Gene Block Inaugurated as UCLA Chancellor

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Yesterday Gene D. Block inaugurated as UCLA chancellor in festive ceremony at Royce Hall.

The pomp and circumstance befitting such a ceremony was punctuated with music and dance representing UCLA’s diverse and talented student community — from a gospel choir rendering of the national anthem to a performance by the Mariachi Uclatan folkloric group.

This was my speech:

We are here today because UCLA has a new Chancellor.  That’s a funny title, isn’t it: Chancellor? Sounds like someone who’s running a small European country, wedged somewhere between Liechtenstein and Luxembourg.  Yet, when you consider that this man will be overseeing 37,000 students, 27,000 faculty and staff, and a budget of $3.8 billion, he really is running a small country.  Only this one’s wedged somewhere between Hollywood and our imaginations.

Because UCLA isn’t just another country.  It’s an exceptional country.  A visionary country.  A country where students come, not just for an academic education, but to fulfill dreams.  They come here—just as I did 40 years ago—to find out who they are, who they want to be, and how they will make the most of their lives.  I didn’t come here just to play basketball, I came here to learn about myself, my community, my place in the world.  Although, I did a pretty good job playing basketball, too.

It takes a special kind of person to take on the responsibility of providing that kind of learning and nurturing atmosphere.  He must be willing to preserve the legacy of UCLA’s past, while insuring the promise of its future.  As someone who has worked so hard to bring some honor to UCLA’s legacy, I feel like I have a special interest in its future.  That’s why I always believed the person running this place has to be as exceptional as the school itself.  Although there have been various renaissance periods throughout history—from Italy to Harlem—here at UCLA there is always a renaissance going on because this school remains at the forefront of achievement in the arts, in science, in scholarship, and in sports.  Naturally it follows that to properly guide this campus would require a renaissance man or woman.  Someone with an innovative vision of the future, yet, who possesses the skills and talent to make that vision a reality. And that’s exactly what we have in Chancellor Gene Block.

A scholar in circadian biology, an inventor holding several patents, a compassionate teacher, a committed administrator, a restorer of high-performance cars, and, most important, a husband and father. I’m sorry that I must now leave this event – The Lakers are still alive & kicking and I must deal with my coaching responsibilities. But I wanted to add my voice and welcome to Chancellor Block. I hope all of you have a great day today and that UCLA continues to attract great leaders such as Chancellor Gene Block as we continue into the 21st century.

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