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February 28, 2008

America still holds the torch with the NBA

Mbenga at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Blog

Recent times have seen many people decry the loss of prestige that America has suffered by way of the war in Iraq, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other fiascoes. But I can point to a story that has touched my life that clearly shows how America still holds the torch of liberty and freedom for all the world to see.

The Lakers recently signed Didier "D.J." Mbenga to a contract with an eye to solidifying our bench. His  story has helped me to see how much freedom and opportunity mean in the world today. D.J.'s dad was involved in the regime of Mobutu Sese Seku in the Congo. He was an administrator in this regime. Politics in that part of the world are in many ways a minefield, but Mr. Mbenga did his job and was able to send his family to live in Belgium. D.J. lived in Belgium from the age of 6, but his father felt that the family should return to the Congo to see first-hand what their homeland was all about. The timing of their visit was most unfortunate. D.J.'s father was implicated in an attempted coup and imprisoned immediately, along with other family members. He never returned from the lockup. D.J. was imprisoned also and would have  met the same fate as his dad if  not for a relative who was able to secure the family's release by bribing their jailers. A flight was arranged for their escape, and they made it by the slimmest of margins. There were threats to shoot down the flight as it took off, but somehow the Mbengas made it back to Belgium.

D.J.'s athletic potential has made it possible for him to have an opportunity to play in the NBA. He is a quiet, cheerful young man with a positive outlook, and he is so thankful for the opportunity to play basketball. His story should serve as an example of how lucky we are to live in a country with the many rights and opportunities so that many cannot dream of in the rest of the world.

Have no doubt about it, the torch of liberty that  is held high in New York Harbor sheds a very special, wonderful light. We who live here are truly privileged.

Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler: First black female doctor

Dr. Benjamin Spock published his famous "Baby and Child Care" in 1946, eventually outselling all other nonfiction books other than the Bible.  However, in 1883, 63 years before Spock’s book, America’s first African-American woman medical doctor published her "Book of Medical Discourse," offering medical advice for women and children.  What makes Dr. Crumpler’s success even more remarkable is that she received her medical degree in 1860, one year before the start of the American Civil War.  To be black and trying to become a doctor at that time was challenge enough, but to also be a woman breaking into a male bastion like medicine required heroic strength and courage and commitment.

Born in Delaware in 1831, Crumpler was raised by an aunt who was dedicated to caring for sick neighbors and friends.  At the age of 21, young Rebecca moved to Charleston, Mass., to work as a nurse for the next eight years.  The first formal nursing school wouldn’t open for another 20  years, so she was able to practice nursing without any sort of degree.  In 1860, 29-year-old Rebecca Crumpler entered the New England Female Medical College.  Upon graduation, she became the first black female doctor in the United States, and the only African-American woman to graduate from that college, which closed in 1873.

She practiced in Boston until the end of the Civil War.  Then, in 1866, she moved to Richmond, Va., to help those affected by the devastation of the war.  It was here, among a black population of 30,000, that she felt she could learn most about “the diseases of women and children.”  Despite enduring horrific racism and sexism, she, along with other brave black doctors, cared for freed slaves who otherwise would have received no medical care.

She returned to Boston, living in a mostly black neighborhood, caring for women and children until her retirement in 1880.  She died in 1895.  Although no photos of her remain, we can all imagine a face that reflects both the determination and compassion that guided her life.

February 27, 2008

The care & maintenance of the after-50 athlete

Mbenga at Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

People in their 20s and 30s mostly work out to train for a specific sport or to look good in a bathing suit. People in their 40s mostly work out to stave off admitting they're middle-aged. But people in their 50s not only have more varied reasons for working out, but they also have a variety of physical problems that need to be considered. Some just want to maintain a level of fitness and health so they can stay active along with their teenage children (or young grandchildren). Some want to continue the camaraderie of playing softball or racquetball or tennis with their longtime friends, but still remain competitive. Even after 50,  no one wants to be the last one picked (maybe especially after 50).

Cardio (short for cardiovascular) exercise is the cornerstone of any good fitness routine. Lots of people get caught up in the glamor of pumping a lot of iron to get those muscles big and bulging. But if they have to haul all that muscle weight up and down a shopping mall with the family, or jump in a pick-up game of basketball, they're soon bent over huffing and puffing. If you're looking to keep a healthy heart and stay as active as possible for as long as possible, balance any weight training with a solid cardio routine.

After the jump are four suggestions. Remember to select according to your own level of fitness, taking into consideration any physical ailments you may have.

Jumping rope. Jumping rope is my first choice for best overall cardio workout. I've been jumping rope for 30  years and, though the image of a 7-foot-2 man jumping rope may make you smile, I assure you that it keeps me in great shape. Not only does it burn more calories than many other cardio exercises, it improves your balance, agility, foot speed, and hand-eye coordination. Jumping rope at 130 revolutions per minute is equivalent to running at 6 miles per hour or cycling 12 miles per hour. Ten minutes of jumping rope at that pace is like running a mile. Also, you can adjust the intensity of the workout to your own level of fitness. If you are in good shape, you can jump longer and faster. If you're a beginner, go slow and steady. 

