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ABDUL-JABBAR MEMOIR OF FINAL YEAR KEEPS EGO, OLD RIVALRIES ON THE BENCH

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's passage to stardom, as chronicled in "Kareem," shows that he takes being a role model very seriously. Unlike many other athletes, Abdul-Jabbar frequently looks beyond the record book; although raised a Catholic, Abdul-Jabbar is a student of Zen and takes Miyamoto Musashi's "Book of Five Rings" on the road with him.

Not that "Kareem" isn't about basketball - it is indeed, taking the form of a diary of the 1988-89 season, Abdul-Jabbar's last in professional basketball. The book is more memoir than day-by-day narrative, however, with Abdul-Jabbar revisiting old haunts during his final Laker road-trips and reminiscing about two decades in the pros. A grand old man at 42, Abdul-Jabbar sums up, and what he remembers above all is the good turns he's been done and good plays he has seen. He doesn't dwell on his own accomplishments; he would rather marvel at the skills of others - Oscar Robertson, Byron Scott, Magic Johnson - and the help provided by coaches and other supporters.Only once does Abdul-Jabbar descend into score-settling, and it's the section every fan will anticipate - an open letter to Wilt Chamberlain. Abdul-Jabbar doesn't call Wilt "a whining crybaby," but the episode does add to the book; one gets the feeling that Abdul-Jabbar's basketball greatness resulted from his ability, most of the time, to channel such anger in more positive directions.