First Prize winner Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion will be announced during the playoffs and will receive $ 100,000 from the league for a donation to an organization of their choice. Four other finalists will receive $ 25,000.
“It’s nice to see the NBA trying to promote social justice awareness, and I’m very flattered that they see fit to name the award after me,” Abdul-Jabbar, 74, told The Undefeated. “I know I have a bit of history with this so I’m happy with how it turned out. “
All 30 NBA teams will nominate a player for the award, and the finalists will be selected by a seven-person committee made up of league officials, activists and former NBA players.
As well as being one of the biggest contributors to sport, Abdul-Jabbar is also a man of conviction who, in the face of the segregation and racial discrimination of the Jim Crow era, took positions of principle for the improvement and progress of African Americans.
Growing up in the Dyckman Housing Projects in New York City, Abdul-Jabbar was exposed to government neglect and targeted injustices against the poor, black people. Incidents such as the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, when Abdul-Jabbar was only 8 years old, and the Harlem riots of 1964, triggered by the fatal shooting of James Powell, a 15-year-old black boy, by a New York. police officer, are what sparked Abdul-Jabbar’s rise in racial politics.
“Right then and there, I knew who I was and who I had to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1980. “I was going to be black rage personified, black power in the flesh. “
Abdul-Jabbar won three consecutive NCAA Championships (1967-1969) at UCLA. Between them, he helped, alongside renowned sociologist Harry Edwards, organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City due to the recent assassinations of civil rights leaders Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., and continued abuse. blacks. in America.
“It was too difficult for me to be enthusiastic about representing a country that refused to represent me or others of my color,” wrote Abdul-Jabbar in his 2017 book, “Coach Wooden and Me : Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Search. “
In the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar and other famous black male athletes, including Jim Brown and Bill Russell, organized the Cleveland Summit to support the decision of world champion boxer Muhammad Ali to refuse entry into the United States military during Vietnam War.
Today, Abdul-Jabbar sees many similarities in how athletes – such as Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James and Maya Moore – have taken a measured approach to racial equality work, just like he and others have. did during the civil rights movement.
“I’m glad they’re taking their time and not rushing. If you try to make a change with a chip on your shoulder, and a lot of anger, it really turns off the people you’re trying. who to talk to, ”said Abdul-Jabbar, who grew up on the teachings of Harlem adopted son Malcolm X, before a chance meeting with King in high school led him to peaceful and direct action.
“And I’m glad they learned this lesson and made a commitment to do so in a reasonable, non-violent and constructive way. This is how we make change. This is how we managed to overcome communication gaps and break through.
Abdul-Jabbar said he hopes the award will inspire young, aspiring basketball players to continue the work he and other athletes started half a century ago amid fierce criticism and even death threats.
“They can’t be afraid. It’s the only thing they can’t do, because if you’re going to give in to fear, we won’t get anything, ”he said. “We have to have the courage to speak the truth to power, and if we can do it, then get others to feel that way, we can effect the change. “
Abdul-Jabbar played in the NBA for 20 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers, winning six championships (five with Los Angeles). Points aside, Abdul-Jabbar is also the career leader in All-Star Game appearances (19) and MVP awards (six).
Outside of sport, Abdul-Jabbar has written 14 books; starred in several films, most notably the 1980 hit “Airplane! “; and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-President Barack Obama in 2016.