Important tips: (1) Be sure to use a jump rope that is the proper length for your height. Stand on the middle of the rope; the handles should be the same height as your armpits. (2) Jump on surfaces with give, such as wood, carpet, or mats (avoid concrete). (3) Keep your jumps to an inch or two in height. Keep your elbows close to your sides and use the wrists to turn the rope. Keep your eyes on a fixed point straight ahead and breathe through your nose. (4) To improve heart and lung fitness, you need to do this three to five times a week. (5) Caution: This exercise is not recommended if you have hip or knee problems.

Running. Yes, this old standby really works. The benefits of running have been preached by the faithful since James Fixx's "The Complete Book of Running" (1977) transformed this from a simple fitness exercise to some kind of spiritual awakening. People extol the virtues of running for its effects on the mind as well as the body. You can decide that for yourself. For me, running is a great way to burn calories (300 per 30 minutes for a 145-pound person), doesn't require membership in a gym, and allows you to get some fresh air. Also, if you have small children, you can run while pushing them in special strollers. Or, if the children are older, you can run with them as a family outing. Running also reduces stress and reduces muscle and bone loss caused by aging.

Elliptical trainer.  This low-impact exercise is perfect for fitness beginners and veterans alike. Not only does it build endurance, it burns calories at the rate of 300 per 30 minutes for a 145-pound person, the same as in running, but with less physical stress on the body.

Swimming. This is another low-impact cardio exercise that offers a variety of benefits. One benefit is that it can be continued throughout your life, regardless of many minor injuries or ailments. Also, while it's building your cardio capabilities, it's also building muscle strength. It's also excellent for weight loss: swimming the breast stroke for 30 minutes burns about 400 calories.

As with any new exercise routine, approach with caution and common sense. Start light until you feel comfortable with the exercise, then slowly increase your intensity and duration.

That's how we over-50 athletes let everyone else know that a little gray hair doesn't mean we're not still in the game.

February 26, 2008

Answering fan mail II

I wanted to add an answer to one more question that didn't make it onto the previous video.  I received a great question/response on my Slice ‘Em blog from Robert Sommers, and I would like to respond. 

Robert speaks of the traditional arts as being civilized and measured as opposed to the mixed martial arts phenomena that are so popular these days.  He certainly has a point. 

Unrestrained aggression is a very ugly path to take in living one’s life.  On the other hand, when someone’s life, loved ones, or home is threatened, it is necessary to respond in a radical way.  We have to be prepared to deal with those who use violence as their voice.  The balance is found in knowing when to act and when to use reason.  But it is so difficult to find that moderate space when dealing with irrational aggression.

Click here to check the prior fan mail

Jazz lives

Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

I recently had the pleasure of catching a performance of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, which is now touring, under the direction of Wynton Marsalis.  They played at the Pepperdine University Performing Arts Center in Malibu, and really raised the roof.   In New York City, my high school was immediately adjacent to the Lincoln Center site, and I watched those buildings being erected during my four high school years.  At that time, I never thought that jazz would become a part of the permanent curriculum at Lincoln Center, but some forward-looking people finally got the idea that jazz should be included in Lincoln Center's calendar of events.  It was a natural progression and has put jazz on the map in a very meaningful way. 

The performance I attended was dedicated to the works of Duke Ellington.  Wynton is a dedicated teacher and historian, in addition to being a virtuoso performer.  His introductions to the various tunes are explained with eloquent and humorous asides that explain the context and historical framework of the music.  In his hands, this great musical tradition will reach new generations of fans and maintain its status as “America’s classical music.”  Lincoln Center has also responded to the needs of the music by building three rooms on Columbus Circle that will ensure performers have a venue where they can play.  The rooms go from a club setting to a concert ballroom, and the acoustics are world-class.  Lincoln Center has made sure that jazz has a home.

photo of Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra by John Marshall Mantel, AP

February 25, 2008

Star wars, NBA-style II

Pau Gasol taking on Shaquille O'Neal in their first meeting as a Laker and a Sun, respectively

The Lakers stepped up and delivered in a major way in last week's victory over Phoenix. It was a statement of the first order. The Suns' acquisition of Shaquille O'Neal was an attempt to put some muscle and size in the mix for a small but speedy lineup. Shaq was able to deliver some muscle but that alone is not going to stop these Lakers.

The depth and cohesion of the Lakers squad is a pleasure to watch for Laker fans. Pau Gasol has made a seamless transition to the Laker offense and complements Kobe perfectly.  His ability on the perimeter to shoot, pass or attack the hoop creates problems for both his defender and those trying to help. Lamar Odom is like a Swiss Army knife at both ends of the court and is a threat to produce triple-double stats at any time.

