Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the most prolific scorers in the history of the NBA and greatest college players ever, has a new title — United States Global Cultural Ambassador. The All-Star was appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Abdul-Jabbar has been busy in various pursuits since the Lakers retired his No. 33 jersey. The 7-foot-2 inventor of the “skyhook” shot, produced and directed the acclaimed 2011 documentary, On the Shoulders of Giants; started the Skyhook Foundation to help children through sports and schooling; and penned a book, What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors.
Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. in New York City, after high school he enrolled at UCLA and played for John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins where he won three national championships. During the 1971-72 season he converted from Catholicism to Islam and took the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means “noble, powerful servant.”
In 1967, Abdul-Jabbar along with Bill Russell, Jim Brown, Willie Davis and several other leading African American athletes, gathered to hear Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay) give his reasons for rejecting the United States military draft. Ali was among the first African Americans to refuse to fight in the Vietnam War. Abdul-Jabbar along with the others, endorsed and supported Ali’s decision and rallied to his defense.
Abdul-Jabbar will be challenged with engaging young people worldwide and “using people-to-people diplomacy as a means to create opportunities for greater understanding,” according to Clinton. His first assignment will be a trip to Brazil, where he “will lead conversations with young people on the importance of education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding, and using sports as a means of empowerment,” according to the secretary of state’s website.