By Leland Stein III
DETROIT - I have known Kareem Abdul-Jabbar since the glory days when the Los Angeles Lakers were breaking off Showtime in the NBA. He has always been a reflective and introverted spirit, but most of the media took that fact and labeled him a malcontent. How wrong! Abdul-Jabbar has always valued scholarship and his interaction with most reporters never moved to bring out that zeal in him. They only cared about pre- or post-game quotes, while Abdul-Jabbar was always thinking about history and enlightening others - for example he and Muhammad Ali were the first superstar athletes to change their names.
After his retirement he has showed all where his real interested always lied and that his intrinsic calling has always been focused on looking at life beyond sports. Reaffirming this about Abdul-Jabbar, the valued Ford Freedom Awards recently named him as its Freedom Scholar for 2012.
“I always planned to graduate from college,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That experience from college prepared me for life after college. Unfortunately there is so much money in the NBA that too many do not look at the value of a degree and the learning process. I get it the goal is to make money . . . right? So the environment that too many of the young men come out of they need to help their families and improve their lives and money helps in the short run to make that happen.” As usual a Detroit - and national – jewel was the host of this noteworthy gathering in Mid-Town. The Magnificent Detroit Charles Wright Museum of African-American History hosted the Ford Freedom event, and, the involved turned out.
Talent, Tenacity, Teamwork: Africans American in Sports was the 2012 theme. “The history of African Americans in sports is a storied one,” said Charles Wright Museum of History CEO, Juanita Moore. “But it is easy to forget the talent, tenacity and teamwork it took for those early pioneers to demonstrate not only physical prowess, but also the courage and fortitude necessary to overcome prejudice and roadblocks to their ability to even compete. “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has earned his place as a basketball legend, but continues to build on that legacy with his place as a basketball legend, but he continues to build on that legacy with his achievements as a writer, filmmaker and USA Global Cultural Ambassador.” Honored as the Ford Freedom Awards Scholar, Abdul-Jabbar is stretching his reach as a defining American documentarian.
Hall of Famer Abdul-Jabbar, 65, is the NBA's All-Time leading scorer, having amassed 38,387 points over a 20-year career with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. He won six NBA championships and was league MVP a record six times, while also being selected to a record setting 19 NBA All-Star teams as well as to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time Team. He has been named one of the 50 greatest players in the NBA.
While ate UCLA Abdul-Jabbar won three straight national championships and is the only scholar/athlete in history to be voted the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament three times. He received the very first Naismith College Player of the Year Award in 1969 and has been dubbed by ESPN as "The Best Collegiate Player of the 20th Century" and "History's Greatest Player" by Time Magazine.
Since retiring from the game, the man who perfected the "skyhook" has become a speaker, author, filmmaker, and educator, and on January 18th, 2012 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed Abdul-Jabbar as a Global Cultural Ambassador.
“I am very humbled to have received this honor from Ms. Clinton and President Obama,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I see my purpose as going all over the world and sharing the history of America, African-American and everyone. I focus on education and life in the United States.” As a U.S. Global Cultural Ambassador Abdul-Jabbar's mission is to travel the world and engage underserved youth through special programs and open a dialogue which promotes American history and culture. Through his work with the Skyhook Foundation he engages filmmakers, writers and athletes to develop books and films that teach children about important figures in U.S. history. Abdul-Jabbar is a 7-time New York Times best-selling author with books such as Giant Steps, published in 1983 and followed by Kareem, Black Profiles in Courage, A Season on the Reservation, Brothers in Arms: the epic story of the 761st all black tank battalion, and On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance. His latest book, What Color is My World-The Lost History of African American Inventors is being used to teach children about STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) in elementary schools all over the United States. "If America is to maintain our high standard of living, we must continue to innovate," said Abdul-Jabbar.
"We are competing with nations many times our size and STEM learning represents the engines of innovation. With these engines we can lead the world, because knowledge is real power." Also the New York Renaissance was the Ford Freedom Honoree. Ex-player Frank Washington and son of star Clarence Bell, Richard, were on hand and enlightened all about the trials and tribulation endured toward inclusion. Leland Stein can be reached at email@example.com or at Twitter @lelandsteinIII