Kobe was his usual self despite an injury to his shooting hand. The most ominous fact for their opponents is that the Lakers are not even at full strength. Trevor Ariza and Andrew Bynum are still sidelined with injuries at this point. When they return, we may get to see some truly scary hoops.

Like the rest of the Laker faithful, I can't wait for the next episode.

Photo of Pau Gasol taking on Shaquille O'Neal in Phoenix, by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

February 22, 2008

Linking up with the NCAA


I had a great time with the NCAA Double-A Zone. We talked about blogging, my audio book, fans, sports, writing and many other topics. Please join me in this really interesting conversation with the National Collegiate Athletic Association blog. Click here.

image credit: NCAA Double-A Zone.

February 21, 2008

Having a heart to heart with fans...

Kareem's life gets a spotlight on


Today is cool day for me. is launching my audio/visual show as a part of my audio book On the Shoulders of Giants. It shows you some insights to my life when I was a young boy growing up who loved baseball and had no serious interest in basketball. As a boy I was interested in competing in many sports -- sandlot football, baseball, basketball, swimming and track and field. But baseball was my real love. The field started to narrow down as my body started to develop and I had the prominent physical attributes to become a very good basketball player.

My dad played a hand in this also, telling me that I would get hurt playing football in ways that would preclude me from playing any other sport. Thanks, Dad!

While I was coaching for the Knicks in 2004, I took a quick peek at the Inwood Little League playing fields, and the league is still up and running. It brought back many fond memories of my baseball days, so  I hope that you all enjoy the ESPN E-Ticket excerpt of my new audio book, which reflects this era.

February 20, 2008

Dr. Mark E. Dean: The face in the computer

the original IBM 5150 PC circa 1981 If there is one device that defines human civilization today, it’s the personal computer.  No one can dispute how much the personal computer has revolutionized our lives, from increasing our productivity to spreading education to enhancing entertainment.  We are riding the personal computer into the future on the backs of our iPods and iPhones and GPS devices with the childlike glee of knowing anything is possible.  Well, that renewed optimism in the future—and the conveniences we enjoy today—all comes to us courtesy of African-American inventor Dr. Mark E. Dean.

Born in 1957 in Tennessee, Dean showed an interest in mechanics at an early age.  While still a boy, he and his father built an entire tractor from scratch.  But it wasn’t easy being a bright black kid on the cusp of the Civil Rights Movement.  When he was in sixth grade, a classmate impressed with Dean's knowledge asked if was really black.  After all, how could be both smart and black?  Dean admits that he faced the same prejudice even when he went to work for IBM in 1980.  However, despite that, he quickly became one of IBM’s most valued employees.  In 1995, he was named an IBM fellow, one of only 50 (out of 310,000 employees) and the first African-American to receive this honor.

So, what did Dean do exactly to become this exalted?  He holds three of the nine patents on the computer that all personal computers are based on.  Along with Dennis Moeller, Dean created the ISA systems bus that allows external devices like modems and printers to be connected to your PC.  Then, in 1999, he led the IBM team that built a gigahertz (1,000 mhz) chip capable of doing a billion calculations per second.  Among his numerous awards is his induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

“A lot of kids growing up today aren't told that you can be whatever you want to be," Dean once said. "There may be obstacles, but there are no limits.” The proof of what he says is right in front of you on the screen you’re using to read this.

photo of the original IBM 5150 PC (circa 1981) by  Los Angeles Times

February 19, 2008

On the rebound: Answering blogmail

Count basie orchestra A couple of days ago, I received the following comment from "Vman" in response to my blog about Dr. West , the co-inventor of the electret microphone used in almost 90% of all microphones built today:

A question from my 10-year-old...
So, Dr. West, 'inventor of the microphone,' invented it in 1962?
How were we able to hear Count Basie?"

First, let me say how impressed I am that a 10-year-old was so intelligent to ask that question.  Of course, it’s true that microphones existed long before Dr. West.  In fact, in 1827, English physicist and telegraph inventor Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) first coined the word “microphone.”  In 1876, German immigrant Emile Berliner (1851-1929), working in Washington , D.C. , invented a microphone used in telephones to transmit speech.  (He was also the first to invent the gramophone that recorded on disks, later called records.  His company’s symbol was a dog listening to the gramophone.)  Then in 1878, David Edward Hughes (1831-1900) invented the carbon microphone that is the model for the modern microphone. Which brings us to African-American Dr. James E. West and his co-inventor Gerhard Sessler, who received a patent for the electroacoustic transducer, and electret microphone.  The electret microphone is more reliable, acoustically accurate, smaller, and cheaper than conventional microphones.  So, while Dr. West didn’t invent the microphone, he invented a type of microphone that was small and so reliable that it could be used in everything from hearing aids to cell phones.  It’s also used on the space shuttles.

