Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is still known to many people as a star basketball player, with UCLA in college and later the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA. But Abdul-Jabbar says he’s also a concerned American, “and I felt I should speak out on something that I know is a serious issue for my country.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s book Writings on the Wall, Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White offers perspectives on issues such as race, religion, gender quality, the media, aging and voting rights. Abdul-Jabbar says the title means certain things are obvious - writings on a big wall “like graffiti.” The book is the Kalamazoo Public Library’s selection for this year’s Reading Together Program. Abdul-Jabbar will speak on Tuesday at Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium. An RSVP is required for Tuesday's event.
The basketball hall of fame member says he understands that people may not be interested in a book by a retired athlete, but Abdul-Jabbar says other people may be curious about his writing because he is well-known. So far, Abdul-Jabbar says the response to his book has been positive.
Asked if athletes should speak out on social issues, Abdul-Jabbar says those who go to the trouble to be knowledgeable, have a right to speak out. He says everyone has to use their platform as they see fit. Abdul-Jabbar says he considers himself fortunate to be able to offer his opinion on important issues.
In Writings on the Wall, Abdul-Jabbar says it’s hard for white people to see racism because most of them are not racists. But he also says that he has faced bigotry since he was very young, and will likely continue to for the rest of his life. Abdul-Jabbar says it’s hard for many white people to recognize systemic racism because it doesn’t affect them personally. He says it’s up to people who are negatively affected to convey that being of a different race in White America can be a painful experience.
Abdul-Jabbar writes of his own decision to convert to Islam, and how he is now on “celebrity Muslim speed dial” when there is a terrorist attack carried out by Islamic groups. Abdul-Jabbar says ISIS is the Muslim equivalent of the Ku Klux Klan. He says ISIS doesn’t represent all Muslims any more than the KKK represents all of Christians.
Abdul-Jabbar is very critical of voter ID laws and other things that he says get in the way of people who want to vote. But he says if people aren’t informed their votes are rather superfluous. Abdul-Jabbar says he’s not in favor of making anyone go to the polls who isn’t interested in voting.
During a 20 year career in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar set several records. More than 27 years after retiring, he still holds the league’s record for most career points. In Writings on the Wall, Abdul-Jabbar says he expects all of his records to be broken eventually. But in our interview, he says the escalating salaries in the NBA give his record a chance to endure. Abdul-Jabbar who retired when he was 42 says “guys get to be 35 and say hey, now it’s time to find that island and the cool drink.”