Basketball Legend, Civil Rights Activist, Black History Author

By the time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar began high school, he was already 6 feet 8 inches tall. As an adult, he rocketed to over 7 feet! While his height and athletic ability made him a legend on the basketball court, his writing and activism cemented his status as an important figure in Black history.

Kareem (originally named “Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.”) was born in Harlem, New York City, in 1947. As a child, Kareem was self-conscious and depressed about his extraordinary height; people would often point and stare at him. However, he found comfort and purpose in playing the game of basketball. It wasn’t long before he became a dominant player. Kareem began stacking up record-breaking basketball accomplishments in high school, where he led his team to a 71-game winning streak and two national championships. Kareem continued his success at college (as a UCLA Bruin!) and in the pros, winning multiple championships and Most Valuable Player trophies. He finished his career, retiring in 1989, as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, earning a spot in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

In his life off the court, Kareem is a fierce advocate for human rights, especially regarding the empowerment of African Americans. Early in his athletic career, he committed to using his fame as a tool to fight for equality. In the late 1960s, he attended a famous summit of Black athletes designed to show support and solidarity for Muhammed Ali’s refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. Later, he officially changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to reflect his newfound Muslim religious identity. In the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he boycotted the 1968 Olympic games to bring awareness to the mistreatment of Black people. When asked about his choice, Kareem said he was “trying to point out to the world the futility of winning the gold medal for this country and then coming back to live under oppression.” Kareem became a best-selling, well-known writer focusing on Black history and current events. In 2012, he was appointed Cultural Ambassador for the United States. In recent years, he has used his voice and writings to fight for policies that benefit Muslim Americans and Black college athletes.

It wasn’t easy to accomplish all that Kareem has. Not only did he achieve athletic glory while competing against the best competition in the world, but he also did it while enduring discriminatory government policies and racist coaches and fans. And, despite all that he faced, Kareem still made time to advocate for his people and community. He should be an inspiration to us all!

— Written by Sherman Payne

Photo: WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 03: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar attends the Yahoo News/ABCNews Pre-White House Correspondents’ dinner reception pre-party at Washington Hilton on May 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Yahoo News)