Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar): Cleveland Summit
On June 4th, 1967, a handful of the world’s most prestigious athletes met in Cleveland, Ohio to go to bat for Muhammad Ali. Among these men? Future Laker Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (still known as Lew Alcindor at the time).
The summit was called to support Ali who, due to his decision to dodge the draft in protest against the Vietnam War, was stripped of his heavyweight title.
At the time, many African Americans shunned Ali for his religious beliefs and his disdain for serving his country. With their legacies on the line, Bill Russell, Jim Brown, and Alcindor came to Ali’s defense in a seminal moment of black unity.
In addition to being the league’s All-Time leading scorer, a six-time NBA Champion, and a six-time MVP, Kareem’s legacy off the court is the prototype for the modern NBA player.
Decades before the Black Lives Matter movement and the overall uptick in social conscience in the NBA, Kareem was breaking barriers. This moment is without a doubt directly correlated with the evolution of player’s rights in the NBA.
When we see players today speaking out against injustice, choosing to peacefully boycott games, or giving their views on the world on social media, we must thank Kareem for paving the way. After all, it is truly because of the bravery of players like Kareem and Bill Russell that the NBA has evolved into a player-first league on issues of social justice.
Although his social justice accomplishments still fly under the radar at times, Kareem did receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2016. The former president had this to say about Abdul-Jabbar:
"“The reason we honor Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the skyhook. He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy and wasn’t popular. He’s as comfortable sparring with Bruce Lee as he is advocating on Capitol Hill or writing with extraordinary eloquence on patriotism.”"
I couldn’t have said it much better myself.