Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the painful public backlash to his Islam conversion
In Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tells his life story in an inspirational way for young listeners and readers.
The book, which is now available for purchase, arrives at an unexpectedly timely moment, as conversations around patriotism, sports, and racial injustice continue to split the country. Abdul-Jabbar discusses his evolution as a Muslim and person of color in the public sphere, recounting with blistering honesty the backlash he faced while also relaying the resolve and confidence he needed to push past it. Now, of course, Abdul-Jabbar is a celebrated writer, an influential activist, and it goes without saying, one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
In an excerpt of Becoming Kareem shared exclusively with EW, Abdul-Jabbar recounts the tremulous time surrounding his decision to change his name from Lew Alcindor to Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, which means “noble servant of Allah,” after he converted to Islam.
“Because of my fame as a professional basketball player and because so few Americans knew anything about Islam back in the ‘70s, there was a lot of angry backlash,” he says. “People did not want me messing with their idea of who I was or what I represented to them. To many, by changing my religion and name, I was no longer the typical American kid playing a typical American sport, embodying typical American values.”
But did he ever think of reverting to his birth name? “I had no intention of going back,” he adds, proudly.
Listen to the exclusive excerpt below, and purchase the Becoming Kareem audiobook here.