The NBA has undergone a significant change over the past year both on and off the court. Not only was the league in the midst of a pandemic, but efforts were also ramped up in pursuit of social justice in this country.
Players made it clear last season when they opted to finish out the year in the bubble that it would be on their terms. This included bringing attention to the issues of racial discrimination and police brutality.
Los Angeles Lakers legends such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have long been at the forefront of the fight against racial injustice. The league has now started to officially recognize the efforts of those both on and off the court.
The NBA has developed a new award in honor of Abdul-Jabbar that will acknowledge the player that best embodies the fight for social justice and racial equality. “Cap” was admittedly humbled upon hearing the news, via Martenzie Johnson of The Undefeated:
“It’s nice to see the NBA try to promote social justice awareness, and I am very flattered they would see fit to name the award after me,” Abdul-Jabbar, 74, told The Undefeated. “I know I have some history with this, so I’m happy the way it’s worked out.”
Abdul-Jabbar added that he is happy that the efforts have been made for a peaceful approach to action.
“I’m glad that they’re taking their time and not rushing into it. If you go into trying to effect change with a chip on your shoulder, and a lot of anger, it really turns off the people that you’re trying to talk to,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who grew up on the teachings of adopted Harlem son Malcolm X before a chance encounter with King while in high school led him to a peaceful, direct action.
“And I am glad they’ve learned that lesson and have made a commitment to do it sensibly in a nonviolent and constructive way. That’s how we get change done. That’s how we managed to overcome the communication gaps and break through.”
Abdul-Jabbar was not only league’s all-time leading scorer, but he was also a noted civil rights activist off the court during his time. His success in both fields clearly made him the ideal candidate to have the award based on his namesake.
The winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award will be announced during the postseason and will receive $100,000 to donate to a charity of his choosing. Meanwhile, the four additional finalists will receive $25,000.
LeBron James names Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar among inspirations
The efforts of pioneers like Abdul-Jabbar helped pave the way for those that came after him. Players such as LeBron James have kept it going by bringing the issues to the mainstream media.
James credits those like Abdul-Jabbar, Muhammad Ali and Oscar Robertson for speaking out for future generations.
“I’m inspired by the likes of Muhammad Ali, I’m inspired by the Bill Russells and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, the Oscar Robertsons — those guys who stood when the times were even way worse than they are today,” Mr. James said. “Hopefully, someday down the line, people will recognize me not only for the way I approached the game of basketball, but the way I approached life as an African-American man.”
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