Here are some more answers to your questions:

How has martial arts influenced your workout? Do you continue to study? If so, how has your regimen changed?
-- Jon K

Jon K -- Martial arts has affected my training regimen by making me conscious of how I need to anticipate the various circumstances I will encounter in contests. Training for basketball means that the fundamental basketball skills -- shooting, passing and defense -- must be worked on with an emphasis on endurance. A basketball game is 48 minutes long, so the aspect of performing the fundamental skills while being tired must be addressed. So cardiovascular endurance is an absolute necessity in your training regimen. These days I don't work so much on my basketball skills, since I'm retired, but the fundamentals of strength, flexibility and cardio are always part of what I do. I try to include other activities that are fun but keep the fundamental skills sharp. So I'll jump rope, swim, run some cross country, play squash or ride my bike.

Do you have any thoughts on why yoga studios are so full of women and so few men practice?
-- Jaime

Answer after the jump...

Jamie -- I think the reason that women seem to be the most numerous in yoga studios these days is because they have a natural tendency to be flexible. Male hormones lend themselves to making big, strong, and much less-flexible muscle. Hence, all the guys in the weight room. The lack of testosterone makes for a more supple musculature, so you will see women make much faster progress in yoga studios. The best thing for men would be flexibility training. The natural tendency for building strong muscles means that they should do something beyond what comes so easily -- i.e., their strengths. Conversely, women should work on strength, since it;s more difficult for them to acquire strength as opposed to flexibility.

I know former heavyweight champ Ken Norton, and I talked him into taking a yoga class some years back. Ken arrived early and was watching the class that was in session immediately before the one we were going to take together. While watching what was being taught to that class, he became totally intimidated by the demands of flexibility. Ken was seriously muscular but he could plainly see that the postures he would be required to try in the class were beyond the range of his muscle bound frame. After about 10  minutes of observation, Ken quickly changed into his street clothes and left the studio. I don't think he ever tried yoga training after that. The point I'm making is that men need flexibility training to balance their muscular tendencies, and women need strength training to balance their tendency to lose muscle. Being proud to the point of vanity helps no one. All aspiring athletes should cover the basics, which are strength, flexibility and cardiovascular endurance. A well-rounded athlete is one who comes the closest to his or her potential.

How can any NBA team stop a Bynum-Gasol in the paint? Are they going to be unstoppable, in your opinion? Having the two is almost like having Jabbar and Duncan in the same team, agree?
-- Staples 24

I've received many questions about how Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum will work together on the Lakers after Bynum returns to the active roster. I think that the line-up will be formidable and a very difficult defensive problem for the Lakers' opponents. Pau has great perimeter skills; a good midrange jumper and  post-up moves, and most importantly he is a fine passer. Andrew has found his comfort zone in the Lakers' offensive scheme and is playing with more and more confidence. If they continue to learn how to play in this offense, it will be a thorny problem for any team trying to shut down either of them. In addition, the attention they get will make it more difficult to guard Kobe, Lamar and those other Laker perimeter players. So I'm looking for good things to happen for the Lakers and more problems for their opponents.

Kareem, do you remember "Stompin' ON the Savoy" by the King Kong Trio, vocal by Godzilla? ... It was literally a smash in the early '60's.
-- Bob Arbogast

I'm not familiar with the King Kong version of "Stompin' at the Savoy."


photo of the Count Basie Orchestra by Lefty Shivambu, Gallo Images

February 18, 2008

Slice 'em


I watched a mixed martial arts event this weekend featuring street fighting legend Kimbo Slice. It was a featured live event on cable and drew a huge live audience in Miami.  This form of combat has eclipsed boxing at the box office and in the hearts of fight fans, and when I watch these events I fondly remember the time I spent with the late Bruce Lee, who participated in these types of fights on rooftops in Hong Kong as a young man.

I feel that this style of combat is based on a concept that Bruce was instrumental in developing. The traditional fight contest would have people from one discipline only fighting each other according to the rules of that discipline. That created, for example, a situation where judo contestants would fight each other strictly according to judo rules. Bruce envisioned a contest where any style was allowed to go against any other style, with no restrictions as to how techniques were used. Bruce used tactics from any and all of the martial arts disciplines without regard to their origin. He considered people who would use only the techniques taught by their particular discipline as tradition-bound. Innovation and experimentation were frowned upon and thus severely limited an individual's ability to use what worked for him.

The Gracie jiu-jitsu clan from Brazil also started to train outside of the boundaries of traditional jiu-jitsu, and in doing so offended the tradition-bound superiors in the jiu-jitsu world. The Gracies and Bruce couldn't have cared less. The new approach made for effective self-defense, and anyone using the new concept became an unpredictable and formidable opponent, like Bruce or the Gracies. This new concept has led to new "mixed martial arts" contests that have captured the fight fans' attention big- time. It has also led to a realistic reappraisal of the effectiveness of the various styles. 

