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March 31, 2008

My thoughts on UCLA in the Final Four

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinking about UCLA in the NCAA final four The last time I attended the NCAA Finals was in 2006 when UCLA played the Florida Gators for the championship. As I was walking down the tunnel with Bill Walton to enter the stadium my cellphone rang. It was Coach Wooden's family calling to let me know Coach was in the hospital in serious condition. I was stunned as I entered the stadium in the midst of almost 80,000 fans. I had to sit and watch UCLA be outplayed while my Coach was in the hospital. To say the least it was an overwhelming moment. I left immediately after the game and flew overnight to be by Coach's side first thing in the morning. Luckily he survived diverticulitis, but his health has been up and down since then. So watching UCLA beat Xavier in the latest round has helped prove to everyone that the program is still one of the best. This has been UCLA's third Final Four appearance in the last three years.

The Xavier game was not as interesting to me as the win over Western Kentucky, because Western Kentucky did an exceptional job in speeding up the integration of college basketball and hasn't been given a lot of credit for it. Although I'm a Bruin in heart and soul, I was rather torn while watching this game. Western Kentucky is my oldest son, Kareem Jr.'s alma mater.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinking about UCLA in the NCAA final four Another connection I have to WKU is alumni Greg Smith, who was my teammate on the Milwaukee Bucks for two years and the starting forward on our 1970-71 World Championship team. Greg was also a really good friend and my buddy on road trips, where we got to indulge our movie addiction. But my feelings for Western Kentucky go back even further. Western Kentucky was the forefront of the fight to integrate college basketball in the 1960s and early '70s. While head coach at WKU, Coach John Oldham (who took over for previous head coach E. A. Diddle in 1964) dealt with some very ugly situations while the transition took place, and he has not been recognized for his courageous stand. For his part, Coach Diddle had recruited Clem Haskins and Dwight Smith in 1963. Coach Oldham continued that legacy, recruiting black players and eventually starting five African Americans on the WKU team — and staying the course in spite of criticism from some of the fans and faculty. Along the way, he coached his team to four NCAA appearances and probably would have made it to the finals in 1966 if a very controversial call hadn't cost them the semifinal in the NCAA Tournament. In 1967, Clem Haskins broke his wrist, which kept WKU from being at full strength for the season. Nonetheless, college peeps owe WKU a tip of the hat for the positive changes it  helped to promote.

(Photo Credit: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Jr., Sonny Rollins & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Sr.)

March 27, 2008

Exclusive interview with Donald Trump on the eve of 'The Celebrity Apprentice' finale

(Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Donald Trump and Deborah Morales)

My interest in "Celebrity Apprentice" is more than just the fun of seeing these dignified celebrities battle it out with such intensity.  I’m also interested in how these icons that have achieved so much professional success and are willing to put themselves on the line in order to benefit their personal charities. 

My own dedication in this area has led me to become involved with Iconomy, a company that represents celebrity icons in their quest to achieve more than momentary success.  In fact, I was drawn to Iconomy's promise to help icons go from “Success to Significance.” Iconomy represents celebrity, sports, and business icons in broadening the appeal of their name to other business and charitable opportunities by creating customized products, platforms and distribution channels. “Kareem had achieved everything he wanted as a basketball player," said Iconomy founder Deborah Morales.  “Now we’re helping him achieve everything he wants to as an educator, author, businessman, and humanitarian.  Whatever he wants to accomplish in business and with charities, we make it happen.”

Ms. Morales helped me create "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey through the Harlem Renaissance" so that I could help educate people on black history.  So as you can tell I have a significant interest in hearing about how other celebrities raise money for their charities. Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Donald Trump about his show "Celebrity Apprentice" (whose finale airs tonight on NBC). You can read our short Q&A after the jump.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Earlier this month on "Celebrity Apprentice," America’s Sweetheart, Omarosa, led her team to the wrong end of what you called “the biggest beating in the history of the show.” Because she’s such a love-to-hate personality, does the defeat lessen the tension, or have viewers already moved on?

Donald Trump: The defeat made it clear that Omarosa needs to work on her focus—it’s not all about Omarosa. There’s plenty of tension left, however, as no one is irreplaceable and with Piers and Trace we’ve got some major talent.

KAJ: Turned out "Celebrity Apprentice" was such a good idea that next year there will be a second season of Celebrity Apprentice. Does this mean that, despite the loss we just discussed, there’s a chance that Omarosa might make it into another season of your show?

Trump: We have some big names who are interested in being on the show. We’ll announce them soon.

KAJ: Can you name some of your favorite contestants and tell us what it was about them that particularly affected you?

Trump: Carol Alt turned out to be a very strong competitor, which didn’t really surprise me. I know a lot of very beautiful women who are also extremely smart. Marilu Henner added a team dynamic that was well placed. Tito and Lennox are champions for good reason, and Gene Simmons carries his notoriety well.

KAJ: Who surprised you the most during this latest competition?

Trump: At first I thought Steve Baldwin was a flake, but he turned out to be a relatively solid person.

KAJ: How is it to have your daughter and son in your show with you, and how do you evaluate their participation? Did they have fun doing it?

Trump: It’s terrific to have them with me. They’re bright, observant and articulate. I think they’ve enjoyed doing the show, and if they haven’t, they’ve done a great job anyway.

KAJ: You are one of the most open personalities out there. You often call into the "Howard Stern Show." What was the most embarrassing or uncomfortable question that Howard has ever asked you?

