NBA Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Talks Growing Up in NYC, Carmelo Anthony

Keith Schlosser@KnicksJournal Analyst IFebruary 13, 2012

OAKLAND, CA - 1988:  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #33 of the Los Angeles Lakers calls for the ball during an NBA game agains the Golden State Warriors at Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California in 1988. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Truly the definition of an NBA legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still stands tall as the league’s all-time leading scorer. Although he retired over twenty years ago, his legacy has proven to be absolutely timeless.

The fact is Abdul-Jabbar could have ridden off into the sunset after his playing days and let his astonishing NBA career simply speak for itself. Instead, he has continued to build up the accolades, becoming a filmmaker, a best-selling author and was most recently appointed a U.S. Cultural Ambassador.

Though he cemented his basketball legacy as a member of the Bucks and Lakers, it’s worth noting the six-time NBA champion and MVP grew up and learned the game in the heart of New York City. This week, the legend returned to his hometown to promote some of his off-the-court ventures.

Abdul-Jabbar took time to reflect upon his fond memories of growing up in the Big Apple saying, “I realized very early in life that basketball was a blood sport by growing up here. I got recruited in the eighth grade to play in high school. That doesn’t happen very often, but being in New York City, everyone wants the best team. What I remember fondly was the chance to go to Madison Square Garden back when they had double-headers. I was able to watch Bill Russell play, whom I learned a lot from. He really understood things about the game, and how to win, which helped informed me of how I should model by game.”

He went on to talk about his appreciation for the Harlem Rens, an all-black basketball team in New York City that was discriminated against and kept from competing in established leagues. Says Abdul-Jabbar, “In 1939, there was a tournament that invited all teams regardless of race. The Rens went on to beat the Harlem Globetrotters in the semi-finals, and then later ended up winning the entire tournament. They did try and get into the NBA, but the league still wouldn’t let them in. Growing up in Harlem, though, they were still remembered very fondly because they set a standard. Coach Wooden played against them at one point and actually called ‘The Rens’ the best professional team he had ever seen.”

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As it just so happens, Abdul-Jabbar’s new documentary, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” centers all around the Harlem Rens, the history of the early days of basketball and the Harlem Renaissance. The NBA legend reached out to a plethora of celebrities, legends and current athletes to contribute to the documentary to help put a focus on such great history. One of those notables happened to be none other than Knicks star Carmelo Anthony.

Abdul-Jabbar sang praises for Anthony, having nothing but great things to say. Talking glowingly about Anthony’s contribution he noted, “I was able to get to know Carmelo a little bit. He was very gracious and gave us a great interview. He came to our premiere and has helped us promote the film too. He’s just a wonderful guy. Carmelo felt it was his duty to just acknowledge the people who made it possible for him to have the wonderful opportunities he’s had.”

When asked about Amar’e Stoudemire, the Knicks’ other resident star, and his early season struggles, Abdul-Jabbar recognized that big men in the league today do not use as many post-up moves.

It’s clear that Stoudemire has had difficulty creating his own offense, unable to cash in on a bevy of arrant jump shots. That being said, the NBA Hall of Famer, who is arguably the best big man the league has ever seen, asserted “I think having a post-up game would definitely enhance a player like that.  It would give him a lot more versatility, as opposed to when he’s simply facing the basket. But somebody has to be willing to show it to him, and he has to be willing to learn it. I don’t know if that’ll happen, but it would be beneficial. A guy like James Worthy learned a lot from Dean Smith by understanding a post-up game would enhance his play. He could easily post-up smaller defenders thrown at him, and then use his speed to blow by the bigger ones. Having versatility is just a great asset to have.”

A big man with decent speed and footwork, it seems as though Stoudemire could benefit from the advice Abdul-Jabbar has.

In addition to keeping up with the league today, he also enjoys interacting with younger generations through social media, active on both Facebook and Twitter. Abdul-Jabbar says the key to his long-lasting impact has been, “just keeping my eyes and ears open at all times. I don’t try to limit myself at all. If you do that, you might miss out on what’s going on.”

What’s more, he is also the author of a new children’s book entitled “What Color is My World,” which recognizes notable black inventors dating back to the 19th century all the way to present day.

Though he did not have any predictions as to how the Knicks would finish this season, the legendary big man offered his best wishes. Abdul-Jabbar went on to say, “As far as the Knicks, I’m a big fan of Carmelo’s now after getting to know him. He’s a special player. I wish him success and also wish the Knicks success. I really hope they get a good team going here, because when there’s a good team in New York, it benefits the whole league.” 

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