It would be easy to say that a black man born in 1947, in the ghetto of uptown Manhattan, has the odds stacked against him. But Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stood tall—7 feet, 2 inches tall — in the midst of this troublesome time and place. In high school, he won three straight New York City Catholic basketball championships. In college, he won three national championships. And in the professional ranks of the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar won six NBA titles. Over the course of his career, Kareem introduced new moves, new agendas and a new personality to both the game of basketball and American community as a whole. His dominance and leadership brought the Los Angeles Lakers to dominance. More importantly, Jabbar cut the figure of a renaissance man — the intelligent scholar-athlete who helped invent the archetype of the Black crossover sports star that Michael Jordan brought to its ultimate incarnation. In do doing, Jabbar laid part of the cultural groundwork for the society that elevated Barack Obama to the highest office in the land.
Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. in 1947 in New York, New York, Jabbar was a born basketball player and leader. After his high school career, Jabbar went out West to play for the UCLA Bruins and legendary coach John Wooden. Despite not being able to play his freshman year due to NCAA rules, Jabbar is still well regarded as the greatest college basketball player ever. In three seasons, he won two Player of the Year Awards, three National Championships, three Most Outstanding Player in Tournament awards, and he averaged 26.4 points per game. Jabbar was picked first by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 NBA Draft and went on to win the NBA Rookie of the Year title. Jabbar would later be traded to Los Angeles, where five more championships would ensue. It was in L.A .that Jabbar would also pursue what would turn out to be a respectable acting career.
Jabbar used his influence to enlighten the American population. He wrote several books with the intention of popularizing the contributions of African-Americans to American culture, including “Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement,” and “On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance.”
In 2008, Jabbar was chosen as The Greatest Player in College Basketball History. His influence on college basketball was immeasurable. From causing the dunk to be banned because of his dominance and the creation of the skyhook, to beating the #1 ranked UCLA Bruins varsity team with his junior varsity classmates in an intrasquad match, Jabbar’s achievements in college are legendary.
Jabbar’s heights of achievement made him an example of excellence to everyone. But whether it was basketball, acting, writing, or speaking, Jabbar was and is always an excellent human being, a model citizen, and someone who many people turn to for guidance. Even though he was raised in a time of racial upheaval, Jabbar stayed above the fray and never let racial animosity affect him—something Barack Obama has done equally well in his quest for the Presidency.