Following a promise to end inequality and push for social justice, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is stepping up to the plate. In May, the league introduced the social justice champion award named after NBA all-time points leader and former LA Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
The finalists for the award will be chosen by a committee comprised of former NBA players, league executives, and activist leaders every season. The finalists will donate a combined $200,000 to social justice organizations of their choice, while the final award recipient will receive $100,000. The award was named after the six-time NBA champion for his devotion to the cause of disenfranchised Black and minority communities.
From NBA All-Star to freedom fighter
This isn’t been the first time that the 74-year-old titan has been recognized for his societal advocacies, either. Since his retirement in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar has been a consistent figure in social justice initiatives. In 2016, these efforts resulted in the All-Star receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama. As the highest civilian honor, the Medal of Honor commemorates his eloquence and dedication towards various civil rights, education, and healthcare issues.
Understanding that his fame grants him influence, he has also spoken about religious discrimination, particularly against Muslims. Abdul-Jabbar, who converted to Islam in the 70s, has openly criticized former President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban, too. An avid writer, he has written for many publications including Time Magazine, and has penned several books including the NY Times best-selling “On The Shoulders of Giants”.
A long legacy of philanthropy
But philanthropy is nothing new for Abdul-Jabbar. Throughout his much-celebrated NBA career, he has proudly backed different charitable efforts. While many star athletes use exclusive lines of merchandise to further their own fame and fortune, Abdul-Jabbar used an Adidas partnership to support others. Just last month, he released 33 custom Adidas Forum shoes for the benefit of the Skyhook Foundation. Abdul-Jabbar signed the limited edition shoes and they were handmade using the athlete’s own Los Angeles Lakers’ home jersey. Prior to this, Abdul-Jabbar famously auctioned off NBA basketball memorabilia in support of Skyhook in 2019. The auction—which included a championship ring and an MVP trophy—raised almost $3 million.
In fact, Skyhook Foundation was also founded by Abdul-Jabbar in 2009 to help the underserved LA youth. After seeing statistics that showed over 90% of children lose interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) subjects due to lack of engagement and opportunity, he decided to “even the playing field” by offering kids a fun, immersive, and accessible path to education. Skyhook’s success has recently garnered it a 2020 CSR Award from Global Business. Meanwhile, Abdul-Jabbar’s commitment to STEM education for all prompted former Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson to name the star player the STEM Ambassador of California in 2012.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, Abdul-Jabbar partnered with the Los Angeles Alliance, the LA Lakers, and the City of Los Angeles to provide mobile STEM classrooms for Black and Latinx children. This is in direct response to reports that showed students of color were among the hardest hit by the pandemic school closures. Through Skyhook’s initiatives, he hopes that more children of color will be able to pursue high-paying STEM careers.
Aside from education, Abdul-Jabbar has also been a passionate advocate for cancer research. In 2011, he was even awarded the Double Helix Medal for extraordinary contributions towards biomedical studies in cancer and autism. Just last December, in an essay titled “Black Lives Matter”, he discussed that Black people are more prone to diseases like cancer and that he himself has survived it twice. Thus, his support for cancer research also comes as a call to action for more Americans to fight for equal—and better—healthcare for people of color.
A living inspiration to activists, budding athletes, and especially young children of color, Abdul-Jabbar’s mission continues on. Showing no signs of slowing down, the NBA Social Justice Champion award proves that Abdul-Jabbar’s ripple effect will continue on.
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