Trump: That’s far too embarrassing to answer.

KAJ: In October of last year on Larry King, you predicted that Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton would win their parties' nominations, and that you would support either of them. Would you have any problem supporting Barack Obama? What about John McCain?

Trump: They are all good candidates.

KAJ: Los Angeles, and much of the country, is in the midst of a real estate crisis. People are choosing to walk away from their homes because they cost more than they’re worth. What is your take on this crisis, and what advice would you have for homeowners who find themselves having to make tough choices right now?

Trump: Real estate has ups and downs and runs in cycles. That’s the norm, not an aberration. Not panicking is a good choice for everyone at this time. History has proven that things level out.

Top photo of Kareem, Donald Trump, and Deborah Morales via Iconomy; photo of Daniel Baldwin, Omarosa, and Trace Adkins courtesy NBC

March 26, 2008

Dr. George Grant: Golf fit him to a tee

Kareem_tigerwoods(Tiger Woods for the WGC CA Championship at the Doral Golf Resort and Spa, in Miami.)

My relationship with golf is rather distant. I can enjoy watching but I don’t have the desire to spend my free time on the course or at the range. I’m from the Mark Twain school of golf. Mark Twain described golf as "a fine walk ruined." I couldn’t agree more, but we are witnessing the continued rise of Tiger Woods as golf's reigning king of kings. No other golfer is close to challenging him as the best in the game these days. I have enjoyed watching his rise to prominence. Some 25 years ago I was intrigued to watch footage of Tiger playing golf at 5 years of age with his dad and local sportscaster Jim Hill. As an avid fan of the game, Jim had the perfect human interest story when he showed young Tiger as a precocious preschooler on the golf course. But that was just the start.  Tiger  has gone on to dominate that sport like no other golfer has. He is poised to pass Ben Hogan for lifetime major wins and he is just 32 years old.  But there is another black golfer who is totally unknown and who is responsible for a major contribution to the modern game. His name is Dr. George Grant.

What was golf like before the invention of the golf tee in 1899?  Golfers had to carry a bucket of sand from hole to hole.  They would scoop the sand out and build a little mound, placing the ball on top like a cherry on an ice cream sundae. 

Then along came Dr. George Grant (1847-1910) to completely revolutionize the game by inventing and patenting the modern version of the golf tee.  But Dr. Grant was used to being a revolutionary.  Born in Oswego, N.Y., this son of former slaves was the first African-American to receive a scholarship to Harvard University Dental School.  Two years after graduating, Dr. Grant became the first black faculty member of Harvard, where he was a highly respected professor for 19  years.

His passion for golf led him to invent his tee, a carved wooden peg with a concave top.  Dr. Grant did not market his invention, nor did he pursue any moneymaking schemes.  He merely gave the tees away to anyone who wanted them.  Ironically, it would be another 63  years before Charlie Sifford would become the first African-American allowed to become a member of the PGA tour.

Photo credit: David Cannon / Getty Images, LA Times.

March 25, 2008

James Forten: A man with the wind at his back

Kareem_sail James Forten (1766-1842) was born in Philadelphia, the grandson of slaves. Forten began working with his father at Robert Bridges’ sail loft when he was only 8 years old. When his father was killed in a boating accident a year later, young James had to work even harder and longer hours to help support his family. During the Revolutionary War, 14-year-old Forten became a powder boy, working the cannons on a ship. Although he was captured by the British, they released him and he went back home to resume his work in Bridges’ sail loft. Bridges admired Forten’s work so much that when Bridges retired, he loaned Forten enough money to buy the business, which employed 38 people.

Soon after, Forten invented a sail that provided greater maneuverability and speed. He never patented his sail, but in part because of his invention, his sail loft became one of the most prosperous in Philadelphia. Forten was wealthy by any standards. But what’s especially admirable about Forten is not so much the ingenuity of how he made his fortune, but the humility in what he did with it.

Forten spent more than half of his fortune helping others. He was an avid abolitionist who not only supported William Garrison’s abolitionist newspaper, but he routinely purchased and freed slaves, as well as using his home as a depot for the Underground Railroad. In addition, he supported women’s suffrage and financed a school for black children.

(photo credit: painted by William Ranney in 1845. Public domain.

March 24, 2008

Obama, the Rev. Wright and the legacy of Emmett Till

Obamawright The recent uproar about Barack Obama’s former pastor has pushed a very explosive issue into the presidential campaign. The issue of our country’s history with regard to race is one that Sen. Obama literally embodies in his physical being as well as various political stances he has taken.

I’m responding to the attacks that he has endured because of the statements made by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama has pointed out the failures our nation has made in trying to live up to the words in the Declaration of Independence that state that "all men are created equal." I am mentioning these events to give a more complete background to the Rev. Wright’s comments from his pulpit.

From his perspective, America is not always able to deliver on some very important issues, and the effect on him over time is to become enraged and at times to overreact. The wonderful thing about life in America is that we can address and remedy even the worst of problems when the collective will of our nation comes into play. The civil rights movement would never have achieved what it did if this were not true. That potential gives us the hope that Sen. Obama so articulately identifies as the force that can bring us together to effect positive change. I, for one, hope that people will unite and work together to make sure that the unfortunate events of the past do not kill the positive potential of our future. Together we can make the dreams of the Founding Fathers a reality for all Americans.

