Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made the media rounds in anticipation of last night’s 90-minute HBO documentary about his life. Kareem: Minority of One debuted at 10 p.m. EST, and it follows Kareem from his childhood in New York City to perhaps the most dominant college career ever at UCLA, and finally, his 20-year career in the NBA with six MVPs and six championships.
Unlike many athletes after him, with some notable contemporary exceptions, Kareem was also heavily involved in political matters of his day, appearing with other African-American athletes at the Muhammad Ali summit in 1967 (Bill Russell, Jim Brown and others were also in attendance), while famously changing his name from Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after winning an NBA championship with the Bucks in 1971.
Contrasting with Kareem, Michael Jordan kept his political beliefs shrouded behind the Nike swoosh he helped launch to the top of the athletic brand landscape when he came into the NBA in the 1980s. When Jordan was asked to endorse Charlotte Mayor Harvey Gantt in his 1990 North Carolina senate bid (and again in 1996) against famously bigoted incumbent, Jesse Helms, the Bulls star infamously said, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.”
In an interview with NPR earlier this week, Kareem was asked about the comment and — like he’s always done — spoke his mind despite knowing how it would be taken.
[HOST, MICHAEL] MARTIN: I mean, you know, Michael Jordan was asked to endorse, you know, Harvey Gantt get in the very competitive, you know, Senate race, where there was – he was running against somebody who had very retrograde racial attitudes. And he’s famously quoted as having said, you know, Republicans buy sneakers, too.
ABDUL-JABBAR: You can’t be afraid of losing shoe sales if you’re worried about your civil and human rights. You can’t be worried about that.
ABDUL-JABBAR: It’s just the way it is. He took commerce over conscious. That’s unfortunate for him, but he’s got to live with it.