There is on ongoing debate among Los Angeles hoops fans about who is the greatest Laker: Kobe or Magic? And then there are old-timers who bring up Mr. Clutch and Wilt the Stilt. But how can any of those legends be the greatest player to don the Purple & Gold when another Laker is the NBA’s all-time scoring leader?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champ, two-time Finals MVP, and six-time NBA MVP whose place in the Hall of Fame is unquestioned. His stellar resume has earned the respect of all basketball freaks and secured the love of Southern Californians in general, and any other player would be content to enjoy the fruits of such a career after hanging up his high-tops.
Not Kareem. There was a time after retirement when he was seeking coaching and consulting gigs in the NBA, but the world is better off that he was never able to secured a cushy future in basketball. Whereas Cap combined his blue-collar work ethic and physical gifts into being an unstoppable force on the hardwood, in his second career as a writer he has become equally well-known for his limitless curiosity and intellectual capacity.
I don’t think there’s another author who occupies as many bookshelves in my house: autobiography (Giant Steps, which includes his frank impressions of the Black Power movement and friendship with Bruce Lee), nonfiction (On The Shoulders of Giants, researching the Harlem Renaissance and the relationship between basketball, jazz, and culture), and, most recently, fiction (Mycroft Holmes).
Along with his co-author Anna Waterhouse, Abdul-Jabbar is not only trying his hand at the mystery genre but is entering at the highest level. The protagonist is none other than Sherlock Holmes’s smarter older brother and the plot leads him to Trinidad and exposes him to the Fists of Righteous Harmony. Kareem is an old-school Sherlockian who loves Doyle but appreciates Cumberbatch and is unafraid to mix in his personal passions. The book is a critical success and a page turner, he says, and the publisher is already begging for a sequel.
So how could Wendy and I not drive down to San Diego to attend Abdul-Jabbar and Waterhouse’s reading and book signing and take our daughter with us? To see the 7’2″center whose height dand prowess prompted the NCAA to ban slam dunks when he attended UCLA (Wendy and I happen to be Bruins, too) demonstrate that he is an intellectual giant, as well–that is something that we wanted Eloise needs to see. Surrounded by sci-fi and mystery books at Mysterious Galaxy, it was easy to forget that his number 33 has been retired at Staples Center or that his playing goggles have been enshrined in Springfield.
There are basketball players with bigger brands, more business savvy, and extra street cred. But few, if any, have the level of social awareness, political acumen, or humanist energy as the former disciple of John Wooden, Malcolm X, and Bruce Lee. Today, Kareem stands as a cultural leader, writer, and icon himself. And did I mention that he bought lemonade and cookies for us fans after he was stuck in traffic and delayed his appearance? “You look like you read a book a week,” he told Eloise when we reached the front of the line for book signatures. Turns out the once thorny player can be a good guy, as well.