Kareem Abdul-Jabbar guest stars on Fox’s ‘New Girl’ on Tuesday

Under Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s shy and reclusive personality stands a man gracefully taking center stage.

He did that on the hardwood. Abdul-Jabbar won five of his six championships with the Lakers during the Showtime era. He finished as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer (38,387 points). And he capped his 20-year career with a distinguishable skill-set with his famed sky hook.

Abdul-Jabbar also has done that with acting. He grew up taking acting lessons at St. Jude Catholic School in Manhattan. Abdul-Jabbar spent his first summer job at UCLA interning at Columbia Pictures. His appearance Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Fox’s “New Girl” marks one of many television and film appearances in which he’s played himself.

“There are times where I’m not myself. But those are in the minority,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a phone interview. “It’s all about the humor of me doing whatever I’m doing. It all has to do with what it would be like if an NBA player were a sitcom. You have to understand that and how people would react to that.”


In “New Girl,” Abdul-Jabbar plays an assistant to a brash radio host (Phil Hendrie), who criticizes Winston (Lamorne Morris) for his unsuccessful gig as a professional basketball player in Latvia. Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t help him with his game but offers friendly advice on how to avoid his boss.

Although Abdul-Jabbar is in only two brief scenes, the experience gave him enough time to appreciate Zooey Deschanel’s quirky personality.

“She has a different take on humor and she’s kind of goofy,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I like that. It’s a different twist to see an attractive young woman like that have a whole different approach to life and humor. She’s comfortable in her skin.”

Although he doesn’t often show it, Abdul-Jabbar has remained comfortable in his skin when he’s acting. His movie and television appearances include Bruce Lee’s 1972 film “Game of Death,” the 1980 comedy “Airplane,” “Fletch” and “Forget Paris,” as well as cameos in “Full House,” “Living Single,” “The Simpsons” and other series.

Abdul-Jabbar cites his appearance on “21 Jump Street” as his most challenging, because he played another character -- a college athletic director trying to clean up a scandal. He found his appearance on “The Simpsons” the easiest because it just involved performing voice overs without any concern about memorizing lines or having a camera presence. But Abdul-Jabbar says he holds every stint, including “New Girl,” with equal regard.

“I think a lot of people, if they get the opportunity to do some acting, they think, ‘I might be a star,’ ” he said. “Everybody feels like that. Having those opportunities are pretty neat because a lot of people aspire to do that.”


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