Students from all styles now train with the realistic idea of what does and does not work when it hits the fan. I know Bruce would be happy to see the evolution of martial arts training that he pioneered become the standard throughout the discipline.

Photo credit: Warner Bros.

Why Black History Month?


A white friend of mine told me his 9-year-old son asked him, “If February is Black History Month, then when is White History Month?”  My friend replied, “The other 11 months.”  That’s why I take this opportunity to use my blog to promote some of the most notable and influential African-Americans in American history.  As much as I support and encourage the idea of Black History Month as a way of bringing to attention some otherwise overlooked and neglected historical figures, we need to make sure that Black History Month isn’t merely a closet that’s opened once a year to display these people as oddities, like a Ripley’s Believe It or Not museum.  Instead, we should use Black History Month as a launching point to continually educate all Americans about the diversity of their history—and how because of that diversity we are the great nation we are today.  February is when the bookstores and libraries and educational stations remind the world that history is multicultural, but it’s up to the rest of us to keep that spirit alive the rest of the year.  After all, our ultimate goal should be to one day make Black History Month unnecessary.

February 15, 2008

Charlotte E. Ray: Beyond the law

Sometimes there’s a heavy price to be paid for being an innovator. The greater the innovation, the greater the price to be paid. This is especially true for African-American women innovators, who not only braved the cruelty of racism, but also the harshness of sexism. How hard it must have been to come home after a long day facing racists, only to find the same hostile intolerance on the faces of men of your own race, even your own family.
That’s how it was for Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911), the first African-American female lawyer in the United States.

Ray was born in New York City to a father who was a minister and journalist, and a mother who partnered with her husband as conductors on the Underground Railroad. Getting a good education was important to Ray, so she attended one of the few schools that allowed women, the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C. Knowing that women had an even more difficult time being admitted to law school, she applied to Howard University as “C.E. Ray." She graduated in 1872 as a Phi Beta Kappa and passed her bar exam the same year. However, despite her ambition, discipline, courage, and intelligence, the first black female lawyer was unable to maintain a law practice.

She returned to New York City in 1879, and she became a teacher in the public schools as well as an activist with the National Women’s Suffrage Association and the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Eventually she married, moved to Long Island, and died at the age of 60 from bronchitis.

Maybe what makes Charlotte Ray especially admirable isn’t her historic milestone of being the first black female lawyer, but that in face of failure as a lawyer, she didn’t turn her back on the community that failed to support her dream, but renewed her commitment to making others' lives better. That is the definition of heroic.

for more info, check out Charlotte's wikipedia entry

February 14, 2008

A fine mess ...

Clemens_2 After watching part of the congressional hearings on drug and steroid use by professional athletes, I can only think of Oliver Hardy's complaint to Stan Laurel  in so many of their comedies -- "It's a fine mess you've gotten us into" -- but this mess is neither fine nor funny.

I have been a baseball fan ever since I was a toddler, and the recent disclosures made by so many players, coupled with the evasive maneuvering by others, leaves me with so my questions and a very bad smell in the air.

The most recent spectacle of Roger Clemens and his accuser is like an ugly cherry on a rotten cake.

Given the totally contradictory testimony of those questioned, we are left with one clear conclusion: Someone is lying big-time. But whom do we accuse? It would be impossible for even the most accomplished detective to sort through all of the various assertions of those who are accused or suspected. 

I've also seen the effect that the steroid craze has had on young athletes. I have been questioned a few times by aspiring athletes who want to bulk up as to how to do it and not get caught.  The message they are absorbing from all this is to cheat, lie and disregard the long-term consequences.

I spoke to former All-Pro lineman Lyle Alzado before he died. He weighed about 160 pounds and had no hair and not many teeth left. He knew that he was dying and asked me to tell any kid who would listen not to follow his path. I shed more than a few tears that evening. Lyle was a good dude who made some poor choices. 

I hope all the professional leagues make a concerted effort to get their franchises to provide role models who shun performance-enhancing drugs, something that I always avoided. 

The youth of our nation deserve no less.

photo credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP

February 13, 2008

Care & maintenance of the over-50 athlete: Core fitness


When I was a kid, most of the fathers over 50 would settle into their sofas at night with a beer and watch TV. Until the remote was invented (the first was in 1950, from Zenith, and it was appropriately named “Lazy Bones”), the most exercise a lot of dads got was getting up to change the channel during the week. On weekends, maybe they mowed the lawns or played catch with their kids. My dad was an exception. He regularly played handball, especially in the summer months.

Today, over-50 athletes are not only common, but they are often in better shape than some of the people they’re playing with who are half their ages. The main difference between them and their younger competitors is the recovery time after playing. The younger players may ache for a few hours, maybe even into the next day, but the older players never stop aching. They have chronic pains in the shoulders, knees, elbows, hips and places they didn’t even know were part of their bodies until they felt pain there. You see them arriving at the basketball court or softball field with wraps and braces and Costco-size jars of Advil rattling in their sports bags. But they show up. They play hard. And many times they’re still standing when the younger players are huffing on the sidelines gulping Gatorade.

