Kareem Abdul-Jabaar’s professional career, the width and length of it, has always been defined by grace, quiet leadership and excellence as he reached milestones only the extraordinary have the ability to achieve. He left the NBA stage the way he entered it: with reverential respect. In his post-NBA life he graduated to greater relevance and reinforced what had always been understood about his intellect as he became a social and culture critic as well as a historian documenting the trials and triumphs of African Americans. Stylistically, he has never been the type of social critic to engender rage or to push someone’s buttons just to bring attention to himself- or worse- just to prove he is right about his very reasoned opinion.
Recently, Abdul-Jabbar wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post, This is the Difference Between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It was described as Abdul-Jabaar picking a fight with Trump but it was hardly that. It was more of a deconstruction of the intellect and temperament of the two presidential candidates.
In This is the Difference Between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Abdul-Jabaar argues that Sanders has the disposition, the compassion, the discipline and the decorum to become president while Trump is a glorified bully who practices media intimidation, doesn’t answer difficult questions and arrogantly dances around the truth.
“Two roads diverged in a political wood, and one man took the road of assaulting the Constitution and soon will be lost forever. The other will be a viable candidate who, regardless of whether he wins the nomination, will elevate the political process into something our Founding Fathers would be proud of.” Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Washington Post.
Trump, highly reactive and often juvenile, instantly responded as Abdul-Jabaar surely knew he would, by scribbling like a third grader all over the article and sending it back to Abdul-Jabaar in a tantrum. Once Trump’s reply became public, it recirculated the article to a wider audience. Trump wrote:
“Kareem, now I know why the press always treated you so badly-they couldn’t stand you. The fact is that you don’t have a clue about life and that what has to be done to make America great again! Best Wishes.” Donald Trump.
It’s all so Donald Trump textbook on how to vanquish those that disagree. He responds not to the message but he tries to bury the messenger in a sea of personal attacks and disdain and humor which often is just an exercise in being tone-deaf. In his 20 year career Abdul-Jabaar was familiar with criticism so Trump’s impulsive oversensitivity didn’t harm him. He took it as a validation of the very point he was trying to make.
“Here again, he attacks a journalist who disagrees with him, not by disputing the points made but by hurling schoolyard insults such as ‘nobody likes you’. Look behind the nasty invectives and you find an assualt on the Constitution in the effort to silence the press through intimidation.” Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Washington Post.
This is not the first time Abdul-Jabaar has taken on social or political issues by writing about them. For Time Magazine he has written about #BlackLives Matter, Media Terrorism, the Death Penalty, Sexual Predators and he is also the author of several books. One of his most important books was widely noted by historians and professors as a significant piece of work: Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement.
In 2012, then Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appointed him as a cultural ambassador to the United States.
In 1969, Lew Alcindor was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks with the first pick in the NBA draft. Although he had been mentored and coached and nurtured by John Wooden at UCLA, it was in high school that he crafted his impossible to block sky hook shot. At UCLA he converted to Muslim and in 1971 he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabaar. Kareem was fitting. It translated into generous/noble which he was for his 20 year NBA career. He was also spectacular. He won 6 NBA titles, 2 NBA Finals MVP’s, 6 regular season MVP’s, Rookie of the Year. He appeared in 19 All-Star games, was a 2-time scoring champion and is the all time leading NBA scorer with 38,387 points.
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