An example of this situation can be seen in the mess that developed in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck. Racist policies that were in place in the 1920s and '30s caused a hugely disproportionate share of grief to fall on the shoulders of the black residents of New Orleans. The decision to build homes in an area that is 12 to 15 feet below sea level, immediately adjacent to a lake and also located on a shoreline that sees hurricanes every hurricane season, could only be seen as wishful thinking. This disaster was bound to happen whenever a hurricane hit the coastline somewhere near New Orleans. A direct hit wasn’t even needed to inflict damage.

Emmitt till and his mother

The incompetence and unpreparedness of the authorities who were supposed to do something about the disaster were seen by blacks as racism pure and simple. But actually the folks at FEMA were trying to straighten out a situation created by racist policies put in place 80 or 90 years ago. Again and again these situations rear up and bite us all and create more bitterness and distrust between different sectors of Americans.

The Rev. Wright suggested in one of his sermons that AIDS was intentionally allowed to infect people because it would probably do most of its damage in the black community. White Americans see this viewpoint as racist paranoia. But black Americans remember the Tuskegee experiment, when black men who had syphilis were left untreated intentionally so the progress of the disease could be studied by government doctors. This actually happened, and its memory has caused a collective distrust of doctors in the black community for which white Americans cannot see any rational basis. Again we are stuck with dealing with the evil deeds that were done before many of us were born.

Many of those situations were created by the response of the people of the old Confederacy who used the law to attempt to permanently ensure that blacks would never be able to achieve equal treatment in any of the Southern states. The failure of Reconstruction to secure the human and civil rights of black Americans is the real problem at the root of the lingering racial tension in America. Southern citizens wanted to make sure that no black person could rise up from the poverty and ignorance that had been imposed on them from the days of slavery. Violence was a key component in enforcing the Jim Crow laws. Between 1889 and 1918, 2,522 blacks were lynched in America, and nothing was done about it. I can remember [ed note: warning, gruesome]  the picture of Emmitt Till, who was murdered in 1955. There was a trial of those accused of the killing, but an all-white jury acquitted the accused in very short order.

The people of Mississippi were very defiant in stating how sure they were that the accused would be found "innocent," which was what happened. Soon after the verdict came in, the murderer sold an article to Look magazine that gave the details of the kidnapping, torture and death of Emmitt Till. The white people of Mississippi had nothing to say at that point, and the rest of America seemed to shrug off the results as a quaint episode of Southern life. Contrast that scenario with the response to the murder of Nicole Simpson. When you do that you will get a sense of why black Americans are so paranoid about the actual reality of equal protection under the law. Just last week the Supreme Court threw out the conviction of a black man who lost his case in court because the prosecutor succeeded in his plan to eliminate all blacks from the jury. The O.J. trial was mentioned during the time the case was in front of the jury.

White Americans could not consider the reality of police brutality against blacks. It took the Rodney King incident to start any real change in attitudes on that subject. If Rodney King had tried to accuse the cops who beat him of brutality, he would have gotten nowhere. He was, after all, a large black man with a criminal record who was undoubtedly breaking the law. No white jurors would consider taking his word over the testimony of the cops. The only thing that changed the situation was an undeniable videotape that proved to anyone with any common sense that the beating was way beyond a routine traffic stop. It doesn’t surprise black Americans that DNA testing has uncovered dozens of unjustly convicted black prisoners. The faulty eyewitness testimony that figured so prominently in the conviction of these men is another symptom of racial divide. White jurors are too often comfortable with doubtful testimony if the accused is black. Prosecutors can make their careers by keeping those dangerous black thugs off the streets. Justice falls by the wayside in far too many cases.

Undoubtedly, black Americans have had the worst time of any ethnic group in trying to benefit from that concept. The vitriol in the Rev. Wright’s words is a direct result of what he sees when he reviews how that has played out throughout the history of this country. This is not to say that there has been no progress made in those situations, but sadly that progress has been too often slow and grudgingly acquired. Because of the nature of the problems, which in many cases were started in the 19th century, Americans in this day and age have to pay for issues that they didn’t cause and shouldn’t have to fix. But nonetheless we are stuck with the tab.

Photos, from top: Sen. Obama and Rev. Wright; credit: Trinity United Church of Christ and Associated Press. Emmitt Till and his mother, Mamie Bradley; credit: Chicago Tribune.

March 20, 2008

Common myths about me: Why was Kareem so mad?

Kareemadbuljabbar_magic (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson) Photo Credit: Malek Mansour

    Which of the following is not true:

    A. You can catch a cold from going outside with your hair wet.
    B. You have to drink eight glasses of water a day.
    C. Candy makes kids hyperactive.
    D. Reading in dim light will ruin your eyesight.

The answer: none are true. A cold is caused by a virus and studies show that those who are exposed to the virus become infected whether or not they are chilled. Most people get plenty of water simply through their normal diet. Experts agree that there is no evidence that feeding children a high-sugar diet causes any hyperactivity. Reading in dim light may temporarily tire your eyes, but otherwise has no permanent effect.

Most celebrities know that this same kind of misinformation can be circulated about them simply because the more outrageous the claim, the more people will want to read it. I’ve been subjected to some of those claims, some outrageous, some merely annoying. And, like the myths I presented above about colds, water, candy, and reading, they persist even though there’s no truth to them. One of the common myths about me was repeated last week when a friend of mine was playing in his weekly basketball league and a teammate asked him, “Why was Kareem always so angry?” That’s not the first time I heard this charge. What’s weird about it is that every morning when I get out of bed, bluebirds, squirrels, and deer help me get dressed while we sing “We Are the World.” By the way, squirrels really suck at tying shoes. And deer often mumble the lyrics.

