Famed for his slam dunks and
"skyhook", Kareem Abdul-Jabbar discovers the other
side of life, spirituality, and accepts Islam.
by many players as the greatest basketball player of
all time, voted six times the National Basketball
Association's most valuable player, Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar is also one of the most visible Muslims
in the American public arena. The 7' 2"native upper
Harlem, born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, starred for
UCLA before entering the National Basketball
Association with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969. Alcindor
later went to the Los Angeles Lakers. He was so
dominant in college basketball that "dunking,"at which
he excelled, was formally banned from the
intercollegiate sport. As a result, Lew Alcindor
developed the shot for which he is personally the most
famous-the "skyhook"-which has been called the shot
that changed basketball, and with the help of which he
was to score more than thirty eight thousand points in
regular-season NBA play. When Milwaukee won the NBA
title in 1970-71, Alcindor, who was by then Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar, was the acclaimed king of basketball.
Lew Alcindor first learned his Islam from Hammas Abdul
Khaalis, a former jazz drummer .... According to his
own testimony, he had been raised to take authority
seriously, whether that of nuns, teachers, or coaches,
and in that spirit he followed the teachings of Abdul
Khaalis closely. It was by him that Alcindor was given
the name Abdul Kareem, then changed to Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar, literally "the noble one, servant of the
Almighty." Soon, however, he determined to augment
Abdul Khaalis's teachings with his own study of the
Quran, for which he undertook to learn basic Arabic.
In 1973 he travelled to Libya and Saudi Arabia to get
a better grasp of the language and to learn about
Islam in some of its "home"contexts. Abdul-Jabbar was
not interested in making the kind of public statement
about his Islam that he felt Muhammad Ali had in his
opposition to the Vietnam War, wishing simply to
identify himself quietly as an African American who
was also a Muslim. He stated clearly that his name
Alcindor was a slave name, literally that of the
slave-dealer who had taken his family away from West
Africa to Dominica to Trinidad, from where they were
brought to America.
[…] Kareem Abdul-Jabbar affirms his identity as a
Sunni Muslim. He professes a strong belief in what he
calls the Supreme Being and is clear in his
understanding that Muhammad is his prophet and the
Quran is the final revelation…
....For his part, Kareem accepts his responsibility to
live as good an Islamic life as possible, recognising
that Islam is able to meet the requirements of being a
professional athlete in America.
Excerpts from His Book, Kareem
The following are excerpts from the second book he
wrote about his basketball career, Kareem, published
in 1990, telling his reasons for being drawn toward
[Growing up in America,] I eventually found that . .
.emotionally, spiritually, I could not afford to be a
racist. As I got older, I gradually got past believing
that black was either the best or the worst. It just
was. The black man who had the most profound influence
on me was Malcolm X. I had read "Muhammad Speaks", the
Black Muslim newspaper, but even in the early sixties,
their brand of racism was unacceptable to me. It held
the identical hostility as white racism, and for all
my anger and resent meant, I understood that rage can
do very little to change anything. It's just a
continual negative spiral that feeds on itself, and
who needs that?
. . .Malcolm X was different. He'd made a trip to
Mecca, and realized that Islam embraced people of all
color. He was assassinated in 1965, and though I
didn't know much about him then, his death hit hard
because I knew he was talking about black pride, about
self-help and lifting ourselves up. And I liked his
attitude of non-subservience.
. . .Malcolm X's autobiography came out in 1966, when
I was a freshman at UCLA, and I read it right before
my nineteenth birthday. It made a bigger impression on
me than any book I had ever read, turning me around
totally. I started to look at things differently,
instead of accepting the mainstream viewpoint.
. . .[Malcolm] opened the door for real cooperation
between the races, not just the superficial,
paternalistic thing. He was talking about real people
doing real things, black pride and Islam. I just
grabbed on to it. And I have never looked back.
Interview with TalkAsia
SG: Before Kareem Abdul-Jabbar there was Lew
Alcindor. Now Lew Alcindor was what Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar was born as, he has since converted to
Islam. Something that he says was a very deeply
spiritual decision. Tell me a little bit about your
own personal journey, from Lew Alcindor to Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar. Is there still some of Lew Alcindor in
KA: Well you know that was who I started my life
out as, I'm still my parent's child, I'm still...my
cousins are still the same, I'm still me though. But I
made a choice. (SG: Do you feel different? Is it a
different feeling when you take on a different name, a
different persona?) I really don't think...I think it
has more to do with evolution -- I evolved into Kareem
Abdul-Jabbar, I don't have any regrets about who I was
but this is who I am now.
SG: And a spiritual journey, how important was that?
KA: Well as a spiritual journey, I don't think I would
have been able to be as successful as I was as an
athlete if it were not for Islam. It gave me a moral
anchor, it enabled me to not be materialistic, it
enabled me to see more what was important in the
world. And all of that was reinforced by people, very
important people to me: Coach John Wooden, my parents,
all reinforced those values. And it enabled me to live
my life a certain way and not get distracted.
SG: When you embraced Islam, was it difficult for
other people to come to terms with that? Did that
create a distance between you and others?
KA: For the most part it was. I didn't try to make it
hard on people; I did not have a chip on my shoulder.
I just wanted people understand I was Muslim, and
that's what I felt was the best thing for me. If they
could accept that I could accept them. I didn't...it
wasn't like if you're going to become my friend you
have to become Muslim also. No, that was not it. I
respect people's choices just as I hope they respect
SG: What happens to a person when they take on another
name, another persona if you like? How much did you
KA: For me it made me more tolerant because I had to
learn to understand differences. You know I was
different, people didn't oftentimes understand exactly
where I was coming from; certainly after 9/11 I've had
to like explain myself and...
SG: Was there a backlash against people like yourself?
Did you feel that at all?
KA: I didn't feel like necessarily a backlash, but I
certainly felt that a number of people might have
questioned my loyalty, or questioned where I was at,
but I continue to be a patriotic American...
SG: For a lot of black Americans, converting to Islam
was an intensely political decision as well. Was it
the same for you?
KA: That was not part of my journey. My choosing Islam
was not a political statement; it was a spiritual
statement. What I learned about the Bible and the
Qur'an made me see that the Qur'an was the next
revelation from the Supreme Being - and I chose to
interpret that and follow that. I don't think it had
anything to do with trying to pigeon hole anyone, and
deny them the ability to practice as they saw fit. The
Quran tells us that Jews, Christians, and Muslims:
Muslims are supposed to treat all of them the same way
because we all believe in the same prophets and heaven
and hell would be the same for all of us. And that's
what it's supposed to be about.
SG: And it's been very influential in your writing as
KA: Yes it has. Racial equality and just what I
experienced growing up in America as a kid really
affected me to experience the Civil Rights Movement,
and see people risking their lives, being beaten,
being attacked by dogs, being fire hosed down streets,
and they still took a non-violent and very brave
approach to confronting bigotry. It was remarkable and
it certainly affected me in a very profound way.
House (Mar 24 1990). ISBN: 0394559274.
 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Talkasia Transcript. Airdate
July 2nd, 2005.
 S.G.: The Host, Stan Grant
 KA: The Guest, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.