Bramlage Coliseum has had its share of basketball greats on its court over the years, but none as legendary as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Tuesday night the six-time NBA champion, social justice advocate and all-time points leader in NBA history — still to this day after retiring in 1989 — responded to a wide range of topics in a question-and-answer format.
In the same way his trademark “skyhook” shot and overall hoops artistry wowed sports fans, the former Bucks and Lakers great was just as astute and nimble when it came to answering tough questions related to difficult subject matters.
“We need to get to a point where the police force doesn’t look down on the people that they are policing,” he said. “And people in the community need to look at the police department not as pigs or oppressors, but as the people to help us keep order in our communities.”
— K-State Athletics (@kstatesports) February 7, 2018
Still, he advocated for strong reform in law enforcement and cited the 2014 police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Before the shooting, reports were made to dispatch concerning a “black male” with a gun in a recreation area. It was later discovered that Rice was playing with a toy gun.
Abdul-Jabbar said the incident, which was caught on camera, was disturbing in how fast the boy’s life was taken.
No charges in that shooting were made.
“The police officer jumps out of the car and shoots a 12-year-old boy dead,” he said. “Doesn’t say, ‘Police, put down the gun, put up your hands!’ Nothing is said. He just jumps out of the car and executes this little boy. He was 12-years-old.
“That is not the way that police are supposed to treat kids. And it is not the way police are supposed to act in the United States of America. My father was a police officer. I know what I’m talking about here, so we’ve got some work to do.”
Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr., but he changed his name after converting to Islam in 1968 and boycotted that year’s Olympics in protest of unequal treatment of African-Americans in the United States. He was drafted No. 1 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969 after three straight NCAA titles for John Wooden’s UCLA teams and has had just of much of a career off the court as he had on it. He’s been a regular contributing columnist for The Washington Post and Time Magazine, where he shares his thoughts on some of the most socially relevant and politically controversial topics facing the nation today.
In 2016, the New York Times best-selling author was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barrack Obama.
Not a stranger to social unrest, Abdul-Jabbar was asked about former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who’s gone from leading his team to a Super Bowl appearance to not being on a roster whatsoever after his kneeling protests during the national anthem drew the ire of political forces. Kaepernick has said his protests were in response to the treatment of African-Americans by police.
“The way he expressed himself, really, is the key,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “He wasn’t doing anything to disrupt the game, but he was making people aware of something before the game, and people who did not like that subject being brought up on a Sunday morning at an NFL game decided they would try to stop him doing what they did.”
Kaepernick sought advice from former Green Beret and Seattle Seahawks longsnapper Nate Boyer before his protests received such attention. Boyer advised Kaepernick kneel rather than sit during the national anthem.
Abdul-Jabbar said Kaepernick sacrificed his career to bring light on a larger issue.
“All you have to do is watch the film of the killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and you will understand what Colin was talking about,” he said. “And I think the push-back against him was severe as it was because he would not stop what he was doing. He would not leave the issue alone because it’s an important issue to him.
“And it’s a lot more important than his job was. He realized he was risking his job, but he had something important to him, and he said what he had to say, so I have a lot of respect for him for that.”
Kaepernick’s protests — which spread throughout the NFL — got the attention of President Donald Trump, who called for Kaepernick and others to be fired. He also called them SOB’s.
While Abdul-Jabbar said repeatedly throughout the night that communication is key to resolving differences, he had an exception for the president when asked if there was any hope of reconciliation if Kaepernick and Trump had a sit-down discussion.
He wasn’t optimistic about such an opportunity and didn’t believe it was a move the former quarterback should make, even if it was possible.
“I know for a fact a conversation between the two of them would be used by the president to feed his base some raw meet,” he said to applause. “He has no interest in solving any problems.”
Abdul-Jabbar also expressed support for the “Me Too” movement and equal pay for women. He also called on Islamic nations to take responsibility for their own problems, rather than simply blaming the U.S. for their woes. He also advocated for women’s rights in those countries. But he also championed Muslims in America to fight stereotypes and fears by extending a hand to others.
“We need every Muslim in America to understand that they have to reach out to people who are not Muslim and let them understand what Islam is really all about,” he said. “We can change this and we don’t have to have bans on Muslim immigration.”
But it wasn’t all about politics and social strife. He also complimented a former teammate and K-State basketball icon.
“Bob Boozer was my teammate in Milwaukee when we won the world championship (in 1971),” he said. “I’ve got nothing against K-State.”
More remarks from Abdul-Jabbar, including audio of audience questions, can be heard below:
Highlights from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Bramlage. https://t.co/hz2YgDuY9R
— John Kurtz (@jlkurtz) February 7, 2018