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If you like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's story, you might also like:
Hank Aaron,
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Mike Krzyzewski,
Peyton Manning,
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and John Wooden

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's recommended reading: The Autobiography of Malcolm X

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
 
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Profile of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Biography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Photo Gallery

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview (page: 3 / 7)

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  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

What about the academic challenge? How different was it being a prospective All-American -- an athlete who could not miss -- and being a history major? How many of your teammates were serious students?


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: When I was at UCLA, all of my teammates were serious students -- well, not all of them, but most of them -- and that was because Coach Wooden expected that. He wanted us to graduate. He let us know in the recruiting process that he wanted us to go to class and do well. He was just like a parent, a strict parent. He wanted us to do well. He was not someone that was just there to exploit us as athletes, and I have a lot of respect and undying love for Coach Wooden for that reason. He was not just some cynical opportunist. He really tried to show the love and caring that he had for the people that played sports for him, that was very important.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


Are there any particular lessons, anything memorable that you take away from your relationship with John Wooden?


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Gee, there are so many things that I learned from Coach Wooden that had nothing to do with sports. Coach Wooden really made us think about things beyond just playing basketball, and that was a very wonderful thing to have coming from the head coach. I started out as an English major and Coach Wooden, I could talk to him about the fine points of the English language -- whether to use a colon or semicolon, when to use parentheses, what was appropriate, "like" or "as" -- those types of things that an English major can tell you are confusing and can be kind of daunting at times. And it had nothing to do with sports. So for that reason alone, I really thought that I was in the right place and dealing with the right situation.


Those years you were at UCLA were turbulent years in America. How did that affect you?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview Photo
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I think the turbulence of the '60s affected everybody, no matter where they were -- the Vietnam War, and the divide that happened to people lining up on either side of that. Also, the mid and late '60s really were the culmination of the civil rights movement, and all those things affected me on the campus at UCLA, but I thought I was in a very positive environment there. The people in and around UCLA seemed to have the right ideas on those matters, and I didn't ever feel that I had made a bad choice.

In 1968, you could have gone to the Olympics and played on the American basketball team, but you declined the invitation. Why was that?


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I declined the invitation to go to the Olympics because I didn't feel that the Olympic situation was reality. Here we have this whole appearance of racial harmony on the American Olympic team when things weren't that harmonious here. In addition to that, I had a very good summer job that paid me a pretty good salary, and I needed that to tide me over for the school year, and I couldn't do both things. So I figured I had better go with what was going to benefit my life, as opposed to benefiting the Olympic movement, which I saw as very hypocritical.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview Photo
The gentleman that was in charge of the U.S. Olympic team, Avery Brundage, to me, was a very controversial figure. I believe in the 1930s he had supported the Nazi Party at one point. It was not somebody I wanted to work for. I didn't want to deal with him or the Olympics, so it was pretty easy for me to make my choice.

You must have taken some heat for that.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I took a lot of heat for that, but I had good reasons not to go. I thought it would be better if I didn't go, as opposed to going and being a problem for everybody, and being a disruptive element there. I let them do their thing, and I was going to do my thing.

A lot of big men have played basketball without ever becoming the kind of player you were. How do you account for your achievements on the basketball court?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I think my achievements on the basketball court came from a whole lot of things coming together in one place and one person. I was able to learn the game from some of the best teachers, and I had particular skills that translated well to playing the game. So the knowledge that I had and the physical gifts that I had gave me the opportunity to be a very good player, and I was able to take advantage of that.

By the same token, there have been teams with very talented players that never won an NCAA or NBA championship. What does it take to win a championship at any level?


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: In order to win a championship, you have to have a lot of parts that fit together, and you have to have the opportunity to win. So in order to win, you really have to have a lot of things happen the right way. You have to have good leadership, coaching, and you have to have a talented team that can come together as a unit. And I think the reason that UCLA's teams did so well was that Coach Wooden's ideas on unity and team play really were cutting edge and the best. He taught those elements of the game the best of any coach in the country. You combine that with talented athletes and you're going to have a winning program.


There is a story that is always told about Coach Wooden, that he would teach his teams how to put their socks on. Do you remember that? How did that help you become better teams?


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The first day that you go to play for Coach Wooden, he tells you about how to put your socks on. And the reason he does that is because his system requires that you do everything on the run. You don't jog through things, you have to run full speed. The wear and tear on your feet is immediate and intense, and if your socks aren't on right, if you have like a ridge that you're running over in your sock, you're going to get a blister and then you won't be able to practice, and if you don't practice for Coach Wooden, you don't play. So he was telling everybody how to survive his system and get through it without coming up with blisters on their feet.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 14:03 EDT