If you’re one of those graying warriors — or you just want to compete like one — stay tuned to my blog for a series of entries directed specifically at the over-50 athlete. Today I want to talk about the best way to stay fit and reduce injuries that we are more prone to. The answer: core fitness. The core of your body is located in the 29 muscles around your midsection and hips.  This area is the body’s center of gravity, the source of all your movement.  So the more fit this area is, the better you’ll be able to control your movements, reduce injuries and build power. In fact, core fitness is one of the keystones to the Lakers’ training philosophy.

There are plenty of books and websites that can instruct you on a variety of exercises designed to work these muscles. Or you can work with a personal trainer at a fitness club. There are many core exercises that can be done with a fitness ball. The advantage of using the ball is it teaches you balance and focus. In the meantime, here are some basic core exercises to get you started...

Plank. This looks like a push-up, but with your elbows and forearms touching the ground. Push yourself up onto your toes, clench your abdominals for 10 to 30 seconds and lower your body to the floor. Repeat 10 times, increasing as you get more fit.

Crunch. Lie face up on the floor with knees bent and your hands across your chest. Curl the shoulders toward your hips, tightening the abdominals. Unlike the sit-up, when you’re doing a crunch, the lower back stays pressed to the floor. Start with 20 reps.

Quadruped. Get down on your hands and knees, with your forearms flat against the ground the same as with the plank. Raise one leg up so the thigh is parallel with the ground and the bottom of your shoe is facing the ceiling. Keep your neck straight and don’t arch the back. Lower leg to ground and repeat 10 to 15 times. Then switch legs.

Some tips: This routine works bets when performed at least three times a week. Perfect form is more important the number of repetitions. You’re after results, not numbers. As with all physical exercise, keep breathing at a steady pace. Many beginners hold their breath, which is not healthy.

Try this three times a week for one month and then let me know if you notice any changes in your fitness level and your level of play. After all, us over-50 athletes have to show these younger players that the older you get, the more game you’ve got. In the future we will talk about flexibility and cardiovascular endurance, which are the other two important aspects of fitness.

Stay tuned and I'll let you know what works for me!

February 12, 2008

Bebop and beyond


Herbie Hancock has just been awarded the 2008 Grammy award for Album of the Year -- a collaborative effort with Joni Mitchell. I've known Herbie since I was in high school. The night of my high school graduation, I went to the Village Vanguard and had the pleasure of seeing him perform with Miles Davis' band, without Miles. I got to know the whole band because of my friendship with bassist Ron Carter. We have maintained our friendship since this time. It has been a real treat to see Herbie's reach expand constantly.  He has never forgotten Duke Ellington's edict to swing.

"River: The Joni Letters" represents Herbie's expansion beyond the race- based straitjackets of nomenclature imposed on American musicians.  American music has such a rich and varied foundation it is really grotesque to try to define it as R & B or rock or pop or metal or Latin or Reggae or country or blues. For example, the blues and country evolved in exactly the same environment--  i.e. the Mississippi Delta, West Texas, Nashville, Tenn., and New Orleans, to name a few.  But for some reason, the music of Elvis must be regarded as different from Chuck Berry even when both artists embrace the same regional and artistic roots.

Maybe Herbie's success will make a few a more people think about the absurdity of these genre designations. After all, it is the clash of America's various cultural heritage that give us such a rich and varied musical landscape.

Herbie certainly inherited the mantle of Art Tatum and Bud Powell, but his world is so much bigger than that. My hope is that as Americans our ability to appreciate our enormous musical choices will continue to expand. Don't forget, Satchmo, Johnny Cash, the Duke and Frank Sinatra are watching ... and listening!

p.s.: Herbie collaborated with me on a song for my audio book "On the Shoulders of Giants." We took an old song from the 1930s, entitled "Stompin' at the Savoy," and Herbie remade it into a modern jazz song. from the blackeyed peas sang vocals with Nikki Yanofksy.

Click here to listen to the song: "Stompin' at the Savoy"

Bessie Coleman helped black women soar


The “friendly skies” of aviation have not always been that friendly to women pilots.  Currently there are about 4,000 women airline pilots out of the nearly 80,000 male airline pilots.  The first female airline pilot was Helen Richey, who was hired by Central Airlines in 1934.  After only 10 months on the job, she resigned because the all-male pilots union would not allow her to join.  Broke and jobless, she committed suicide in 1947.  (By the way, United Airlines currently has the most female pilots.)

Although history’s flight toward more women pilots has been turbulent, there is one woman who shares a lot of responsibility for launching women into the air in the first place.  Bessie Coleman (pictured), 1892-1926 — also known as “Queen Bess” — was the first African American woman airline pilot, as well as the first American woman to receive an international pilot’s license. Too often, Amelia Earhart is seen as the pioneer woman aviator. Hopefully that will change.  Too poor to stay in college, Bessie took a job as a manicurist at the White Sox Barber Shop in Chicago, where she heard about the adventures of pilots returning from World War I.  It was there that she also met two powerful black businessmen, Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, one of the country’s most influential black newspapers, and real estate developer Jesse Binga. 

