Today, I had the pleasure of seeing an NBA legend come to my town of St. Petersburg, Florida. He came to the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg Campus, to talk about his book, On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, among other things. If you didn't recognize the author, I'm talking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The event began with an introduction to Kareem and then Kareem came and started talking about his story. He explained many things about basketball and its history. Something he said a couple of times: the Harlem Globetrotters are not from Harlem, they were from Chicago. New York's team was the Harlem Rens.
After he talked about that, he let people ask questions. Questions ranged from his regrets, his feelings on education and what he's looking forward to in life.
Besides seeing Kareem, I also got a chance to see some people with stories as well. A guy named Art Bruno was there, who played against Kareem in elementary school. It was around 1960 and occasionally, he switched onto Kareem. He was maybe 5'8", while Kareem was 6'5"+ in elementary school! Doesn't sound like an easy cover to me.
Also there was a collector named Mike Dowell. He brought a Sports Illustrated from 1974, with Kareem on the cover, a Kareem figure and card from his UCLA days, as well as a book that featured some old pictures of Kareem.
But it was seeing and talking to Kareem himself that really made me realize just how incredible he is. He is very scholarly and able to talk on a wide variety of topics.
I wondered how, after all his accomplishments--six championship rings, 19 All-Star selections, scoring more points than any other NBA player and still finding time to write books how he's managed to stay humble.
"Humility is part of what you learn about life," he told me. "Know what you've achieved; someone has achieved more. You have to stay with your goals, keep doing things you can feel good about."
As for today's players, Kareem doesn't think they are any more athletic than in his time. "You take someone like Mike, Elgin Baylor: you don't see that a lot. Oscar Robertson. They came around when they needed to."
Even though he's been a special assistant for the Lakers, coach Phil Jackson hasn't influenced his style. "(I) don't work with him, I work with players. I've learned things; had philosophical exchanges with Phil, his system is the same as Tex Winter's system."
And how would he play President Obama on the court if he had the chance?
"The President's a guard and (Kareem) doesn't play out there. He seems to like the outside shot. I'd make him drive, but you'd have to play him to find out."
That sounds about right.
So I asked him what he wanted to be remembered for most. "My efforts as an author," he said.
That sounds about right, too. I know what that dream is like.
Also, my local paper, the St. Petersburg Times, interviewed him as well. That's also a good read, I'd check it out. Kareem is also doing a cool fundraiser called HoopIQ. One of the prizes is the chance to take your basketball team to a playoff game with Kareem. Sounds worth it to me!
Here's a picture of an autograph I got:
Thanks to everyone who helped me make this happen!