Doctor of Humanities

Considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also a humanitarian, a prolific author and an advocate for racial justice and social change.

The 7-foot-2 basketball Hall of Famer is famous for his trademark skyhook shot and dominating the National Basketball Association for 20 years with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. He was a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a record 19-time NBA All-Star and a member of six NBA championship teams. He remains the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points.

But as Mr. Abdul-Jabbar has said about himself, “I can do more than stuff a ball through a hoop; my greatest asset is my mind.” He has used it often for the greater good. 

He has been an activist since just after graduating high school in New York, when he had an opportunity to ask Martin Luther King, Jr., a question during a news conference. From that brief interaction with the civil rights leader, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar was inspired and has spent his life fighting against injustices like systemic racism and health, educational and employment disparities.

He founded and has served since 2009 as chairman of The Skyhook Foundation, whose mission is to “give kids a shot that can’t be blocked” by bringing STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) opportunities to underserved
Los Angeles communities. 

Camp Skyhook, the foundation’s flagship program, is an immersive experience in which middle schoolers from racially, culturally and socioeconomically diverse neighborhoods receive hands-on STEM learning outside their urban environment.

More on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar…

• On his website

• From the National Basketball Association

• On National Public Radio

• Founder, Skyhook Foundation

In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded Mr. Abdul-Jabbar the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. His other awards include the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s prestigious Double Helix Medal for his work raising awareness for cancer research and the Lincoln Medal for his commitment to education and equality. 

A native of Harlem, he earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1969 from the University of California, Los Angeles. He played on UCLA’s basketball team under Coach John Wooden from 1967–69, winning three consecutive NCAA championships. 

In April 1969, the Bucks selected him as the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft and he played center for Milwaukee from 1969–1975. He led the Bucks to the NBA championship in 1971. 

He was traded to the Lakers in 1975 and played on five more championship teams until his retirement at age 42 in 1989.

A decade after retiring as a player, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar returned to the sport as a volunteer assistant coach for one season of the Alchesay High School basketball team on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona. In an interview with the Arizona Daily Star about why he would take on such a position, the father of five said he was answering a nationwide call from retired General Colin Powell for people to help their neighbors. 

He further explained, “The neighborhood I was from was not a lot different from the reservation. Barrios. Ghettos. There were not good opportunities. I want to get these kids thinking about college. If they have the talent to go on to play in college … I am walking proof that it can be done.” 

In 2000, he wrote a book about the experience, A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn With the White Mountain Apaches.

A New York Times best-selling author, he has written 15 other books, including two memoirs: Becoming Kareem for young readers and Coach Wooden and Me about his 50-year friendship with the famed UCLA coach. He received the 2012 NAACP award for his children’s book What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors. Also in 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named him a U.S. cultural ambassador to promote the importance of education, social and racial tolerance and cultural understanding around the world.

After 50 years as an athlete and activist, he offers his perspectives as a nationally recognized speaker who regularly appears on the lecture circuit. A contributing columnist for newspapers and magazines around the world, he has been named Columnist of the Year at the Southern California Journalism Awards for the past five years. 

Among his work in television, he was the focus of an HBO Sports documentary, Kareem: Minority of One in 2015, and a writer on Season 5 of Hulu’s Veronica Mars. He is producing a documentary for History, titled Fight the Power: The Protests That Changed America