Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “There’s more to young people’s lives than sports and entertainment”

jabbar-1Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 65, was one of the world’s most famous basketball players.

He remains the record all-time scorer in the National Basketball Association. He still has to duck to get his 7-foot, 2-inch frame through most doorways.

But when he retired as a player in 1989, after 20 years of professional play, he was at a loss.

He told CNN: “The first training camp that I missed, I was like, ‘Jeez, what am I going to do now?'” He quotes another sports legend – Jackie Robinson – to describe how he felt when he retired.

“He said that athletes die twice,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “You know, when that first career is gone, that’s a death.”

That adjustment was harder for Abdul-Jabbar to process than his cancer diagnosis in 2008. He has chronic myeloid leukemia, a blood cancer that he manages with drug therapy.

“I think that (retirement) was the more difficult adjustment because you don’t know what to do,” he said. “I’d had this incredible career.” But when he started to cultivate his talents off the court, he discovered a new calling. Now, he says, he wants to be known for his writing – not just his basketball prowess.

“I always tell people I can stuff a basketball into a hoop, but I also have a mind,” he said. He has written seven books, including one for children, that focus on contributions from African-Americans to U.S. culture. Inspiring young people to pursue paths in science, math, engineering and other disciplines beyond professional sports is a passion. Because of his reputation as a famous athlete, his advice resonates with young fans.”It’s really important that young people get … that there’s more to their life than sports and entertainment,” he said.

Abdul-Jabbar also works as a paid spokesman for Novartis Pharmaceuticals, which makes Tasigna, the drug therapy he takes to manage his CML. He says this role exposes him to a new fan base.

jabbar-2“People come up to me now and start talking to me about someone in their family, or a friend, or a loved one that has some type of leukemia.” He said the experience has opened up a new world to him.

During his career with the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers from 1969 to 1989, Abdul-Jabbar won six NBA championships and a record six regular season MVP Awards.

In college at UCLA, he played on three consecutive national championship teams, and his high school team won 71 consecutive games.

At the time of his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA’s all-time leader in points scored, games played, minutes played, field goals made, field goal attempts, blocked shots, defensive rebounds, and personal fouls.

Abdul-Jabbar was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995. He was named the NBA MVP numerous times (1971–72, 1974, 1976–77, 1980).

Abdul-Jabbar won 6 NBA championships (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987–88), and was selected to the NBA All-Star team 19 times.

Abdul-Jabbar led the NBA in scoring twice, once in rebounding, and 4 times in blocked shots.

In his NBA career, Abdul-Jabbar appeared in 1560 games, averaging 24.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 2.6 bpg in 36.8 minutes on the court.


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