Kareem calls out Kyrie

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

“Kyrie Irving would be dismissed as a comical buffoon if it weren’t for his influence over young people who look up to athletes. When I look at some of the athletes who have used their status to actually improve society – Colin Kaepernick, LeBron James, Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, 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. Irving does not seem to have the capacity to change, but we have the capacity to keep fighting against his brand of destructive behavior.”

• Kareen Abdul-Jabbar

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has never been one to mince his words, and unleashed a tirade against Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, after the latter’s series of unorthodox acts, the last being the endorsement of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The radio show host is known for wild conspiracy theories, saying the US government has faked events like the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and so on. Irving had previously been known for grandiose statements about his skills on the basketball court, and strange behavior off it.

When he first played at the TD Garden against his former team the Boston Celtics, Irving was seen walking around with burning sage, a Native American cleansing ritual. As vice-president of the NBA Players Association, Irving was against returning to play after the pandemic because he allegedly said it would only distract from addressing racial injustice. He’s also been known to believe that the earth is flat. And even after horrendous shooting performances, he would claim that he should have taken more attempts because he’s “that great of a shooter.”

Jabbar, in turn, took a lot of heat from younger fans who dug up old videos of his own controversial behavior, like punching Kent Benson, who actually hit Kareem in the solar plexus first for no reason. Jabbar boycotted the 1968 Olympics in protest over racial injustice in the US, and has written many books on African-American history. In his first few years with the Los Angeles Lakers, he was known to be surly and cold. But after his house burned and his agents stole much of his money, fans reached out, helping replace his collection of jazz records. In recent years, the former Lew Alcindor has sold his championship memorabilia for charity, and appeared on comedy programs like “The Big Bang Theory.” Most recently, he has been on social media, posting photos of the reunion of the 1980’s “Showtime” era Los Angeles Lakers.

In the past, even sports broadcasters like Howard Cosell (a lawyer by profession), complained about inadequate communication skills of athletes. In the 1970’s, he referred to retired athletes becoming broadcasters as the ”jockocracy.” In this regard, Jabbar raised two important points in his statements about Irving. First, that professional athletes are role models for young people. Though past NBA players like Charles Barkley deny this, the fact that they are globally visible celebrities means that they wield a lot of influence. Whether they like it or not, children watch them and may think that their actions and statements are acceptable behavior. Though the league (and many player management agencies) conduct seminars on proper decorum, some players don’t consider them important.

The second point Jabbar raised was that the educational system fails the players. This is a universal problem. To begin with, the US model (which the Philippines modeled its educational system after) was designed a century ago to create more workers. Also, athletes are often just allowed to skate by without receiving the full benefit of the system. Thus, they are not prepared socially or financially for pro basketball and life beyond. When taken in this context, Jabbar’s statements merit deeper discussion.


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