The NBA has created a new award honoring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the league’s all-time leading scorer and a prominent civil rights activist, which will recognize the player who best epitomizes his fight for social justice and equality. racial, the league announced Thursday.
The winner of the inaugural Social Justice Champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar award will be announced during the playoffs and will receive $ 100,000 from the league to donate to an organization of their choice. Four additional finalists will receive $ 25,000.
“It’s nice to see the NBA trying to promote social justice awareness, and I’m very flattered that they see fit to name the award in my honor,” Abdul-Jabbar, 74, told The Undefeated. “I know I have some history with this, so I am happy with the way it has worked.”
The 30 NBA teams will nominate a player for the award, and the finalists will be selected by a seven-person committee comprised of league executives, activists and former NBA players.
In addition to being one of the sport’s biggest contributors, Abdul-Jabbar is also a man of convictions, who in the face of the segregation and racial discrimination of the Jim Crow era, took principled positions for the betterment and advancement of African Americans.
Growing up in Dyckman’s housing projects in New York City, Abdul-Jabbar was exposed to government neglect and faced injustices towards poor blacks. Incidents such as the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, when Abdul-Jabbar was only 8 years old, and the Harlem riots of 1964, triggered by the death of James Powell, a 15-year-old black boy, by gunfire by a police officer from New York, were the ones that triggered Abdul-Jabbar’s immersion in racial politics.
“At that very moment I knew who I was and who I had to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1980. “It was going to be black rage personified, black power in the flesh.”
Abdul-Jabbar won three consecutive NCAA championships (1967-1969) while at UCLA. Among these, he, along with famous sociologist Harry Edwards, helped organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City due to the recent assassinations of civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and the continuing mistreatment of blacks in the United States.
“It was too difficult for me to get excited about representing a country that refused to represent me or others of my color,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his 2017 book, “Coach Wooden and I: Our 50-Year Friendship In and Out de la cancha “(Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court).
While in the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar and other famous black athletes, including Jim Brown and Bill Russell, organized the Cleveland Summit in support of world champion boxer Muhammad Ali’s decision to refuse entry into the US military. during the Vietnam War.
Today, Abdul-Jabbar sees many similarities in the way athletes, such as Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, and Maya Moore, have taken a measured approach to racial equality work in the same way that he and others did during the movement for civil rights.
“I’m glad they’re taking their time and not rushing. If you try to achieve a change with a chip on the shoulder and a lot of anger, it really puts off the people you’re trying to talk to,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who grew up with the teachings of Harlem’s adopted son, Malcolm X, before a chance encounter with King while in high school led to direct and peaceful action.
“And I’m glad they learned that lesson and committed to doing it sensibly, in a non-violent and constructive way. This is how we make change. This is how we manage to bridge and bridge communication gaps.”
Abdul-Jabbar said he hopes this award will inspire promising young basketball players to continue the work he and other athletes began half a century ago amid strong criticism and even death threats.
“They can’t be afraid. That’s the one thing they can’t do, because if you’re going to give in to fear, then we won’t achieve anything,” he said. “We have to have the courage to speak the truth to power, and if we can do that, make others feel that way, we can make a difference.”
Abdul-Jabbar played in the NBA for 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers, winning six championships (five with Los Angeles). Points aside, Abdul-Jabbar is also the all-time leader in All-Star appearances (19) and MVP awards (six).
Outside of sports, Abdul-Jabbar has written 14 books; He has starred in several films, including the 1980 hit “Airplane!”; and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Barack Obama in 2016.