Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Clarifies LeBron Criticism: 'I Have Only Love' for Lakers Star

Erin WalshApril 4, 2022

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 03: Retired basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar holds the trophy for the league’s annual Social Justice Champion award prior to a game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Denver Nuggets at Crypto.com Arena on April 03, 2022 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2022 NBAE (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar clarified comments he made on Sunday about how LeBron James should feel "embarrassed" about some of his actions, including James' past comments regarding the COVID-19 vaccine. 

In an email to the Los Angeles Times (h/t Dan Woike), Abdul-Jabbar said that he has "chided LeBron when I thought he was dropping the ball when it came to supporting the community."

"But I did so in the spirit of a loving older brother offering guidance, whether wanted or not," Abdul-Jabbar said. "So, when I said that he has done some things he should be embarrassed about, that wasn't a slam or a barb or even a finger wag, it was me recapping some of what I'd said in the past."

Abdul-Jabbar cited the article that he wrote for Sports Illustrated regarding James as the winner of the 2020 Sportsperson of the Year, in which he called the current Laker star a "hero" who "embodies our cherished ideals of sportsmanship: fair play, hard work and compassion."

"The Sports Illustrated article was an homage to LeBron for winning the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his role in social activism," he said. "So, when I think he may be veering from the path that made him win that award, I'll mention it. I'm a journalist. That's what I do. But I believe LeBron is strong enough and gracious enough to understand that I have only love for him in my heart."

The Hall of Famer also released a statement on Twitter:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar @kaj33

Today a reporter asked me a question about Lebron James and I regret my off-handed response which has been blown out of proportion. For years I’ve expressed my deep admiration and respect for LeBron as a community leader and athlete. That hasn’t changed and never will. -<a href="https://twitter.com/kaj33?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@kaj33</a> <a href="https://t.co/QEWed5YovX">https://t.co/QEWed5YovX</a>

In his initial comments on Sunday, Abdul-Jabbar mentioned that he would be open to sitting down with James to discuss their differences on things such as vaccine advocacy. He also mentioned that he admired some of the things James had done in terms of activism. 

In the past, James has used his platform to speak out about racial and political issues. He also started "More Than A Vote," a voting rights advocacy group that works to fight systemic racism, voter suppression and educate Black voters.

The four-time NBA champion has also been involved in many other activist movements. He even told the New York Times in 2020 that he drew inspiration from people like Abdul-Jabbar to use his platform to speak up. 

"I'm inspired by the likes of Muhammad Ali, I'm inspired by the Bill Russells and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, the Oscar Robertsons—those guys who stood when the times were even way worse than they are today. Hopefully, someday down the line, people will recognize me not only for the way I approached the game of basketball, but the way I approached life as an African-American man."

Abdul-Jabbar, a noted Civil Rights activist, helped organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City following the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. In addition, he also helped organize the Cleveland Summit to support legendary boxer Muhammad Ali's decision to not fight for the U.S. Army in the Vietnam War. 

While James has not responded to Abdul-Jabbar's recent comments, it's possible the two set aside time during the offseason to have a conversation about their differences and approaches to activism.