Even that doesn’t make me angry.

What’s interesting about the question is that the person who asked the question is white. In fact, no black person has ever asked that question. That’s because they already know the answer. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the civil rights movement was at its most intense and volatile level, I often used my celebrity to speak out against certain injustices. This seemed to irritate some people who expected black athletes to simply be silently grateful for their opportunities and not rock the boat. However, being given this tremendous opportunity to play college basketball at UCLA, how could I not speak out to help the many other black athletes who were not being given the same opportunity? To not stand up for integration of college athletics would be to dishonor the brave heroes who spoke out and made my opportunities possible. People like Bill Garrett (who is sometimes called the Jackie Robinson of college basketball), Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, and dozens of others. How could I not be angry to realize that many great players were being denied a college education and/or the chance to play before larger crowds( and therefore be more valuable if they chose to turn professional)? They were being denied a future.

The integration of college sports would have happened without me. But I like to think that I made some small contribution by adding my voice to those who fought to make this a better world. For some, my voice may have seemed shrill or angry; but for those on the right side of the issue, it seemed loyal and compassionate.

How do I feel now? Grateful that we’ve come so far. Encouraged that so many people are still adding their voices to the fight for equality for all people. In other words, I feel happy. Just ask the bluebirds.

March 19, 2008

The care & maintenance of the over-50 athlete: Strength training

Whether you’re still trying to be competitive with much younger athletes or are just looking for the maximum health benefits from a fitness routine, strength training is a must.  The problem is that strength training is mostly misunderstood—and therefore misapplied—by many who are over 50 (and even under 50).  And it’s very important that they get it right, because we all start losing muscle strength each year after we turn 30.  That’s right, 30!

Men too often focus all their strength-training attention on their biceps, pumping out preacher curls and dumbbell curls until they can see a small ice-cream scoop of a muscle when they flex their arms.  Forget it, men; bulging biceps do not turn back the clock.  And women too often completely ignore strength training to just focus on cardio and stretching exercises, using the lame excuse that they don’t want to look like the buff women on "American Gladiator."  Don’t worry, there’s no chance of that happening.

Men and women have much to gain from strength training, including lower blood pressure, increased resistance to injury, decreasing arthritis symptoms, and fending off osteoporosis.  Some may lose weight because the body keeps burning calories after the workout is done; some may not actually lose weight (because muscle weighs more than fat), but they will lose pants- and dress-sizes.  In general, you’ll look and feel better.

Getting started

There are some basic rules whenever you start a new exercise routine:

  • Check with your doctor to ensure that you are physically fit enough.
  • Form is more important than weight.  Some muscle-heads at the gym love to stack on the weights and then grunt loudly through their repetitions.  Many of them are using such poor form that they are receiving very little of the benefits.
  • Start with the amount of weight that you can lift 10 to 12 times without losing the form.  You should struggle to complete the last couple reps.  If they are easy, increase the weight by the next increment.
  • Keep breathing.  Generally, you exhale when pushing against the weight and inhale when lowering it.
  • Rest about one minute between sets.
  • Rest two days between working a particular muscle group.  For example, if you work on the chest and arms one day, wait 48 hours before you work them again.  If you want to work out the next day, target a different set of muscles, like the legs and buttocks.  All your muscle and strength gain takes place during these rest periods.

A strength-training sampler

There are a wide variety of exercises that you could perform, depending on how hard you want to work and which muscles you want to target. Following are three exercises that are simple to perform but yield the most strength benefits.

  • Push-ups.  Yup, this old stand-by is still the best way to strengthen arms, chest, back, and abdominal muscles.

How to Perform the Perfect Push-up:  Lay face down on the floor.  Place palms against the floor, slightly wider than your shoulders.  Keeping your body straight (that means butt not poking up toward the ceiling and gut not sagging toward the floor), push your body up until your arms are straight and you’re balanced on your toes.  Lower your body until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle to the floor.  Then push back up.  Inhale on the way up; exhale on the way down.  There are many variations of the push-up that can challenge even the fittest person, including incline, decline, and one-armed push-ups.
Beginners:  If this is too difficult, perform the push-up with your knees on the ground.  After a couple weeks you should be able to start doing regular push-ups.

  • Lunges.  You’ve probably seen people doing these at your fitness club up and down the aisles with their trainers walking beside them cheering encouragement.  This single exercise works the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and calves.

How to Perform the Perfect Lunge:  Stand with one leg forward and the other leg back, as if you just stepped across a creek.  Lower the body until both knees are at 90-degree angles.  Slowly, push the back leg forward.

March 17, 2008

Exchanging e-mails with Obama


(Sen. Barack Obama, seated at center, with his junior varsity basketball team in the 1977 yearbook of the Punahou School in Honolulu.)

I was exchanging some e-mails with Sen. Obama and he was able to answer some questions that people have run by me when his name comes up. The one issue that people raise the most is that people question Sen. Obama's ability to lead all of America.  I asked him  the following questions.

