’s Living Monuments: Renaissance Man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


February is Black History Month! And, in honor of those who have paved the way and pioneered in Hip-Hop culture and beyond, pays tribute all month with its “Living Monuments” series. Read on for some interesting tidbits about the life and times of Mr. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

With 38, 387 points, six NBA Championship titles, six Most Valuable Player awards, and 19 All-Star appearances, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has reached a status of greatness that only a few out of millions of athletes have attained in the world of sports. However, that greatness doesn’t stop in the sports arena for Abdul-Jabbar, as he’s made it a priority to educate today’s generation of kids about the importance of Black History in America.

With the recent release of his film, On The Shoulders of Giants, the basketball legend takes us through the journey of The Harlem Renaissance and the basketball team associated with it – one that time has seemingly forgotten. It’s definitely a must-see for basketball fans and those interested in learning about a pivitol piece of its history. The documentary, which makes its cable network premiere on Showtime on February 9 at 8:30p.m., also includes priceless commentary from sports legends, entertainers, and educators.

In addition to the film, Abdul-Jabbar has also released a new children’s book called What Color is my World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors, which tells the story of a young boy named Herbie and his sister Ella as they learn about all of the great Black inventors that have been left out of traditional history books. sat down with the NBA’s all-time scoring leader and newly appointed U.S. Global Cultural Ambassador before his book signing in Los Angeles to talk about the film, Black history, and the imperative behind his new book: Although it was recently released on DVD, your On The Shoulders of Giants documentary is going to make its cable premiere on Showtime this week. Please tell the audience about this great film.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I always wanted to do something about the Harlem Renaissance and the Harlem Rens basketball team that kind of slipped by the attention of everybody, because they were before the NBA. People are really unaware of how good they were and what they meant to the game. This documentary is an opportunity for me to talk about all of those things. Harlem is where I was born, and I’m very proud of my community. The musical style of that era was Jazz, and you incorporate a lot of that in to this movie.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The Harlem Rens played at the Harlem Renaissance Casino, and that was also a dancehall. All of the great Jazz players played there like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Fletcher Henderson. After the games, they would have a dance because they were played on the same floor. You would see a game and then have Cab Calloway play until like 2 or 3 in the morning.

I heard the stories from my father. He was aware of the Rens and what they did as a great basketball team, and he also went to the Renaissance Casino at certain times to dance. The Renaissance and The Savoy were the two great dancehalls in Harlem. You also have a new children’s book out called What Color is my World? What inspired you to make this?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Basically, it’s a situation with kids and their history books only dealing with Black Americans in regards to the issues of slavery and civil rights. By doing this book, I was able to point out another field that Black Americans have been very capable of and their contributions to the American way of life – that very few people know a little about. The book talks about African Americans who came up with inventions such as open-heart surgery and blood banks. It would be nice if these things were taught on a normal basis instead of just Black History Month.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: It should be taught on a regular basis because it’s American History. The fact that these inventions were initiated by Black Americans caused it be suppressed or ignored, because it wasn’t done by the mainstream culture. These achievements happened in America, and they were initiated by Americans. They just happened to be of African descent and not European descent. Because of this, we now have a division in teaching historical accomplishments instead of a continual one – and it doesn’t make much sense. You hold the All-Time NBA Scoring record. Do you think it will ever be broken?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I don’t know. We’ll have to wait and see, but I guess that’s why they keep records [laughter]. Any thoughts on the Lakers this year?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: No. I’m not the coach, so I really don’t feel comfortable speaking on that. I understand. How about Hip-Hop music? Do you have any thoughts on it?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I don’t really listen to Hip-Hop music – because there’s not much music to it [laughter]. I know that its foundation is in other genres like Jazz. Chuck D is a real musical historian and an expert on this subject. He did some music for the documentary along with My whole thing in doing the documentary, I was trying to find a way to connect the present generation with the generation of The Rens because all of those things are related. Swing, Jazz, Big Opera – those genres are fathers and grandfathers of what you now call Hip-Hop. What is your message to this current generation?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: My whole message is that knowledge is power. I think when young people understand what went on before them – and the values that helped those things come in to existence – that they will figure out what they want to do in order to build on them.