An evening with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the basketball star usually meant misery for opposing players, but he was relaxed and engaging last week as a guest lecturer at Bud Walton Arena.
"I didn't know he was that intelligent," University of Arkansas senior Devin Cosper said after listening to Abdul-Jabbar speak as part of the university's Distinguished Lecture Series.
The towering figure who dropped sky hooks on his opponents also stands out as an author and longtime activist and commentator on social issues. He greatly supports athletes speaking out and recounted the pushback he received in college following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis.
"I demonstrated on UCLA's campus in the days following Dr. King's assassination," said Jabbar, who went 88-2 as a player for the Bruins. "I was speaking my mind with my presence there and people stopped to tell me I was going to have a career in the NBA and I should be grateful for that. They said I shouldn't have anything to say about the assassination of Dr. King. I didn't agree with it then and I don't agree with it now."
Abdul-Jabbar was soft-spoken and thought-provoking and many in the crowd of over 2,000 clapped on occasion as he answered questions on a wide range of topics. As a sports writer, I perked up when Abdul-Jabbar was asked whether college athletes should be paid.
"I think (players) should get paid," Abdul-Jabbar said. "All the coaches are wealthy. The ones who don't make a lot of money are the young people who create the revenue, and that's wrong."
OK, but if you pay the basketball and football players in college sports who create all the revenue, you must also provide for the women's teams, for instance, that don't draw a lot of fans. It's the law. Title IX says so.
"I didn't say only football players and basketball players should get the money," Abdul-Jabbar countered. "Basketball and football make all the money but the money from those two sports should be dispersed among all the athletes. I'm not saying they should be made wealthy. But they should get some share in it so they don't have to figure out if they can take their girlfriend out to a movie on a Saturday night."
That might work. But I still firmly believe that a free education, room and board, and daily meals are a pretty good deal for scholarship athletes. Abdul-Jabbar agreed the correct route, ultimately, is the elimination of the one-and-done rule and for the NBA to establish a strong minor league system for those premier athletes who don't want to attend college.
Major League Baseball has long provided a minor-league system for prospects and college baseball is more popular than ever.
Abdul-Jabbar was also asked about the protest two years ago in Bud Walton Area, when six members of the Arkansas' women's basketball team took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. Abdul-Jabbar said he supported the move after former San Francisco quarterback Collin Kaepernick took a knee and started a protest among NFL players against social injustice.
"The women's Razorback team has every right to demonstrate," Abdul-Jabbar said. "They did it peacefully. Nobody got hurt and they did it the right way."
I wrote at the time it was a bad move for the Arkansas women to take a knee and follow the lead of Kaepernick, who later revealed he doesn't even vote. It's hard to take anyone seriously who won't even take part in a democratic process and try to fix the problems he complains about.
Still, I'm sure most of those in attendance last week thoroughly enjoyed listening to Abdul-Jabbar and the format was a relief from the shouting matches we've become accustomed to on cable TV every night. Some of Abdul-Jabbar's views I agree with, some I don't.
But we can greatly respect someone even if we don't agree completely with what they say, right? I hope so.
Sports on 03/11/2018
Print Headline: Abdul-Jabbar brings insight and ideas instead of sky hooks