LOS ANGELES — NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called on LeBron James to raise his advocacy game.
The 74-year-old Hall of Famer explained his past critiques of James after unveiling the NBA’s new Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Trophy, which will be given annually to recognize a player’s work on social justice issues, during a ceremony at Crypto.com Arena before the Denver Nuggets beat the Lakers, 129-118. Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony was the inaugural recipient of the award, which the NBA said is meant to reflect Abdul-Jabbar’s “commitment to creating an equal and just society, leveling the playing field and ensuring that every child is free to dream.”
“I admire the things that [James] has done that have gotten all of our attention,” Abdul-Jabbar said, citing James’s “I Promise School” in Akron, Ohio. “Sending a whole school to college? Wow, that’s amazing. His thoughtfulness and willingness to back it up with his wallet, you’ve got to give him credit for that. I’m not throwing stones. I just wish he would — some of the things he’s done, he should be embarrassed about.
“Some of the things that he’s done and said are really beneath him, as far as I can see, and some of the great things that he’s done. He’s standing on both sides of the fence almost.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says he’d be willing to meet Lakers’ LeBron James to discuss their differences on issues like vaccine advocacy: “I admire the things he’s done… Sending a whole school to college, wow, that’s amazing… Some of the things he’s done he should be embarrassed by.” pic.twitter.com/0QlNMNUXit— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 3, 2022
While Abdul-Jabbar starred in an NBA public service announcement in January 2021 that encouraged covid-19 vaccination, James was initially reluctant to get the shot and said in September that it was “not my job” to publicly support national vaccination efforts.
In December, James shared a social media meme that compared covid-19 to the common cold and flu. Abdul-Jabbar criticized James’s Instagram post in an essay, saying that the meme was “uninformed” and “encouraged vaccine hesitancy.” James said at the time that he had no response to Abdul-Jabbar’s criticism and that he was “trying to figure this pandemic out.”
On a less weighty subject, Abdul-Jabbar took James to task for doing a “stupid, childish” dance during a December 2021 game that “disrespect[ed] the other team.”
Abdul-Jabbar explained Sunday that “there’s absolutely a higher expectation” for James given he has spoken “quite forcefully and eloquently” on several issues of importance, including education, voting rights reform and police brutality. In December 2020, Abdul-Jabbar penned a complimentary essay when James was named Sports Illustrated’s sportsman of the year.
The two basketball stars have met briefly, Abdul-Jabbar said, but they have not spoken at length about covid-19, vaccination advocacy or other points of contention.
“I wouldn’t mind doing it if he would want to take the time,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who retired in 1989. “I’ve definitely got the time.”
Despite the Lakers’ struggles this season, James has moved into second place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list behind Abdul-Jabbar. James, who has 37,062 points, is on track to pass Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 38,387 next season. Abdul-Jabbar said that the well-chronicled chase had no bearing on his feelings toward James.
“I’m all for him doing it,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “There’s no envy there.”
The 37-year-old James, who missed Sunday’s game against the Nuggets with an ankle injury, didn’t immediately respond to Abdul-Jabbar’s latest comments. Anthony said in his post-game comments that he believed Abdul-Jabbar and James were “two powerful Black men” who should handle the matter “behind closed doors.”
Later Sunday, Abdul-Jabbar wrote on Twitter that his comments about James were an “off-handed response” that had been “blown out of proportion.” In a follow-u email to the Los Angeles Times, he clarified that his comments were made “in the spirit of a loving older brother offering guidance” and said that he believed James was “strong enough and gracious enough to understand that I have only love for him in my heart.”
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