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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview

Basketball Scoring Champion

January 18, 2007
Los Angeles, California

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  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

What was it like growing up in New York City in the 1950s and early '60s? What was your life like?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I thought I had a really great childhood. I can't complain about it. I had both parents that cared about me and nurtured and supported me, and taught me about discipline. They didn't let that slide. I don't consider myself spoiled. I did the normal things that kids did in New York in the '50s.

I went to the circus and the rodeo, and went to the library, and played baseball and stickball and swam. I visited my grandmothers in Brooklyn. Just the normal things, family and friends, and the magic of television. That was the earliest days of television, kind of a fascinating time.

Were you a good kid?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I considered myself to be a pretty good kid. I didn't get in a lot of trouble. My parents were disciplinarians. They didn't allow me a whole lot of leeway to act crazy. I didn't get that.

How did you like school? Were you a good student?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview Photo
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I was a pretty good student. My mom wanted to emphasize that school was a very important part of my life. She wanted me to do well, and I took that message to heart.

Did you have hobbies? What were the kinds of things that interested you as a kid growing up?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The things that interested me the most growing up? I was a baseball fan. I wanted to play baseball. I couldn't be a cowboy because I did not live in the West, so baseball was the refuge there.

Did you have heroes?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I had heroes. Jackie Robinson was a big hero in my home, and of course, all the musicians. My dad was an avid musician. He thought that music was the pinnacle of artistic statement, so Duke Ellington and Count Basie and Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan and Billy Eckstine, they were always on the turntable, and they were icons.

Do you remember the first time you stepped on a basketball court?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I kind of vaguely do.

I first stepped on the basketball court at P.S. 52 in Upper Manhattan in Inwood. I remember it was during the summer when they would have the schools open for daytime activities for kids. I struggled just getting the ball up to the rim level. I couldn't do it at first. I had to heave the ball underhanded just to get it up to the rim. I didn't do well at all. I started to get pretty good in the 7th and 8th grades. Eighth grade, I dunked a ball in a game. That was pretty amazing in those days. I guess it would be amazing now. You know, 8th graders don't, by and large, have that kind of skill, but for me, I think it was just the issue that I was tall enough and I had been trying it long enough, I finally got to the point where I could do it.

You must have always been the biggest kid in your class. You were something like 6' 8" by the time you were in the 8th grade. Was that a problem for you?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview Photo
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Yeah, it was a problem. I was being scrutinized and always standing out. I was the only black kid quite often, so I always felt that I was a minority of one.

How did you handle that? How hard was it?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: It was kind of hard. You know, you always want to fit in and be just like everybody else, especially when you are young. So that was pretty tough for me, but I got used to it. You kind of accept your fate and try to live with it.

You have written about the year you spent at Holy Providence School. What lessons did you learn there?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Well, at Holy Providence School, I learned some tough lessons there. The other kids didn't appreciate the fact that I was a good student, and I was kind of singled out as an egghead, nerd kind of person. The only good thing that happened to me there was I got to play on the basketball team. That was fourth grade. That was the first year that I played basketball, and basketball was kind of like a refuge for me, but I couldn't wait to get out of there.

It has got to be tough on a young man to be in that kind of situation. Did that make you more determined to become the best you could be in your life?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Gee, I really didn't see that experience in terms of my whole life. It was just the couple of months that it was going to take for me to get out of there. Those were the most important parts of that scenario. I just wanted out.

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