) (1999) ISBN 0-7857-9912-5
- Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement, with Alan Steinberg (1996) ISBN 0-688-13097-6
- A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apaches, with Stephen Singular (2000) ISBN 0-688-17077-3
- Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, World War II's Forgotten Heroes with Anthony Walton (2004) ISBN 978-0-7679-0913-6
- On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance with Raymond Obstfeld (2007) ISBN 978-1-4165-3488-4
- What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African American Inventors with Raymond Obstfeld (2012) ISBN 978-0-7636-4564-9
- Streetball Crew Book One Sasquatch in the Paint with Raymond Obstfeld (2013) ISBN 978-1-4231-7870-5
- Streetball Crew Book Two Stealing the Game with Raymond Obstfeld (2015) ISBN 978-1423178712
- Mycroft Holmes with Anna Waterhouse (September 2015) ISBN 978-1-7832-9153-3
- Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White with Raymond Obstfeld (2016) ISBN 978-1-6189-3171-9
- Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court (2017) ISBN 978-1538760468
- Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court (2017) ISBN 978-0316555388
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- Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage with Anna Waterhouse (September 24, 2019) ISBN 978-1785659300
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Eight days after scratching his cornea against Cal, Abdul-Jabbar was one of four UCLA starters to play all 40 minutes.
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Jabbar, who wears goggles to protect his eyes during play, is suffering from recurring corneal erosion syndrome in his right eye. He returned to Los Angeles following an eye examination in Dallas early Saturday. Doctors explained that because Jabbar was poked in the eye so many times in the days before he wore goggles, scar tissue had formed on the cornea.
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- Official website
- Career statistics and player information from Basketball-Reference.com
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on IMDb
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at AllMovie
- "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar collected news and commentary". The New York Times.
- Appearances on C-SPAN