Kareem Abdul Jabbar: World’s Greatest Basketball Player
By Mohammad Yacoob
Los Angeles, CA
One day during the month of Ramadan in 1968, Lew Alcindor, a very tall African-American young man together with Dr Salahuddin Bryson came to a location close to the University of California (UCLA) in West Los Angeles, to watch Muslims praying. At this location, Muslims from Pakistan, India and Burma had gathered to perform the Isha and Ramadan-Taraweeh prayers. He was a student of University of California at Los Angeles and the most celebrated UCLA basketball players.
In his early life Lew Alcindor felt being imprisoned by a certain image that did not fit his life and thinking. This awareness made him more restless. He said later that his early awakening came from reading “The Autobiography of Malcolm X (al-hajj Malik Shahbazz)” that provided him a sudden, dramatic, and seemingly irreversible beginning, a shift in consciousness, and moved him to higher levels of excitement of the mind and emotions. This transformation inspired him and he began to study the Qur’an.
Lew Alcindor was the tallest child in the school system and everybody in the school encouraged him to play basketball. He mastered the essentials of the game as early as fifth grade, and developed the soaring "sky hook" that became his signature shot on the basketball court. His ability won him a scholarship to a private Catholic high school. At the age of 15, he led his school team to 95 victories in 101 games and three consecutive championships in New York City's Catholic school league. In all three years, he was named a High School All-American Player. Later, he chose the University of California, Los Angeles for his studies and to play basketball. He became eligible to play during his sophomore year and played for three years (1967-1969) leading UCLA become national champions all three years, losing only two games out of 90. He is the only player named the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Tournament's Most Outstanding Player three times and became the most famous college sports star.
He was very much aware of the complex moral and political issues of the 1960’s. He came to know that Malcolm X’s hard work proved to be a catalyst in the civil rights movement for the African-American people. His new found awareness about race relations around the world and particularly the sayings of Malcolm X during Hajj pilgrimage about the lack of race consciousness among Muslims prompted him in 1968 to decline to play on the United States Olympic team because of the high level of racism and extremism.
Lew Alcindor was recruited after graduation from UCLA by the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association. He played well, personally finishing second in the league for scoring and was named Rookie of the Year. In the 1970-71 basketball regular season he was named Most Valuable Player, and again Most Valuable Player in the finals when he led Bucks to Basketball Championship.
Immediately following this first championship season, he adopted the Muslim name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He said he did not intend to make his name an issue in the sports like boxing champion Muhammad Ali had done earlier.
In the 1971-72, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was again the NBA's scoring champion and voted the Most Valuable Player in that season and again the following year. He played as a professional basketball player for Milwakee Bucks from 1969 to 1974, then he moved to Los Angeles and played for Lakers from 1975-1989. His performance was the product of a disciplined training regimen which he used on the basketball court with speed and grace. He perfected the unstoppable skyhook shot in basketball history that continues to marvel the world of sports. He established himself as a dominant figure in professional basketball and scored 38,387 points in his career, the highest by any player, a record in the league. He remains the all-time leading scorer in the NBA (National Basketball Association), and is ranked third all-time in both rebounds and blocks; a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. 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, "All-Time #NBA rank 2 player.”
Since 2005, Abdul-Jabbar has served as special assistant coach and as coach for 2009-2010 Season for the Lakers. This year, 2016, he was chosen to be on the Lakers Float in the Pasadena Rose Parade on the New Year’s Day.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar is an independent thinker and an intellectually sharp American. Discovering humanity in the autobiography of Malcolm X, studying Qur’an and reflecting on the overall message of Islam, has helped him tremendously. He has now dedicated his life to educating the African-Africans about the legacy of African-American Achievement and to removing ignorance among the Americans about the lost history of African-American and the work of contemporary dedicated, selfless, and brave leaders.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar recognizes the greatness of America and wrote that its scientific achievements and inventions have the greatest impact on humanity around the world, yet contributions made by many African-Americans inventors have been ignored by history textbooks, based on the skin of their color. He wished to educate Americans about the central role that African-Americans played in shaping the United States from the beginning – from slavery to astronauts in space, winning Noble Prize in Literature and Peace, being elected to congress to the election of the first African-American President of the US. Many a times being a student of History, having graduated from UCLA with a BA in History in 1969, he knows very well that the African-American history has long been neglected, ignored and even suppressed, so he did not wait for something to happen or someone to write the history of the African-Americans. He wrote books to suppress the sounds and noises coming from the dark alleys of disinformation and misinformation. His books for adults include Giant Steps, Black Profiles in Courage, A Season On the Reservation, Brothers in Arms, On the Shoulders of Giants, My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, and the children's books, StreetBall Crew, Sasquatch in the Paint and What Color is my World? It should be noted that every year February is designated as the ‘Black History Month’ in the United States. His book “What Color Is My World?” published in the month of February 2012 won the NAACP ( National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ) award for Best Children's Book in 2012. He is also a New York Times best-selling author of seven books.
He was selected as the global Cultural Ambassador for the US State Department. He seized this opportunity to discuss with young people around the world the importance of education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding, and using sports as a means of empowerment.
In June 2011, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was honored at the White House by President Barack Obama, and for his commitment to education and equality he received the President Abraham Lincoln Medal from US Attorney General Eric Holder.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a celebrated author, filmmaker and education ambassador, whose life and career are the subject of Minority of One, a new documentary on HBO Sports, is currently a TIME magazine columnist.
(Mohammad Yacoob is a retired Industrial Engineer and Engineering Proposals Analyst and lives in Los Angeles, California)