Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most towering figures in NBA history, both literally and figuratively speaking. In addition to his many accomplishments on the court — five titles, six MVPs, 19 All-Star appearances, the all-time leader in scoring, just to name a few — Abdul-Jabbar was also one of the more politically outspoken athletes of his time on various social and cultural issues.
Often described as an intellectual and an introvert, this made Abdul-Jabbar seem somewhat aloof to fans. But underneath the surface, there was a deep thinker and a conscientious leader who wasn’t afraid to risk his popularity and livelihood to engage on topics that he believed in.
From his perspective, those types of individual qualities are far more important than anything that happens on the court. Abdul-Jabbar is famously uninterested in any G.O.A.T. debate, which is partially the impetus behind a recent essay he published in Newsweek praising LeBron James for his steadfast leadership on the issues of race and equality in America.
Here is a brief excerpt from his article, titled “LeBron James Is Bigger Than the ‘GOAT’ Debate, He’s a Hero for Our Time.”
But success as an athlete isn’t enough. To laud anyone as a cultural hero, that person would also have to embody as well as promote some of the core values of that culture. LeBron has done that through his outspoken political and social advocacy, especially in support of racial equality. But beyond just talking, he has taken positive actions to better the community and country. This was demonstrated when Fox News’ Laura Ingraham famously reacted to an ESPN interview with LeBron in which he discussed, among many other topics, politics, by complaining, “It’s always unwise to seek political advice from someone who gets paid $100 million a year to bounce a ball. Keep the political comments to yourselves.… Shut up and dribble.”
Instead of just engaging in a social media war, he turned her lame insult into a three-part documentary series for Showtime called Shut Up and Dribble, which explores the evolving role of athletes in today’s divisive political climate. Over the years, LeBron has added his voice to the many athletes of conscience who wish to call attention to social injustices in order to eradicate them.
The whole essay is well worth a read, as Abdul-Jabbar spends ample time in awe and admiration of LeBron’s many accomplishments on and off the court. And it wasn’t long after its publication that LeBron himself took notice and tweeted his appreciation for one of the game’s all-time greats, who also happens to be a legendary alumnus of his current organization.
Abdul-Jabbar has written several books, and in a somewhat unexpected turn, was recently pegged to join the writing team for the new Veronica Mars reboot. We’re anxious to see what he has in store next.