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While it’s been quite a while since he’s hit the hardwood, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar still looms large as one of basketball’s elder statesmen. The center has a wealth of knowledge and life experience, and he’s never afraid to weigh in on any topic. In this case, any topic includes Kyrie Irving.

In a recent Substack post, Kareem called out the Brooklyn Nets guard for being “more destructive, insensitive, and just plain silly than before.” That’s led social media to dig up a clip of the big man’s infamous sucker punch, citing that as a reason why Abdul-Jabbar is in no position to talk.

I’d argue the opposite. If anything, it shows that the legendary Laker isn’t a saint. He’s a real human who’s made bad choices and learned his lesson.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls out Kyrie Irving for failing properly use his influence

In the past, Abdul-Jabbar criticized Kyrie Irving for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. In a recent Substack post, the former center revisited the Brooklyn Nets guard.

Kareem linked out to a post about Irving sharing an old Alex Jones video, which wonders if a new world order is releasing plagues on humanity so they can profit. In Abdul-Jabbar’s mind, that action is another strike against Kyrie and further proof that he’s not using his star power in the right way.

“Kyrie Irving would be dismissed as a comical buffoon if it weren’t for his influence over young people who look up to athletes,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “When I look at some of the athletes who have used their status to actually improve society—Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russel, Billie Jean King, Arthur Ashe, and more—it becomes clear how much Irving has tarnished the reputations of all athletes who strive to be seen as more than dumb jocks.”

The center wasn’t done there, though.

“Irving does not seem to have the capacity to change, but we have the capacity to keep fighting against his brand of destructive behavior,” he continued. “One way to do that, beyond shaking our heads and nasty tweets, is to write to his sponsors and tell them to drop Irving—or you will drop them. Nike has likely decided not to renew his contract past this season. But he is still sponsored by Pepsi and 2K Sports. (Don’t feel bad for Irving: his career earnings at the end of the 2022-’23 season will be $230 million. That buys a lot of Yes-people.)”

Social media has dug up a clip of the center throwing a sucker punch in 1977

As you might expect, Kareem’s comments made quite the stir on social media. Before long, an infamous clip from the big man’s playing days started making the rounds.

That video showed Abdul-Jabbar throwing a sucker punch in 1977. After being elbowed by Kent Benson, the Lakers’ center staggered, caught his breath, and struck his unsuspecting opponent squarely in the face. Kareem broke his hand and earned himself a $5,000 fine.

As that video circulated through social media, the implications were clear. The center assaulted someone on the basketball court. What right does he have to critique another pro’s behavior?

Abdul-Jabbar isn’t banned for critiquing others because of one punch decades ago

Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving (L) and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (R).
Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving and NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. | Elsa/Getty Images, Elsa/Getty Images

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Used Sherlock Holmes and a Halftime Cigarette to Get an Edge over Bob Lanier

When you see Abdul-Jabbar’s sucker punch, it’s easy to have a visceral reaction. Even if he was provoked — there’s some debate over who started things, even today — Kareem’s action seems completely out of bounds. With all of that being said, though, that one choice shouldn’t disqualify him from ever assessing others.

Beyond the fact that we’re all human and have imperfect resumes, it’s important to consider how the center has addressed his choice. Abdul-Jabbar isn’t out there talking about the time he knocked someone out; he doesn’t use the incident as evidence of how tough he is. If anything, he seems regretful that it ever happened.

“I’m so sorry I did that,” he told Byron Scott on the Off the Dribble podcast. “Broke my hand. (Benson’s elbow) was a cheap shot, a sneaky shot. He did that because his coach, Don Nelson, told him to like rough me up if he was going to be successful. He just made himself a problem. Every time I saw him after that, I made sure he realized that I knew how to play.”

While that’s not directly saying he was wrong, it’s pretty close to an admission of guilt and the acceptance that he should have done something different.

That, I’d argue, is a truer example of good behavior than always being perfect. We’re all going to make questionable choices from time to time. What matters (within reason) is how you respond to them.

Returning to Irving, that’s part of the difference between him and Abdul-Jabbar. Forget not making amends; the guard seems unwilling to take accountability for his own actions. When he’s pressed on things, he doesn’t stand firmly in his convictions; things were just ideas or things floated to provoke thought. Kyrie also went as far as calling himself a martyr, which ignores the fact that, beyond missing some NBA games last year, he’s still playing professional basketball, earning plenty of money, and largely living his normal life.

To be clear, you can agree or disagree with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to your heart’s content. Saying he isn’t fit to critique Kyrie Irving, however, is a bridge too far.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “More than 520 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been given in the United States from December 14, 2020, through January 10, 2022. … COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.