Abdul-Jabbar Talks Overcoming Obstacles at Annual Schooler Lecture

April 05, 2017

BY: Abbey Schlanz '18
Photos by Michael Yakim '18

Kareem and crowdALLIANCE, Ohio – The Peterson Field House buzzed with excitement Tuesday evening as Mount Union held its annual Schooler Lecture, which had record-breaking attendance in the lecture series history.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar—six-time NBA champion, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, U.S. Cultural Ambassador, best-selling author, human rights activist—presented a lecture on overcoming obstacles, touching on his experiences involving integrity, resilience, grief, loss and health issues. The talk was titled “It’s All About the Rebound.”

He has achieved a multitude of accomplishments throughout his life through hard work and sacrifices.

“None of my successes were a slam-dunk. Rather, they were the result of trying again and again,” Abdul-Jabbar said during his formal introduction.

He described this perseverance with another basketball term: “rebounding.” Instead of letting losses or mistakes get him down, Abdul-Jabbar has always rebounded and tried again. He believes that a positive attitude is key.

“You have to believe good things will happen,” he said. “If you don’t, you won’t work for those good things, and they won’t happen.” 

With all of his accomplishments, it’s easy to see that this philosophy has worked for him. He has not only rebounded but made several shots throughout his life, despite a variety of personal challenges. Abdul-Jabbar shared his experiences of losing his house to a fire and the passing of his parents as well as beloved coach and surrogate father Coach John Wooden. These experiences taught him how to deal with grief and loss, and how to look at them from a new perspective.

“It gave me the ability to have a new attitude about it. Sometimes you have to live a life by yourself, but always remember the people you love are with you in your heart,” Abdul-Jabbar reflected. 

Kareem and Toni

Some hardships in his life led him to find new successes. After retiring from the NBA, Abdul-Jabbar sought coaching positions within the association. However, he had little luck due to his independent personality and critical opinions of certain aspects of the NBA. While this could have set him back, Abdul-Jabbar “rebounded”—a term he used throughout the lecture to describe his perseverance in overcoming obstacles. 

Abdul-Jabbar found his rebound in writing. While he was disappointed to not be coaching, he followed his passion to become a writer, and a successful one at that. His first book was a history book important for understanding black contribution to American history, Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African American Achievement.

After its publication, teachers from inner-city schools contacted Abdul-Jabbar to let him know that they were using his book in their classrooms to teach their students about African American history. He remarked that this experience was more rewarding than any amount of money he could have earned from the publication.

Abdul-Jabbar’s writing repertoire extends beyond textbooks as well. He has written memoirs, fiction, comics and film, covering a wider variety of genres than the typical author.

“Most writers think they can do anything, and I had to prove that to myself—and my editors,” Abdul-Jabbar laughed.

Film was his biggest challenge as a writer. At first glance the genre appears to be a science, but Abdul-Jabbar’s firsthand experience taught him that it is most definitely an art, and one that he could only pull off thanks to his skills as a writer.

During the moderated “Q&A” session, a student asked him what helped him most during his transition between being an NBA superstar to a bestselling author.

“I don’t think basketball had anything to do with it. I think all the books I read and all the English classes I took in high school and college helped me become a writer,” Abdul-Jabbar said, proving his educational experiences to be as valuable as his athletic ones.

Whether in writing or in the locker room, Abdul-Jabbar has also been a strong proponent of human rights. He changed his name to reflect his African heritage and Muslim faith rather than his given name, which held roots in American slavery, and he has been an advocate for open conversation between people of different faiths, race and ethnicities. 

During the moderated session, ESPN SportsCenter anchor and Mount Union Graduate Antonietta Collins ’07 asked Abdul-Jabbar to give advice for Muslim Americans living in the current turbulent political climate, which has often been suspicious and even hostile toward them. He encouraged Muslim Americans to engage with their community and reach out to interfaith efforts. He shared a story of a group of Muslims who aided keepers of a Jewish cemetery that had been desecrated as an example of how to promote peace and understanding.

“Let your neighbors know where your heart is,” he said. 

This statement sums up Abdul-Jabbar’s attitude toward life. He believes direct, open communication is crucial to building trust and relieving interpersonal tensions, and he lives his life according to that belief. Abdul-Jabbar showed the more than 4,500 people in attendance the value of persevering and working with others so that we, too, can rebound.

To The Top!