Kareem Abdul-Jabbar named U.S. global cultural ambassador
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA Hall of Famer and Laker legend who continues to reign as the league's all-time leading scorer, transcends basketball with his latest gig: global cultural ambassador.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the appointment Wednesday, tasking Abdul-Jabbar with engaging young people worldwide and "using people-to-people diplomacy as a means to create opportunities for greater understanding."
First up is a trip to Brazil, where Abdul-Jabbar "will lead conversations with young people on the importance of education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding, and using sports as a means of empowerment," according to the secretary of State's website. And, of course, there will be basketball clinics.
Compare that with Abdul-Jabbar's website, where he says he is honored for the appointment and adds: "My first assignment will be in Brazil, a country that I’m thrilled to visit. The culture there is so vibrant and engaging. I’m a big jazz fan and Brazilian jazz is a very popular part of the nation's cultural profile. I think I’ll get a chance to sample some of the current jazz on this trip. And of course there’s basketball. I’ll be involved putting on some clinics for the local hoopsters! All in all this is going to be a fun and exciting trip both educationally and culturally."
Abdul-Jabbar is an intriguing choice for cultural ambassador. He was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. and raised Roman Catholic in New York City. He later changed his name and converted to Islam.
Although he was a superstar on the court, he continues to be a powerhouse off of it, promoting social justice as well as African American history.
Among his post-NBA career projects: the acclaimed 2011 documentary "On the Shoulders of Giants," starting the Skyhook Foundation to help children through sports and schooling, and his new book, "What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors."
He has also received a Lincoln Medal for continuing Abraham Lincoln's legacy through commitment to education and equality.
In accepting the appointment, Abdul-Jabbar may have triggered some lighthearted controversy.
The 7-foot-2 Abdul-Jabbar was bearing gifts when his appointment was announced. First was a Lakers jersey bearing his now-retired number 33, which could double as a nightgown for the secretary of State.
"I’m not going to be able to keep that away from my husband, you know," she said, drawing laughter.
Abdul-Jabbar then gave Clinton a copy of his book, "For when you start to read to your grandchildren."
"Well, let us hope. From your lips to God’s ears, right?" Clinton said, also to laughter.
"I hope that Chelsea doesn’t mind me putting that pressure on her," Abdul-Jabbar responded.
"Yeah, well, I won’t say a word. And I’m sure my friends won’t either." More laughter, of course.
-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch
Photo: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton accepts gifts from Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at the announcement of his appointment as U.S. global ambassador. Credit: Michael Gross / U.S. State Department