Q. You have made an appeal to lead all of America. What were the obstacles to conveying that message?

A. One of the biggest obstacles we've faced is the cynicism many Americans have about politics. And I understand it. Year after year, politicians make promises on the campaign trail but then go back to Washington and nothing changes. Because the lobbyists write another check or partisan bickering stands in the way or politicians don’t say what they mean or mean what they say. But I'm hopeful because all across this country, I'm meeting Americans who are willing to stop settling for what the cynics tell us we must accept and reach for the kind of real change we know is possible. And that's what this campaign is all about.

The tarnished image that has become the fare of America in many parts of the world is a great concern for many people who will vote this fall. The Iraq War has changed many aspects of how we are seen in the world.

Q. What should our approach be to diplomatic relations with the world at large?

A. I'm running for president not just to end the Iraq War -- a war I opposed from the start -- but to end the mindset that got us into war. And that includes the Bush-McCain-Clinton policy of not talking with leaders we don't like. I don’t think that approach makes us look tough; I think it makes us look arrogant. I agree with President Kennedy, who once said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate." And that's the kind of diplomacy we will re-establish when I am President.

Sen. Obama feels that the time he spent as a community organizer in Chicago gave him an insight as to how to shape his tactics in the political world.

Q. How did community organizing affect your political outlook?

A. What I learned as a community organizer on the streets of Chicago is that together, ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things. That's a lesson I carried with me in the Illinois state Senate, when I brought Democrats and Republicans together and passed the most sweeping lobbying reform in 25 years. It's a lesson I've carried with me on this campaign by reaching out to Americans of every race, region, and political party. And it's a lesson I'll carry with me to the White House to enact a middle-class tax cut, pass universal health care, and bring about real change in this country.

Finally, I mentioned to him that I've seen several pictures of him playing basketball. He told me that basketball was a passion for him throughout his lifetime and should he get to reside in the White House there would absolutely be a hoop on the White House grounds.

March 13, 2008

Number One

Kareem_ucla_2_2 I’ve been honored by being chosen the Number One college player of all time.  It is a very special honor for me because I have been picked ahead of some of my heroes and many superb collegians.  When I’ve been asked about my status, I have always deferred to Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell as the greatest players in college ball.  They get that acknowledgment from me because I learned so much from the way they played, and I would not have been as good as I was without their examples to emulate.  So a special thanks to the “O” and Bill for the paths that they blazed. 

Another factor has been the more recent trend of college players leaving the game for the professional ranks.  Players in my era had to stay in school or wait for their high school class to graduate college before they could enter the NBA.  That forced us to stay in school and learn the game in a less-intense atmosphere –- something that allowed us to mature and develop a work ethic.  Today’s players miss out on that bonus, and it slows their ability to be at their best when they reach the pro ranks.  But I’m sure they don’t mind being paid the multimillions that are available to them as soon as they decide to go pro.

I’d like to add a few words about the best college game I ever attended.  Being raised in New York, I was so lucky to be able to catch the best college teams at various times in the old Garden on 48th Street and 8th Avenue.  While in grade school I got to see great Providence teams featuring Lenny Wilkens and Vinnie Ernst; Nate Thurmond and Howie Komives from  Bowling Green; and the Bradley Braves led by Chet Walker and Laverne Tart.

During my senior year in high school, Dec. ’64, I attended the Holiday Festival matchup of University of Michigan vs. Princeton.  It was a truly superb contest, with Bill Bradley leading the Princeton Tigers and Cazzie Russell leading the Wolverines.  Both teams were ranked in the Top 10, and the game was exceptionally close.  Bill scored 41 points before fouling out with less than three minutes left in the game.  Cazzie calmly took over from there and Michigan finished with a two-point win over the Tigers.  The Princeton team could not compete without Bill on the court.

For me, that game was the finest example of college ball I had ever seen.  It gave me a great look at what my future could be like if I continued to improve.  I want to say thanks to all the college players and coaches that have given us this incredible sport in which to compete.  Without them, we would be at a loss for our aspirations.  Thank you one and all.

Click here to see at ESPN.

It is how you play the game that counts

Kareem_marionjones All last week I was reminded of the speed and great distance that a person can fill in such a short time.  The great track and field athlete Marion Jones had to surrender herself for incarceration at a federal penitentiary in Texas. I had admired her talent and poise as she dominated her sport.  She was a prominent face at the Olympics and undoubtedly served as a positive role model for young females who aspired to reach athletic greatness.  For so many of us who followed her career, the revelations that exposed her performance enhancing drug use and financial missteps were a shock and great disappointment.

The temptation to cheat has seemed to overwhelm a whole generation of athletes.  Football, baseball, track and field, bicycling and boxing have all been affected by this evil.  I feel that the only remedy is to return to the core values of sport that made them such a valuable measuring stick for humanity.  The dedication and discipline that was necessary to excel at sports seemed to give athletes a leg up on the rest of humanity.  Those inner forces seemed to indicate that any individual who possessed them was someone special.  Teamwork and willingness to play by the rules made athletes more capable of succeeding outside of the field of play and helped to shape many leaders in all walks of life.  If we can get back to these simple values, we may be able to give those who participate in sports a direction for their aspirations.  Hopefully the next Marion Jones will be a person to emulate and not someone we pity for her failure to make the right choices.

(photo credit: Sports Illustrated cover)

March 12, 2008

Benjamin Banneker: The colonial Da Vinci

Kareem_benjamin_2_2 Historians routinely praise Thomas Jefferson as one of the smartest men of his time.  He was educated, well read, a prolific writer (hey, he wrote the Declaration of Independence!), a dedicated statesman, and one of the most powerful men in the country.  One can only wonder at what kind of self-confidence and courage it must have taken for someone at that time to write to Jefferson to scold him for his hypocrisy.

