February 24, 2015 / 7:39 PM / 4 years ago

Abdul-Jabbar spreads wide wings as Renaissance Man

(Reuters) - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar proved to be an ultimate winner during his Hall of Fame career but for the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, missing out on a chance to be a head coach may have been a blessing.

NBA former player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar during the NBA All Star skill contest at Smoothie King Center. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The shy, cerebral 7-foot-2 (2.18 m) Abdul-Jabbar, a prolific winner from New York’s Power Memorial High School to UCLA, from the Milwaukee Bucks to the Los Angeles Lakers, is now thriving as the kind of Renaissance Man he always thought he could be.

A writer, actor, filmmaker, political essayist and U.S. cultural ambassador, Abdul-Jabbar, 67, also put in years as an NBA assistant coach with an eye on becoming a head coach.

“I pursued it for a while, but the doors didn’t open and I moved on,” Jabbar, a six-time NBA champion told Reuters during a telephone interview to promote his latest young adult novel, “Stealing the Game.”

“Where I am now, I can do a lot more than I could have as an NBA coach. So I’m very pleased with the opportunities that I’ve gotten and was able to take advantage of.”

The six-time NBA Most Valuable Player is not embittered at never landing a head coaching job, but conceded there might be a bias against big men calling the shots on court.

“Certainly they think the point guards know more because on the court, the ball starts with them. They get to initiate everything,” the 19-time NBA All-Star said.

“People think they’re the only ones that understand that,” he said, debunking that notion with a nod to successful coaching ‘big men’ including Phil Jackson, Bill Russell and Kevin McHale.

Jabbar’s first book in his Streetball Crew series, penned with collaborator Raymond Obstfeld, landed on the New York Times bestseller list. He has also authored a book on the Harlem Renaissance Big Five basketball team of the 1930s.

He co-wrote the screenplay for a documentary based on the Harlem Rens and recently amplified on one of his regular Time Magazine columns on the NBC news program, “Meet the Press.”

“That was something I always had my eye set on, that maybe I could do a number of things well,” he said.

Learning to spread his wings after an awkward adolescence is something Abdul-Jabbar wanted to share with middle-school aged readers in his witty, engaging series.

“I was always shy,” said Jabbar, who drew attention for his height and accomplishments as a High School All-American as a 10th grader.

“You’re shy, but you stick out and have all that attention focused on you because you have a talent. It changes everything in your life. It can be overwhelming.

“I use my own experience when I was that age,” he said about his books’ themes. “Just tried to convey what it’s like to be different at a time of your life where you want to be just like everyone else.”

Abdul-Jabbar, whose virtually unblockable skyhook was one of the game’s greatest offensive weapons, remains a keen observer of the sport and suggested the league reconsider its policy that allows players to enter the NBA Draft after one year of college.

“A lot of the guys that are trying to jump into the NBA are immature and don’t understand the game and it’s having a negative effect on the college game and on the pro game,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who won three successive NCAA titles at UCLA.

“Maybe they should do something about that such as raising the age to 21. Something should be done about the one-and-done phenomenon.”

Editing by Frank Pingue

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