Posted: Wednesday December 13, 2006 9:26PM; Updated: Thursday December 14, 2006 1:24PM
O Captain! My Captain! Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won six NBA titles during his 20-year career.
SI.com: You've grinded on the lower circuits and been successful pretty much at every stop. What's been the most satisfying coaching endeavor?
Kareem: Well, let's see. I think coaching Andrew has been very satisfying. Not much is known about it because [it exists mostly behind closed doors]. The press isn't aware of it. When I coached in Oklahoma City we won the championship and that was a satisfying experience, but it didn't mean as much as this does because this is the NBA.
SI.com: Where does your work as a volunteer coach at Alchesay High School on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Ariz., rank on the list?
Kareem: When I went to the Indian reservation, it was basically to try and get a message across to the kids that they needed to go to college and that didn't do too well. We had one kid, Kyle Goklish, go to college. He went on a cross-country scholarship. He was already an exceptional athlete. I believe he's gone on and graduated from the University of Arizona.
(Chuckles) When Kyle got into the University of Arizona he wanted me to write a letter to the [basketball] coach telling him that Kyle could play.
SI.com: I take it you never got around to a draft ...
Kareem: No, no. I felt that he could go out there and prove it himself if it really mean that much to him.
SI.com: As a child of the '80s and a sportswriter of the '00s, I'm having trouble divorcing your reputation as moody and reticent with the press from your on-screen affability. How much truth is there to those earlier impressions?
Kareem: It was definitely blown out of proportion, but at the time it was happening I didn't do the right things to change it -- so I've got to blame myself for that. But I was not the person that they tried to portray. But I didn't do the simple things I could've done to change it. It falls in my lap. I don't want to say that it was vendetta or anything, but I didn't put everything together in terms of how I was perceived and how it affected people. I didn't learn a lot about that until I was retired for some time.
SI.com: Where did that come from? Was that just part of the competitive aspect of your personality and single-minded in focus?
Kareem: Yeah, I was very single-minded in focus. I figured if I was doing my thing by preparing to the best of my ability to play professional basketball and to make sure that the fans got their money's worth, that Lakers fans would know I was doing my utmost to be the best player that I could be and provide as much leadership [as possible].
SI.com: Came across the following quote in my research of your perspective on your past relationship with the press: "I always saw it like they were trying to pry. I was way too suspicious and I paid a price for it." Why so suspicious? Was there another high-profile athlete whose allegory might've informed your behavior?
Kareem: What happened was while I was in college there was a whole lot of press attention focused on me, and Coach [John] Wooden felt it was best if I didn't speak to the press. And I took that attitude with me into professional life. That wasn't the way to do it. And I didn't realize that until it was too late. When Magic [Johnson] came to the team, it made things a lot easier. We started winning, and it's a lot easier to smile and be accessible when you're winning. Prior to him coming on the team, I was blamed for our defeats and wasn't really given credit for our victories -- so it was pretty tough on me. Getting an opportunity to play on a team that wins all the time takes a lot of that kind of pressure off. But there was still the stereotypical stuff that the press chose to remember, the person that was more difficult to them. My image suffered.
SI.com: So when the NBA enlists your help in the fight against prostate cancer [not only is Kareem trying to urge guys to get screened, but he's helping the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) in its fundraising efforts], you have jumped onboard?
Kareem: I'm glad I have the opportunity to do that now, because I have the time and I figure this is a good way to do some healing. You can't fix it all, but you can do some healing and make new friends. So I'm trying to do that.