When former Los Angeles Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on his way to becoming the league’s all-time leading scorer, and a bona fide NBA legend, he was often described, perhaps a bit unfairly, as being unapproachable and aloof.
In his post-playing days, Abdul-Jabbar has shown off his diverse interests and even weighed in on reality television at one point. He once wrote an article on ABC television’s Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise entitled “How the Bachelor and Bachelorette Franchise Are Damaging Romance in America.” As one might imagine, he was not fond of the show on any societal level, referring to it as “insidious darkness beneath the fairytale pabulum they are serving up.”
Considering what he had wrote, the last thing anyone expected was Abdul-Jabbar making a good-natured appearance on the show he skewered, The Bachelorette. But on Monday night it happened, and in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Abdul-Jabbar revealed that he is actually a fan of the show, despite his criticisms:
Why am I such a fan? Critics always like to complain that “reality” shows like this aren’t reality. That throwing a bunch of people together to compete for love is more game show than real life. That the cloistered but competitive environment creates a false perception that skews emotions in a mild version of brainwashing akin to Stockholm Syndrome. In other words, it’s just like high school. Or an office workplace. Or a pick-up bar. So, yeah, like real life.
Kareem also spoke about being a fan of this season’s Bachelorette, Rachel Lindsay:
For me, Rachel immediately displayed a clear-eyed view of what was going on and handled herself with dignity while treating the others with compassion. I was relieved she wasn’t chosen by Nick because, let’s face it, she was too good for him. She was smarter, wittier, funnier and more mature than he was, which I suspect he realized and is the reason he didn’t select her.
Now, I was on Rachel’s show to help her assess these men’s characters by how they interacted on the basketball court. Sports competition has a way of stripping away the polished veneer of some people. We see the sharp teeth behind the polite smile.
As most people know by now, Rachel Lindsay is the first African-American Bachelorette (or Bachelor) in the 22 seasons the series has aired. She is also one of the most interesting, well-rounded and intelligent. Her being chosen was a major moment for the show as there had been numerous complaints about the lack of diversity on the show.
On Monday night’s show, Abdul-Jabbar helped Lindsay pull off a “group date” in which numerous suitors for her affection were divided into two teams and asked to play a game of basketball. They might have been nervous in Kareem’s presence – or maybe they are just lousy basketball players – but one would be hard pressed to find a group of 10 men in their twenties and early thirties who could play worse.
Still, Kareem had fun with it. He smiled, gave everyone playful pointers, and ran them through drills to prepare the contestants to play in an actual game in a real arena before a large group of spectators. It was funny and entertaining, and Abdul-Jabbar was loose and relaxed.
Yes, it has been a long journey since his playing days ended nearly 30 years ago, one in which there have been twists and turns and ups and downs, including a bout with cancer. In the end, the once sullen, withdrawn Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has evolved into one of this country’s most interesting and admired figures, so much so that he is worthy of being called a national treasure.
Now he can add reality television star to his resume.