Yet that’s exactly what Benjamin Banneker did.  What makes this outrageous act even more courageous is that Banneker was a black man.  And what makes the act historic is that the two men became friends.
But Banneker’s place in history would have been assured even if he had never written to Jefferson.  His achievements were already legendary by the time he wrote his first letter.

Banneker was born in Maryland in 1731.  His father, Robert, had been an African slave, but he bought his own freedom and married Mary, the daughter of an Englishwoman and a free African slave.  Banneker was raised on his father’s farm and briefly attended a Quaker school.  But the limitations of his formal education in no way limited his pursuit of knowledge.  His love of reading prompted him to teach himself literature, history, and math. The extent of his ability to teach himself became evident to everyone else when, as a 21-year-old man, he saw his  first pocket watch.  Young Banneker’s fascination with the watch resulted in his dismantling it and rebuilding it several times over the next few days.  He then borrowed books on geometry and Isaac Newton’s laws of motion.  Soon he was hand-carving every piece of the watch in order to build a much larger version.  When he completed the clock — the first clock ever built in the United States — it continued to keep time for 50  years.

Banneker’s curiosity next took to the heavens.  He taught himself astronomy and was soon predicting everything from the times of sunrises to eclipses.  In 1792, he wrote his first almanac, in which he predicted weather changes and offered farming tips and medical advice.  He sent a copy of his almanac to then-Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, along with a 12-page letter pointing out that not only were blacks intellectually equal to whites, but that Jefferson’s own Declaration of Independence implied that they should have the same rights.  He compared slavery of the blacks to the enslavement of the American colonies by Britain.  Banneker was so eloquent that we should read his actual words to Jefferson:

“Sir, how pitiable is it to reflect, that although you were so fully convinced of the benevolence of the Father of Mankind, and of his equal and impartial distribution of these rights and privileges, which he hath conferred upon them, that you should at the same time counteract his mercies, in detaining by fraud and violence so numerous a part of my brethren, under groaning captivity and cruel oppression, that you should at the same time be found guilty of that most criminal act, which you professedly detested in others, with respect to yourselves.”

Their correspondence was published as a pamphlet, then reprinted in Banneker’s 1793 almanac.  These almanacs were supported by abolition societies in Maryland and Pennsylvania as examples of the equal intellectual capabilities of blacks. Jefferson and Banneker continued to correspond over the next several years.  In fact, it was Jefferson who recommended that Bannecker be part of a distinguished group formed to help Major Pierre L’Enfant draw plans for moving the nation’s capital city from Philadelphia to what would eventually become Washington, D.C.

Due to political infighting, L’Enfant left the project and returned to France, leaving Banneker and the others without any written plans. However, Banneker quickly astonished everyone by drawing the plans from memory in two days.  These plans were the basic blueprint of streets, monuments, and buildings that comprise current-day Washington, D.C.

Banneker  died in 1806, having achieved the honorific title of “the first Negro Man of Science.”  In 1980, a Benjamin Banneker postage stamp was issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

March 11, 2008

Q & A at the American Library Association

I would like to share with you such great time  I had responding to audience questions at the ALA Midwinter Meeting President's Program, Jan. 13, 2008, speaking about my greatest basketball memory, the reason I changed my name, how to get reluctant youth to read, my new book "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance," and more.

(video credit: ALA)

Fit after 50: Staying flexible with yoga

(Photo left: then; Kareem 1981. Photo right: now; Kareem 2008)

Yoga scares some people. They imagine a white-robed cult of New Age zombies sipping herbal green tea and smiling vacantly. For some, the problem is the word itself: yoga. Funny-looking, foreign and too exotic. Okay, for you we’ll call it “power-stretching” or “ultimate breathing” or “hot-bod sculpting.”  Is that better? Because the truth is that yoga is an excellent means of creating a more flexible and healthy body that will be less prone to injuries. And the most important part of staying fit after 50  is avoiding workout injuries that can disrupt your exercise program for weeks or even months.

I’ve been an enthusiastic practitioner of yoga since high school. Yoga is one of the reasons that I was able to play professional basketball as long as I did with as few injuries as I had. One of the first improvements I noticed was in my posture. Before yoga I’d been having lower back pains; after I started practicing the positions, my overall health improved significantly. (FYI: the practice of yoga began 3,000 years ago in India. The word “yoga” is Sanskrit and means to “union,” meaning to join together the mind, body, and spirit.)

There are many different styles of yoga. I practice Bikram yoga as well as several other styles.  Beginners tend to do what I call the “yoga tour” -- that is, trying out the different styles until they find the right ones for them. That’s a perfectly reasonable approach and is more likely to produce the results they’re looking for.

When Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino came to me to ask me how to extend his longevity and deal with all the collision-type injuries you get from playing football, I steered him to yoga; the next time I saw him he said it was absolutely helpful in his training regimen.

Those of you who studied pilates know that a large part of its foundation is based on yoga. My father started doing yoga in his late 70s and it helped him to stop his decline of flexibility.  So whether you're in top athletic shape like my friend Dan Marino or just have old achy bones like my Dad, I thought I'd give those of you who are ready to get started a few tips:

1. Be consistent. Any new endeavor requires a period of commitment. At first, you may feel awkward or self-conscious, but promise yourself that you’ll stick with it for two months. At the same time, to receive the most benefits, you’ll need to practice yoga at least three times a week.

