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‘Becoming Kareem’ coming to a city near you

Associated Press | 3/1/2018, 1:08 a.m.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been a best-selling author, civil rights activist, actor, historian and one of the greatest basketball players who ...
Author, activist and former NBA basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar poses at the Newport Beach, Calif., offices of the Skyhook Foundation, the nonprofit he started several years ago to provide educational opportunities for elementary students. Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

By John Rogers


Associated Press

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been a best-selling author, civil rights activist, actor, historian and one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived.

One thing Mr. Abdul-Jabbar has never been — at least not in public — is chatty.

“I’m not known for being a blabbermouth, you know?” the soft-spoken Mr. Abdul-Jabbar concedes with a smile, something else he was never particularly known for during his playing days. But, he adds, still smiling, his public can expect to see that change — and soon.

This fall, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar will embark on a cross-country tour as part of “Becoming Kareem,” a stage show in which he’ll discuss his life, answer audience questions and talk about the key mentors he says helped him achieve his goals. Among them: civil rights heroes Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., his legendary college coach and lifelong friend John Wooden, and fellow superstar athletes Muhammad Ali and Wilt Chamberlain.

Cities have not yet been announced for the tour, which was inspired by the 2017 best-seller “Becoming Kareem,” a memoir of his years from childhood to age 24.

Inspirational, poignant, funny and occasionally heartbreaking, it recounts the coming of age of a bright and hard-working but painfully introverted kid, one who was always the tallest in his class.

And although he didn’t realize it until looking closely at a class photo taken in the third grade, he was often the only black kid in class, a circumstance that in later years would expose him to repeated episodes of ugly racism, no matter his fame or success, that would leave deep emotional scars that sometimes took decades to heal.

So he kept his game face on, both on and off the court, and persevered through setbacks and successes.

“I did the book because I thought that the process that I went through could be very useful for young people right now,” Mr. Abdul-Jabbar told The Associated Press during a wide-ranging interview recently at the offices of the Skyhook Foundation, the charitable nonprofit he created several years ago to provide educational opportunities for elementary schoolchildren, the same group toward which he targeted his book.

After its publication, sports broadcaster Roy Firestone, a longtime friend, suggested he share those experiences directly with live audiences, telling him his words would not only resonate with young people today, but provide a chance for Mr. Abdul-Jabbar to clear up some lingering misconceptions dating to his playing days.

The clipped, seemingly curt answers he often gave during postgame interviews, for example, frequently came across not as shy but as surly, especially coming from someone who stood an intimidatingly tall 7-foot-2.

“And that was very unfortunate,” Mr. Abdul-Jabbar says softly now. “I think it kept me from a head coaching job and commercials and stuff because people wanted to assume the worst.”

Not that he hasn’t had a storied life and career before and after basketball.

Mr. Abdul-Jabbar played on six NBA championship teams, was an assistant coach for two others, won a record six MVP awards and is the leading scorer in NBA history with 38,387 points, a mark that has never been seriously challenged in the 29 years since he retired.