Muhammad Ali Rumors
Can you take me back to when you were doing this difficult work during your career? It seems like something, given what was going on at the time with the fight for civil rights, that would take an unbelievable amount of courage given what was at stake. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: It takes courage. But look at the people that went before me: Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Jackie Robinson. They had to deal with stuff that was a lot worse than what we had to deal with. So, we can’t be afraid. We have to speak truth to power and hope that people will listen.
“It’s the kind of thing that maybe for too long athletes got away from that activist image. I grew up with Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Guys who were unafraid to take risks, to try to express themselves to move the nation in a better way. It is great to see these young NBA players embracing that heritage and using their voices to bring the nation along. So, as I said, I’m proud of them,” Holder said.
Popovich said James’ efforts have made a huge difference. “I think he’s going to be an iconic figure,” Popovich said two weeks ago. “Nobody can be what Muhammad Ali was, as far as sport is concerned. But in that same genre. I’m so proud of this guy and so pleased for him that from the time he came in as a teenager to see his development now — basketball, sure, fine, but as a human being, as a citizen, as someone who looks at the social issues at our time and is willing to speak out about them.
Hayes had not yet played a game in the NBA, but he was in Queens for the King event. And still a student, Alcindor, a Manhattan native who gained prominence for his social stances in support of boxer Muhammad Ali in 1967, was back in town. Dressed in a dashiki, he drew a crowd when he arrived. “Dr. King stood for holding America accountable for what it said it was about,” Abdul-Jabbar says. “We are supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. Dr. King wanted America to be held up, accountable to that aspiration.”
Earlier on Thursday, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich praised James for his off-the-court efforts. “I think he’s going to be an iconic figure,” Popovich said. “Nobody can be what Muhammad Ali was, as far as sport is concerned, but in that same genre.” James said: “For me, I’m not only an inspiration or leader of Black America. I want to be an inspirational leader of all races. I only preach positive stuff. But I also preach what’s right.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: When I was asked to write this article about LeBron James’s receiving the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, a Sports Illustrated editor suggested I mention something about LeBron’s picking up the social justice torch that Ali and I had carried—and that I like to believe I’m still carrying. It’s such a romantic image of us holding up a blazing beacon of righteousness, possibly while draped in Roman togas or cinched into Greek wrestling thongs, running a relay through the dark cobblestone streets to illuminate the cheering onlookers about the virtues of social justice. Man, I want to see that movie. Unfortunately, the reality of torch-wielding is much less romantic. Which makes it all the more important—and makes LeBron James all the more worthy of this award.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: First, there is no passing of the torch. Since this award was named after Muhammad Ali in 2014, the recipients have been Magic Johnson (2014); Jack Nicklaus (2015); Jim Brown, Bill Russell and me (2016); Colin Kaepernick (2017); John Cena (2018); and Warrick Dunn (2019). This award is meant to “celebrate individuals whose dedication to the ideals of sportsmanship has spanned decades and whose career in athletics has directly or indirectly impacted the world.” LeBron certainly checks those boxes. But the reason I’m rejecting the passing-the-torch metaphor is that it suggests that the extraordinary contributions and sacrifices of Jack Nicklaus, John Cena and Warrick Dunn are less torch-worthy because they weren’t focused on the volatile issue of social justice.