2. It’s not a competition. As a beginner, your body needs a period of adjustment as it adapts to new demands. Don’t push yourself beyond your limits just because you see others able to do what you can’t. We don’t throw the teen that just got his driver’s license into the Indy 500. Take your time.

3. Practice with a friend. It’s easier to keep motivated if you have someone you work out with. So, if you intend to take a yoga class at your fitness club, or practice at home with a DVD, see if you can get a friend to practice with you.

I started teaching myself yoga when I was 14, from a book. At the time, there weren’t many other opportunities to learn yoga. Today there are many classes available from fitness clubs, community colleges, yoga centers and senior centers. There are hundreds of books and DVDs that can be ordered off the Internet. Today about 18 million to 20 million Americans practice yoga regularly, including everyone from children to senior citizens, from weekend warriors to professional athletes, from soccer moms to marathon-running moms.

There’s a reason yoga has grown so dramatically in popularity: it works! It’s worked for me for over 45 years and it can work for you starting today.

(Photo credit: left: Aaron Rappaport; right: John Russo)

March 07, 2008

Political maelstrom

Kareem_flag It seems that I have stepped into the political maelstrom forming as the November elections approach.  Rocky has asked about how the Republicans are trying to portray Obama as a Muslim and how it might affect the race. 

I don’t think it should affect the race because -- it shouldn’t affect the race.  Sen. Obama chose the Christian faith at a time when that decision was an issue in his life.  He has remained committed to his Christianity.  So in terms of religion, he is no different from any other candidate. 

The office of the president of the United States is not supposed to be administered in a manner that indulges the president’s religious beliefs.  The aspect of separation of church and state makes it possible for all of us to get along in terms of politics and public policy.  We must thank the Founding Fathers for their wisdom in this matter.  It is my hope that Sen. Obama's middle name or his father’s name do not create issues that have no place in the campaign.  Obama is 100% American, and I see no reason to fault his patriotism.

Regarding my blog on Mbenga –- I did not try to suggest that liberty and freedom are not accessible in other nations.  I simply was expressing my joy in knowing that those rights and privileges are still accessible in the U.S.A. 

March 05, 2008

Sonny Rollins, saxophone colossus


I received an inquiry in February from Jacques who wanted to know if Sonny Rollins plays the saxophone on the Rolling Stones' "Tattoo You" album.  The answer is yes.

It is always a pleasure to have a reason to reach out to Sonny and have a chat.  Sonny is a major figure in the evolution of modern jazz.  He was inspired to play the sax by the seminal figures Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker.  Sonny's talents were obvious very early in his career.  He recorded very important works with Bud Powell and Fats Navarro in 1949 when he was still 18 years old.  Sonny remembers waiting outside of Coleman "Bean" Hawkins' home in Harlem to get his autograph, and Bean was inspirational in Sonny's life.  This is evident in Sonny's choice of the tenor sax as his instrument. 

Sonny always worked with the best performers, starting with Babs Gonzalez and including Clifford Brown and Thelonious Monk.  Earlier in his career he had worked in George Hall's band, a distinction he shares with my dad.  Sonny became disillusioned with his art for a while and took time off to reconsider his direction.  During this time, he would practice at odd hours on one of the bridges connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn.  His first disc after his hiatus is entitled "The Bridge" and is some of his best work.  He was someone I looked up to for his professionalism and inventive curiosity.  I was inspired to be at my best after witnessing his performances while I was in high school. 

Even saxophone icon John Coltrane was inspired by Sonny, writing a song entitled "Like Sonny." Sonny's exemplary courage and leadership have inspired people in all walks of life.  Michael Caine had him write and perform the music for the movie "Alfie."  That soundtrack has become standard in the jazz vocabulary.  The remake of that movie, released a couple of years ago, omitted the best part of the first film -- its original score by Sonny Rollins.  Shame on them!  But Sonny marches on.  He still performs at jazz venues around the world -- a colossus striding the world stage.

March 04, 2008

Castro moves on

(From left: Castro at Hotel Theresa, Harlem. Top right: Castro and Malcom X. Bottom right: Fidel Castro)
Cuba has gotten some intense media attention recently because of the “retirement” of Fidel Castro, who has passed power on to his brother Raul.  Most informed people see this as nothing more than a sham.  Raul Castro will probably maintain the totalitarian monopoly of power that was established by Fidel in 1959.  But it seems that the possibility of change has made people start to hope. 

I have always been aware of Cuba because of the influence of Cuban music on jazz.  This was not a one-way street, either.  Cuban musicians were profoundly influenced by the work of Duke Ellington, and there were a number of Cuban bands that featured songs composed by the Duke.  Harlem was an important location for this interplay between the two cultures.  Many people from the Caribbean came to New York and got to experience first-hand the evolution of jazz music.  Spanish Harlem was a magnet for aspiring musicians from the Caribbean and the music venues of Harlem accommodated their tastes quite readily.

Broadcasts from New York’s Cotton Club featuring the bands of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington were picked up in places like Havana and Mexico City throughout the '30s.  “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” was an edict issued by the Duke, and the song bearing that title is a testimony to one of jazz’s most important foundations.  And those boys from the Caribbean brought their own special brand of swing with them.  Juan Tizol and Mario Bauza played in Duke’s band for many years.  Tizol’s composition “Caravan” is considered to be a classic Ellington song that is always included in any serious compilation of Duke’s work.