These two men encouraged Bessie to take up aviation, even though they knew she had to move to France to learn because no American flight schools would accept her as both black and a woman.  After earning her pilot’s license and international pilot's license, she returned to the U.S.

Photo of Bessie Coleman, public domain

Dr. James West — inventor of the electret microphone


In 1996, I published a book titled "Black Profiles in Courage." It was my take on American history that included the contributions of black Americans. In so many of our history books, the efforts of black Americans go unrecognized. Since publishing that book, I’ve come across much more information that fits this profile. So, I’d like to give some acknowledgment to Dr. James E. West, whom I did not know of back in ’96. In 1962, Dr. West and his partner Gerhard Sessler invented the electret microphone used in almost 90% of all microphones built today — over 1 billion a year.

Dr. West was raised in Virginia and almost was discouraged from pursuing physics due to the Jim Crow system in place when he was going to school. At that time, the only professional jobs that blacks could hold in Virginia were teacher, preacher, doctor or lawyer. Dr. West recalls that his father introduced him to three men who had earned doctorates in chemistry and physics. The best jobs available to those men were working at the post office. Dr. West’s father did not want him to take a long, arduous road and end up working at a post office.

But Dr. West was not to be denied. He speaks of discovery as being “… the best high I ever had …” He has gone on to acquire over 200 U.S. patents and now teaches at Johns Hopkins University where he is trying to recruit more minority and women faculty.

Photo of Dr. James West, public domain

February 11, 2008

Star wars, NBA-style

Allstarlogo4As we approach the NBA All-Star break, we are witnessing the cumulative effect of much maneuvering on the part of the more dominant franchises.

The Spurs -- the  defending champs -- are the only team that has played a pat hand. 

Summer ’07 saw the Lakers trying to make a deal to acquire K.G., which would ultimately fail.  But that effort would not be the last we heard from the Lakers. 

Frustration and impatience on the part of the Lakers faithful had reached a fever pitch.  For those Laker fans, watching K.G. go to Boston was vexing to the nth degree.  The only development that calmed that angst was the emergence of Andrew Bynum as a legit force in the paint.  Laker fans were now envisioning having something to do in May or June after years of absence from the significant playoff games. 

Then came an injury to Bynum that again pushed back the aspirations of Laker fans.  But then came the ultimate in deals from the blue. The Lakers got to acquire Pau Gasol, an All-Star center, from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton and two first-round draft picks.  Presto-chango, and Laker fans are in heaven again.  Gasol is a solid performer who has the same aspirations and hopes as the loyal Laker fans. 

Not to be outdone, the Phoenix Suns have gotten in on the act.  They have acquired Shaquille O’Neal to give them the sizable frontcourt presence that many thought was keeping them out of the championship round.  If the 2007 playoff season was any indication, there is something credible in that view.  Shaq has been quoted as saying that he will be able to adjust his talents to the Suns' up-tempo, run-and-gun style.  The naysayers point to his conditioning issues and injury-plagued recent history. 

In any event, this season has become very interesting for fans worldwide.  Will the Laker-Celtic duel of the '80s be revived?  Will the Suns break through this year?  Will Detroit or San Antonio do their usual methodical march to the finals?  Whatever the outcome, the stage is set for a very interesting and competitive playoff season.  In all probability … the best in the last 20 years.    

February 08, 2008

The real history of the light bulb


I’m currently writing a children’s book, What Color Is My Day? How African-American Inventors Affect Your Daily Life, that shows children how many conveniences that they take for granted every day were actually the result of African-American inventors.  One of the inventors I profile is Lewis Latimer.  Look over at the light bulb that is helping you read this and think about him.

Flip a switch and the light bulb instantly brightens a room. Ask any child who is responsible for that light and they will shout, “Thomas Edison!” Yes, Edison did invent a light bulb—but his bulb had such a short lifespan that it lasted only a few days.  This made it impractical for general use because to keep replacing bulbs every few days would be much too expensive for people. And, without a practical light bulb, there wasn’t much incentive for people to wire their homes with electricity. But then came African-American inventor Lewis Latimer, who had already distinguished himself by inventing a bathroom for use on trains (much to the relief of kid travelers) and who drafted the patent application for the telephone for Alexander Graham Bell.

