Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaking at Hancher Sunday

Basketball legend will discuss political activism in sports

IOWA CITY — Fifty years ago while he was a star basketball player at UCLA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also was a social activist.

“It was a very intense time for the civil rights movement,” Abdul-Jabbar said by phone Thursday. “While I was in college both the Voting Rights Act and Civil Rights Act were passed.

“After Dr. (Martin Luther) King was assassinated we did a demonstration on the UCLA campus. … A couple different times people stopped to tell me ‘Hey, you’re going to have a career in the NBA. What are you complaining about? You’re going to make money.’

“It really was amazing that they could see it in those terms. The fact that I had the opportunity to get a job that pays me lucratively does not change in any way the fact I don’t appreciate having my rights denied to me. What about my family? What about my community?”

A half-century later at age 70, Abdul-Jabbar still publicly addresses what he thinks needs to be addressed. Sunday at 3 p.m., the six-time NBA Most Valuable Player will speak at Hancher Auditorium at an event called “From Kareem to Kaepernick: A History of Political Activism in Sports.”

The event is sponsored by the University of Iowa’s Division of Student Life, is open to the public, and is free. Doors open at 2:30 p.m.

Last month, Fox News host Laura Ingraham told NBA stars LeBron James and Kevin Durant “You’re great players, but no one voted for you. … So keep the political commentary to yourself. Or, as someone once said, shut up and dribble.”


“That argument is not valid at all,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That’s the argument of someone who wants to change the subject. It’s the argument of people who wanted to say that Colin Kaepernick (who knelt during before NFL games during the playing of the national anthem) was disrespecting the flag.

“Colin Kaepernick had a lot of respect for the flag and our country, our armed forces. Colin Kaepernick was upset about the fact that black Americans get killed by police officers needlessly too often and somebody needs to do something about it.

“The people that objected (to Kaepernick) wanted to change that subject. So we have to point that out.”

Fifty years ago, Abdul-Jabbar declined an invitation to play for the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team. In his 2017 book, “Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote:

“White America seemed ready to do anything necessary to stop the progress of civil rights, and I thought that going to Mexico would seem like I was either fleeing the issue or more interested in my career than in justice. I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I did go and we won, I’d be bringing honor to the country that was denying our rights.”

Abdul-Jabbar said he is more encouraged than discouraged by the way the nation has changed over the last half-century.

“The aftermath of the demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, really told me a lot about my country.

“It was a very ugly to see, Nazis demonstrating. But the response across the nation was really, for me, uplifting. Because people from all points of the country — I don’t care if it was New England, southern California, or Montana or Florida — it didn’t matter. The response was Nazis did not represent America. Nazis are not who my country is all about.


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“That came from a broad spectrum of Americans. That gave me a lot of encouragement, because that to me is evidence of progress that we’ve made.”

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