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If you like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's story, you might also like:
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Yogi Berra,
Julius Erving,
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: 4 / 7)

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  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

How does life in the NBA compare to life in a major college basketball program?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I think life in the NBA was pretty easy, because you are getting paid to do something that you have done for free prior to that. You get paid pretty well, and that is all that you have to do, so all other distractions are on the periphery and you can concentrate completely on basketball. If you have a good foundation in the game, you can do very well.

You had an amazing record of winning games, at every level, but you didn't win them all. There had to have been setbacks and disappointments and difficulties. What were your disappointments and difficulties and how did you overcome them?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: In the professional game?

There are disappointments for any competitive athlete, because you can't win all the time. Coach Wooden taught us this. He taught us that you can only come out and give your best effort. That is all you can do. The outcome is not determined by anything that you have control over. The only thing you have control over is your effort and then the effort of your group, your team, and when you put together a good effort consistently, you have a chance to win, and everybody wants to win, but there is only one team that can win it all, and you have to accept that. As long as you put your best effort out there, you should be satisfied with that, and not be down on yourself.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Were you ever nervous? Did you ever have doubts or fear of failure in your career?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I had self doubts when I was a freshman in high school. I was 14 years old and not very mature, and there were a few incidents in my freshman year. I learned in a very competitive environment. The high school environment that I played in was very intense, and I learned how to be stoic and go out and compete. My high school coach was very good at working with me, working with people. He never berated anybody or embarrassed them if they went out and played hard, and stuck to our team plan. I was very fortunate to have good coaching like that, both in high school and then again in college with Coach Wooden.

Are there any incidents that you had to deal with that stand out, or that young people could learn from?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Oh yeah. My very first high school game, I was 14 years old and we went to play a team in Brooklyn and got whipped. There was one player on the team that was doing Globetrotter tricks against our team. It was pretty bad. After the game, I came into the locker room and I felt so bad about my performance I started crying, and at that time I was 14 years old. At that age, you can be either more mature than your years or less mature in certain ways. In this particular set of circumstances, I was less mature. I was a lot closer to being 12 years old than I was to being 16 years old. So I'm crying, and I remember I looked up and all of the other guys in the locker room were looking at me like I had just landed from Mars. Crying at a time like that, like a little kid, and my maturity level just did a leap of maybe four or five years at that point. I realized that I had to leave that childish emotion and self-pity behind and learn how to compete and get with it. It was a pretty intense moment in my life and one that I refer to a lot in terms of focus and determination.

There must have been tough times for you, the 7-foot black American, in a country in racial turmoil, a country where racism was embedded into the institutions and into the system.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview Photo
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Yes, the racial atmosphere in the early '60s was not a pleasant thing to endure, because America has a way of not acknowledging racial attitudes, and at other times taking the attitude that "things will change later. " Of course, things have to change now if there is going to be any progress now. So the impatience in communities that felt racial oppression was very, very intense. The whole idea of "Freedom Now" emerged in the '60s, and it was something that I had to debate with my peers almost on a daily basis.

How did those debates turn out usually?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I think people started to get the idea that certain things did have to change if America was going to be the place that it put itself up to be. People like Dr. King and Malcolm X really intensified the debate and made people deal with the issues, and that went across the board. I don't think any group or any individuals really got a chance to not participate. You had to participate. These things affected you no matter who you are or where you were.

Everyone in public life, athletes included, is subject to criticism. How do you handle criticism?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I handle criticism by understanding that you can't please everybody and you should live according to your own standards, especially if they are reasonable. As long as you know that you have done the best that you can in whatever circumstances that you are in and you are honest, you should be able to handle any criticism that arises, because you understand within yourself that you're not perfect. You can't please everybody, and if you understand that, you can move on.

How hard is it to understand that?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I think after a considerable amount of time in the public eye, you understand that this is just the way that things are, that people are going to criticize you and you can't please everybody. As long as you do the best you can in an honest effort, you should be all right.

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