I went through a basketball phase around ’92. I started watching a lot of games on TV and even got caught up in the Summer Olympics, where USA’s basketball team was dubbed the “Dream Team.” I saw all the televised games, watching when the US team won every single game, always scoring more than 100 points, and eventually and inevitably getting a gold medal.
What I missed by not really getting into basketball until that time was the reign of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had retired from basketball in 1989 after a 20 year career in which he achieved (and still holds!) the title of highest NBA scorer with 38,387 points.
Of course I knew about him though. As a Muslim kid in the US, you kind of automatically know about someone with a Muslim name who is famous.
I never really knew his journey though until I watched the HBO Films documentary Kareem: Minority of One, which premiered earlier this week on HBO.
At 1.5 hours, the documentary, produced by HBO Sports Films, starts with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back when he was named Lewis Alcindor and lived in New York. The film goes through when he first started playing basketball, to his high school days in which he was already achieving national fame, to his time at UCLA, and then to of course the NBA.
Abdul-Jabbar is front and center in this documentary as he doesn’t shy away from talking about his life. The documentary also includes interviews from former coaches, teammates, friends, and even rivals like Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics.
The documentary doesn’t just talk about the sports aspect of Abdul-Jabbar’s life though, as his personal life is touched upon as well. Something I didn’t know: Abdul-Jabbar’s conversion to Islam was not an event, but a journey that started with his time in UCLA when he first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the Qur’an.
The documentary doesn’t dive too deep into what led him to Islam beyond those points (and it wouldn’t serve the purpose of the documentary to do so) but I wanted to focus on that for a moment. Hearing that The Autobiography of Malcolm X was at least partially responsible for guiding Abdul-Jabbar to Islam was something that surprised me because, once again, that book is seminal in one’s story on how they gained an introduction into Islam. I’ve heard many stories of people finding Islam because they happened to read that book. Many people in general have found The Autobiography of Malcolm X to be an inspiring piece of work. I have read it a few times myself and yet the transformation that Malcolm X went through – from the kind of man he was when he entered prison to the one he became when he left it – never fails to astound me.
So this is the part when I say that if you haven’t read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, you should read it, whether you’re Muslim or not. In case you aren’t Muslim and are worried that my recommendation of this book is a “Joooiiiiinnnn Ussssss” ploy, I promise it’s not. It’s a good read and you get the added bonus of learning about one of the most polarizing figures in the past century.
Back to the topic at hand – I really enjoyed the documentary even though at this point in my life, I’m not too into sports (unless a Bay Area team is in the playoffs and in that case, I’ve been a fan this entire time). Regardless of whether one is a fan of basketball or of Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem: Minority of One is an entertaining and enlightening look into one of the biggest sports stars in the US.
If you have HBO, you can watch it on there or through HBO Now. If you don’t have HBO, I’m sure there’s someone you know that has the channel who wouldn’t mind if you invited yourself over to watch it. As long as you supply all necessary snack provisions, of course.
By the way, the documentary doesn’t delve into this but Abdul-Jabbar’s post-basketball career has been quite busy as he’s an activist and a prolific writer, having authored many books and featured as a columnist on Times.com. Definitely worth looking into.