The NBA announced Thursday that it has established a new award in honor of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league’s all-time leading scorer and a well-known civil rights activist, that will honor a player who best embodies his commitment to social justice and racial equality.
During the playoffs, the league will name the winner of the inaugural Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion competition, who will collect $100,000 to donate to a charity of his choice. A total of four more finalists will be awarded a total of $25,000 each.
“It’s encouraging to see the NBA attempting to foster social justice consciousness, and I’m flattered they will name the award after me,” Abdul-Jabbar, 74, told The Undefeated. “I know I have a past of this, but I’m pleased with how things have turned out.”
All 30 NBA franchises will nominate a player for the honor, with finalists chosen by a seven-member panel comprised of league owners, advocates, and former NBA stars.
Apart from being one of basketball’s biggest contributors, Abdul-Jabbar is a man of faith who, in the face of Jim Crow-era racism and racial injustice, took moral positions for African Americans’ advancement.
Growing up in New York City’s Dyckman housing estates, Abdul-Jabbar saw government neglect and targeted injustices towards impoverished Black citizens. The assassination of Emmett Till in 1955, when Abdul-Jabbar was just eight years old, and the Harlem riots of 1964, which were caused by the fatal shooting of James Powell, a 15-year-old Black child, by a New York police officer, were the catalysts for Abdul-foray Jabbar’s into racial politics.
In 1980, he told Sports Illustrated, “Right then and there, I realized who I was and who I had to be.” “I was supposed to be the embodiment of Black fury, Black power in the flesh.”
Although at UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar claimed three NCAA championships in a row (1967–69). Among them, he helped coordinate a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, with sociologist Harry Edwards, in response to the assassinations of civil rights activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as the continuing mistreatment of Black people in America.
In his 2017 book, “Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “It was too difficult for me to get excited about representing a nation that declined to represent me or anyone of my color.”
During his time in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar and other well-known Black male athletes, such as Jim Brown and Bill Russell, arranged the Cleveland Summit in favor of world champion boxer Muhammad Ali’s refusal to join the US Army during the Vietnam War.
Today, Abdul-Jabbar sees a lot of parallels between how athletes like Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, and Maya Moore have approached racial equality work in the same way as he and others did during the civil rights movement.
“I’m happy they’re taking it slowly and not jumping into anything. If you approach to reform with a chip on your shoulder and a lot of anger, it will throw off the people you’re trying to communicate with “Abdul-Jabbar, who was raised on Malcolm X’s teachings until a chance meeting with King in high school inspired him to take nonviolent, direct action, said.
“And I’m happy they’ve learned their lesson and pledged to do so in a responsible, nonviolent, and positive manner. That is how we affect progress. That’s how we were able to break down the contact barriers.”
Abdul-Jabbar said he hopes the honor motivates talented, aspiring basketball players to continue the work he and other athletes began more than a half-century ago, despite harsh scrutiny and even death threats.
“They aren’t allowed to be scared. That’s the one thing they won’t be able to do because if you give in to terror, we won’t be able to accomplish something “he mentioned, “We need the confidence to speak truth to authority because if we can do so and persuade people to feel the same way, we can bring about progress.”
Abdul-Jabbar was a 20-year NBA veteran who won six championships with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers (five with Los Angeles). Aside from points, Abdul-Jabbar has the most All-Star Game appearances (19) and MVP awards in his career (six).
Abdul-Jabbar has published 14 books, appeared in a number of films, including the 1980 hit “Airplane!” and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama in 2016.