The playlists of the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem would have Caribbean bands side by side with the American bands.  Machito’s band was a favorite in my household, and I was fortunate to have the pleasure of seeing them perform more than once.

In the 1940s, Dizzy Gillespie collaborated with Cuban trumpet player Mario Bauza to use a smaller group of musicians than the prevailing big band format.  This idea became part and parcel of the bebop revolution and has endured as Latin Jazz.  The term “Latin” is really misleading because the sound is based on the inclusion of West African rhythm structure and instruments that predominated in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean Islands and Brazil.  But the result is a wonderfully spicy musical gumbo that includes the best of the musical traditions from North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean. It has created a musical language that is spoken and appreciated around the world.  I’m sure it will facilitate a dialog.

The first time Fidel Castro came to New York to address the U.N., he was told by the FBI that he couldn’t leave the borough of Manhattan.  Castro turned that situation on its head by staying at the Theresa Hotel in Harlem, where many Cubans were living.  It put Harlem on the world stage in a very unique way because Harlem was part of a dialog that began some 30 years earlier.  Pictures of Fidel with Joe Louis and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. are seen in newspapers worldwide. Maybe the dialog can begin again in a new century using an old bridge.

Photo credit: literacy rules; Harlem Renaissance

March 03, 2008

With Barack ...


I've been all over cyberspace as one of the participants in will.i.am's music video (Yes We Can)  supporting Barack Obama. I'm very pleased to be one of those who feel that he has what it takes to be president. I first met Senator Obama in the summer of '06 at the Senate building in DC. I was immediately taken with his intelligence and ability to connect with people.

Since that time, his political vision has impressed me as being able to reunite our country along the fault lines caused by the policies of the current administration. Someone who can lead all of us would be the the ideal candidate, and I feel that Barack is that someone. I am looking forward to having the chance to vote for a candidate with his gifts.

I've been amused to see how Mr. Obama's critics have tried to pull him down by criticizing his "lack of foreign relations experience." I'm not aware that either Hillary Clinton or John McCain has any huge advantage in the awareness necessary to deal with the foreign relations aspect of the presidency. Only people with a Cabinet or State Department background can immediately state their readiness in that area. Mr. Obama has the intelligence and leadership qualities that will serve him well should he win the nomination and election.

Advisors play a central role in foreign policy areas and all of our presidents have relied on the help of those advisors to form their foreign policy agenda. As president, Mr. Obama will do the same. I'm sure his ability as an inspirational leader will help to attract the best advice.

March 02, 2008

Dr. Daniel Hale Williams: Heart surgeon


When you watch TV shows today, it’s not uncommon to see black doctors charging up the paddles and shouting “Clear!” or “Somebody get me a rib-spreader, stat!” When I was growing up, however, a black doctor on TV was a rarity. A black nurse, sure. Sometimes. There was the sitcom "Julia" (1968-1971) starring Diahann Carroll, groundbreaking because it was one of the first TV shows to feature a black woman in a non-stereotypical role of nurse. Before that, black women usually portrayed servants. And that was only forty years ago!

I can’t help but think how hard it must have been for black children 140  years ago just coming out of the Civil War era with very few role models to inspire them to become whatever they dreamed of becoming. That’s what’s so remarkable about Dr. Daniel Hale Williams’ journey to becoming the first surgeon, black or white, to perform open-heart surgery—and have his patient make a full recovery.

Born in 1856 in Pennsylvania, Williams didn’t start out with a burning need to become a doctor. He started out as a barber. But his fascination with a local doctor got the better of him and he soon became that doctor’s apprentice.

After two years he entered what is now known as Northwestern University Medical School, graduating in 1883. He opened his own practice in Chicago, treating many of his black patients in their homes, sometimes even performing surgery on their kitchen tables. Because of the unsanitary nature of the almost battlefield-type conditions, he had to become very informed on the latest medical discoveries in sterilization and antiseptic procedures. His reputation grew, resulting in him becoming a surgeon on staff as well as a clinical
instructor in anatomy at Northwestern. Soon he was focusing his energies on creating an interracial hospital, the Provident Hospital and Training School Association, a 12-bed hospital and school that trained black nurses and used doctors of various races. But Williams' claim to fame occurred on July 9, 1893 (the same year of Gandhi’s first act of civil disobedience halfway around the world, and the year that Colorado granted women the right to vote).

A young black man, James Cornish, had been stabbed in the chest during a bar fight. He arrived at Provident in shock and near death from loss of blood. Williams decided the only possibility of saving Cornish was to open the chest and operate internally. This was almost never done, because the risk of infection was so high as to practically guarantee death. However, 51  days after the operation, Cornish left the hospital—and lived for another 50 years.

When the American Medical Association refused to admit black doctors, Williams co-founded the National Medical Association for black doctors. In 1913 he became the only black member in the American College of Surgeons. Until his death in 1931, he continued to push for more hospitals for African Americans. If you’re African American, it makes you wonder how many of your ancestors got medical care and lived because of him. And because they lived, you are here. The heart I’m most grateful that Dr. Williams opened was his own—for all of us.

Photo Credit: Black Inventor

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 www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

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Kareem_READ The American Library Association (ALA) is pleased to announce that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has joined the popular Celebrity READ poster series. The Celebrity READ poster campaign is one of the most effective ways to encourage people to get a good education, improve their reading skills, and to read for sheer enjoyment.
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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