NBA Basketball Player Shares His Thoughts to a Sold Out Auditorium

Although America is a great place, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar believes that there’s a lot of work to be done.

On Tuesday March 14, a pair of purple and orange striped dress socks are exposed underneath the pants of the over seven foot tall retired basketball player as he sits with long legs in front of a sold out crowd at Western Michigan University’s Miller Auditorium.

The retired athlete and author’s newest book “Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White” is the 15th book selected for the Kalamazoo Public Library’s program “Reading Together.” The book discusses issues found in America today with personal examples from Abdul-Jabbar’s own experiences.

“We have to understand what impact race has on someone’s character – there’s really no impact whatsoever,” Abdul-Jabbar said.

Tim Terrentine, WMU’s vice president of Development and Alumni Relations was the moderator for the event, and questioned Abdul-Jabbar on some of the “taboo topics” addressed in his book, which included things such as racism and religion.

“We have to talk about these things,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “These issues won’t be solved if we don’t talk about them.”

Abdul-Jabbar believes that the ‘American Dream’ is a harder concept to reach today, and he blames a failing educational system for that. He believes that if we can empower educators and give them the tools needed to do their jobs, we can make that dream into a reality.

That’s one of the reasons he started the Skyhook Foundation, a camp for inner city kids to experience STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning and learn to think critically.

“We’ve sent over 60,000 kids to this program. That’s why I’ve got to go around and make money,” he jokes as the audience laughs.

He said that a lot of children think that they have to be like LeBron James or Beyoncé to be successful in life, but he says that these kids can be successful if they just “pay attention in physics class, or do well in algebra.”

Paula Rumsey of Kalamazoo decided to go out and read his book after sitting in the audience with her daughter to hear what Abdul-Jabbar had to say. She said that overall she was impressed with what he said and she was surprised by how many people of different ages were in attendance. She did, however, note that she expected more black leaders in the community to be in the audience.

Grace Tiffany, an English professor at WMU said she “thought his speech was wonderful.”

“His manner was tolerant and optimistic about what this country can overcome,” Tiffany said. “I admire him for that.”

Abdul-Jabbar said that he’s flattered by the impact his book has had and that it has gotten people thinking and talking.

“In America, there’s a lot of people here that want to make America a better place,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “They might not look like you, and they might come from a totally different tradition, but they have the same goals. So let’s get together and finish the work of the Founding Fathers. We’ve got some work to do, but we can get it done.”