Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Forced His Way out of Milwaukee, but the City Still Holds a Special Place in His Heart

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is much more than a former basketball player. Last season was the first the league recognized a player as the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion, honoring the all-time leading scorer for his long commitment to helping marginalized people. Carmelo Anthony was the initial recipient. Recently, Abdul-Jabbar launched a channel on Substack, where he promises to write on numerous topics.

He recently gave a one-on-one interview to another writer on Substack, talking about his legacy, basketball career, and other subjects. As is often the case when discussing Kareem, basketball is merely part of the story. Those multiple facets came together in a discussion about his trip to Milwaukee during the NBA Finals. Abdul-Jabbar spent the first six years of his career and won his first title.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar prefers writing to other media

When he announced his new Substack site recently, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said it allows him to combine many of his interests.

“I’ve taken my passion for writing, sports, history, movies, music, television and merged them with my mission for social justice and fair play for all people,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his introductory post. “Over the past 20 years, I’ve written history books, novels, children’s books, TV shows, articles, documentaries, and graphic novels in which I explore the intersection of sports, politics, and popular culture.”

The Basketball Hall of Famer is also a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. Former President Barack Obama bestowed the honor upon Abdul-Jabbar in 2016.

He said he chose Substack primarily because it provides him editorial freedom to go where his mind desires.

“This is where I intend to delve into everything from LeBron’s game plan for another Lakers’ championship, to protests against laws restricting the rights of the marginalized, to why it matters who hosts Jeopardy,” he wrote. “If it interests me, I’m hoping it will interest you.”

The six-time NBA champion also teased his interest in collecting coins, Persian rugs, and Old West memorabilia (because those are three things that always go best together). As for the LeBron James topic, he offered other insights in his interview.

Abdul-Jabbar relished his trip to see the Milwaukee Bucks during the NBA Finals

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on hand to watch the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of the NBA Finals with former teammate Oscar Robertson
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (L) was on hand to watch the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 4 of the NBA Finals with former teammate Oscar Robertson. | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Former ESPN and New York Times NBA writer Marc Stein recently moved to Substack, and he reached out to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for a wide-ranging discussion.

One of the questions Stein posed was how it was for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to be in the seats as the Milwaukee Bucks played for an NBA championship. He was one of three members of the Bucks’ 1971 title team in attendance at Game 4 and sat next to fellow Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.

Abdul-Jabbar demanded a trade from the Bucks in 1974 but said the city of Milwaukee is still meaningful to him:

“The Milwaukee fans were always very supportive of me, even when I converted to Islam and changed my name. That had to be a hard transition for them, especially 50 years ago. So being back in Milwaukee was like returning to my place of birth because that’s where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born.

“Being there with Oscar was especially rewarding because he’s always been like a big brother to me. I often relied on his wisdom and experience to help me navigate my early career.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Still the Bucks all-time scoring leader, Abdul-Jabbar also talked about his desire to leave Milwaukee in the 1970s.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s trade request remained quiet for months

In June 1975, the Milwaukee Bucks traded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and journeyman center Walt Wesley to the Lakers for four young players, including Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman, and Dave Meyers.

The deal stemmed from a request Kareem made of Bucks general manager Wayne Embry early in the 1974–75 season. Considering the speed at which rumors hit warp speed in the modern era, it’s incredible to ponder that the trade request stayed out of the press for nearly the entire season.

“There were a lot fewer reporters then because there were a lot fewer outlets clamoring for content,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “The siren song of Twitter and the need to feed hungry followers didn’t exist. Mostly the reason we were able to keep it secret was because everyone acted with honor and good faith.”

The 19-time All-Star pledged not to go public with the trade demand. Longtime New York Knicks broadcaster Marv Albert eventually broke the news, but the revelation didn’t come until five months after the request.

Milwaukee still honors Abdul-Jabbar as one of its own. His No. 33 hangs in the rafters of Fiserv Forum, and he teamed up with Airplane co-star Robert Hays in 2014 to film a commercial promoting Wisconsin tourism. Like most aspects of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s life, basketball is part of the story. But only part.

Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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