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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Spiritual Journeys

While in college during the 1960s, Jabbar's interest in humanity and in his own spirituality matured along with his basketball skills. It was a time of social change and sometimes of civil unrest, when African Americans in the United States spoke out and demanded proper equality. In 1968 many African American athletes refused to participate in the Olympic games in Mexico City as a way of protesting for civil rights. Jabbar, searching for peace of soul, turned to the Islamic religion of the Middle East. Around that same time He took part in a ceremony called Shahada by which he adopted an Islamic name, calling himself Kareem. He spent the summer of 1968 working with a youth program in Harlem, and at the end of the season he embraced Islam one step further by adopting Jabbar as his surname.


1947 Born in New York City on April 16
1966 Leads UCLA freshman team to a 21-0 record, averages 33 points per game
1967 Leads UCLA varsity to NCAA championship
1968 Leads UCLA to a back-to-back NCAA titles; converts from Catholic to Muslim
1969 Leads UCLA to a third straight NCAA title; drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks as the first pick in the first round of the NBA draft
1969-70 Leads Bucks to a 29 victory increase from previous season
1970-71 Leads Bucks to NBA championship; marries Janice "Habiba" Brown; makes legal name change to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
1972 Studies Arabic at Harvard; a daughter, Habiba, is born
1973 Separates from wife Habiba in December
1975 Goes to the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade for four players
1976 A son, Kareem, is born
1977 Leads Lakers to a league-best 53-29 record; divorces Habiba
1978 Becomes the captain of the Lakers
1979 A daughter, Sultana, is born
1980 Leads Lakers to NBA championship
1982 Leads Lakers to NBA championship
1983 Averages 27 points per game for playoffs; loses Bel-Air home in a fire
1985 Leads Lakers to championship; publishes Giant Steps, an autobiography
1986 Signs one-year contract extension for unprecedented 18th season; surpasses 35,000-point milestone
1987 Scores 32 points in the deciding game of the NBA finals; Lakers take the championship
1988 Leads Lakers to a repeat championship
1989 Retires from professional play leaving nine NBA records: 38,387 points scored, 20 seasons played, 5,762 playoff points, 6 MVP awards, 57,446 minutes played, 1,560 games played, 15,837 field goals made, 28,307 field goal attempts, and 3,189 blocked shots
1990 Publishes a memoir, Kareem; Lakers retire Jabbar's jersey, Number 33.
1996 Publishes Black Profiles in Courage
2000 Works at the White Mountain Apache reservation and documents the experience in Season on the reservation : my sojourn with the White Mountain Apache
2000-01 Coaches for NBA
2002 Coaches for the USBL

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Abdul-Jabbar's personal life remained unsettled during and after his Los Angeles playing years. He was always uncomfortable with reporters, describing them as "scurrying around like cockroaches after crumbs." Fans, especially white, found it difficult to understand his conversion to Islam; his attitudes towards race; and his shy, introverted personality. Abdul-Jabbar's Islamic faith also estranged him from his parents, although they eventually reconciled.

Source: "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. 5 vols. St. James Press, 2000.

Jabbar's journey of personal growth followed other avenues as well after he made the acquaintance of the late actor Bruce Lee who was also a renowned marital arts experts. Jabbar met Lee through a studio called the New York Akikai. Beginning in 1967 Jabbar began to train with Lee, and the two worked together until Lee's untimely death in 1973. The two had also started shooting a movie, called Game of Death, but the shooting was suspended when Lee died. Jabbar's life was enriched in many ways by his association with Lee, both spiritually and professionally. The speed and flexibility that he developed in working with such a masterful martial artist went a long way in expanding the impact of Jabbar's game skills.

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