Wanting to create a light bulb that would last longer than a few days, he devised his own bulb. His lasted so much longer that people were able to afford them, which then made it much easier to convince the average person to allow electricity into their homes. So, though Edison invented the light bulb, it was Latimer who improved it so much that people actually were able to use it.

photo of Lewis Latimer, public domain

February 07, 2008

Cypress College students impress basketball legend


I had the opportunity to address the students and high school guests at Cypress College for Black History Month this afternoon. It is very important to get the message to them that their education is about the most important aspect of their young lives. I spoke to them about my own experiences as a high school student in New York in the '60s. I was involved in a program that sought to teach the kids of Harlem how to make it a better place. It was called the Harlem Youth Action Project, or Haryou-Act. The program consisted of various workshops in different areas. Music, dance, drama, photography, community organizing, art and journalism were all covered in the workshops. I was accepted into the journalism workshop under the mentorship of Mr. Al Calloway, who challenged us to produce a weekly journal about the Harlem community.

My experiences that summer changed my life in such an important way. Learning about what Harlem meant to the black community and how the Harlem Renaissance affected America gave me an ability to understand what I wanted to do with my life. Since then I have had a purpose and focus for my energy. I have published six books. Four of them were history books that tell part of the story of the black experience in America. The names of the books are "Black Profiles in Courage," "Brothers in Arms," "A Season on the Reservation" and "On the Shoulders of Giants." I hope these books continue to educate those who have  an interest in black history.

The young people at Cypress responded with excellent questions and were able to give me a good feeling about the potential of the next generation. I was impressed how interested the students seemed because one student approached me afterwards to tell me how she usually falls asleep during sessions like this.

February 06, 2008

How to shoot a skyhook ... after 50

Captainhook The 50-plus player can still run with a younger crowd at the park or fitness club, but it's best to avoid knocking around in the mosh pit under the basket. One trick the guys won't see coming? The skyhook. You don't have to be 7-foot-2: this is one of those rare times in life when someone says to you size doesn't matter  -- and means it.

Remember, the idea behind the skyhook is to always keep your body between the defensive player and the ball.

Step 1: Use both hands to tuck the ball under your chin.
Step 2: Step parallel to the basket with your left foot.
Step 3: Use your momentum from that step to launch yourself up into the air.
Step 4: As you rise into the air, turn to your left shoulder and extend the ball
over your head with your right hand.
Step 5: As you release the ball, aim for the center of the closest part of the rim, arching your shot so it will drop behind the rim.

Think of it as an athletic version of the Hokey Pokey: you put your left foot out, you bring your right arm up, you toss the ball in the hoop, then you shake it all about.

What makes this shot effective is that most young players have never had to guard against it, so you'll catch your opponent flatfooted. As the ball drops through the net with a satisfying swish, you can then walk away singing: "That's what it's all about!"

Click here to listen to what a skyhook sounds like

art credit: © Terry Smith, Terry Smith Creations 1993

February 05, 2008

Musicians play politics and kareem abdul-jabbar I was honored to work with of the Black Eyed Peas at the Record Plant in Hollywood and help him with the "Yes We Can Video" inspired by Barack Obama's speech. 

In less than one week, over 6 million people went to Dipdive and over 2 million people saw the video on YouTube! Will feels that in times like these, it is important for all of us to make political statements.

Will is making a difference with his art, and I think he is to be honored for his willingness to take a stand. In this day and age, that shows real courage.

I can remember back in the '50s when the brilliant blind vocalist Al Hibbler went to the South in support of voter registration. He got arrested and was ridiculed by the town's law enforcement establishment in the town where he was demonstrating. Nonetheless, his courage and commitment was out there for everyone to see. It is because of people like him that we overcame Jim Crow.

Click here to hear tell me what it was like to create "Yes We Can."

February 04, 2008

Kareem says, "Yes We Can!"

I recently joined at the Record Plant in Hollywood and helped him do the "Yes We Can" video for the Obama campaign.  I worked with on my audio book project On the Shoulders of Giants.  Will collaborated with Herbie Hancock to redo a 1936 song entitled "Stompin at the Savoy."

Barack's campaign has revisited the optimism and hope the nation felt during President Kennedy's campaign.  I was at the Avalon for the rally last Thursday. 

This was the first time I had ever attended a presidential rally.  I met Barack in 2006 at the Senate building in Washington, D.C., and I was immediately impressed with his vision, intelligence, and energy. 

Barack Obama is definitely presidential.   

Giants rule the world!


I was very happy to see the Giants win because when I was a kid they always lost the important games. I remember when they lost to Baltimore in 1958, in 1960 when they lost to Philadelphia, twice to Green Bay in 1961 and 1962, and then again to Chicago in 1963.

I remember they were like the Brooklyn Dodgers, rarely winning the big game.  I was really happy to see them come through and win this big game.

I wore number 33 during my career because it was my favorite Giant player's  number,  Mel Triplett,  a blocking back for the  Giants and the only black guy in the backfield.

I met The Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, in 2006 at the NCAA basketball finals, and we took this photo.


Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

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Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is the 2008 Honorary Chair Library Card Sign-up Month, which takes place in September. He will also appear at the American Library’s National Convention on June 28th and 29th at the Long Beach Convention Center to sign his poster.

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