Kareem Abdul-Jabbar expands on his LeBron James comments: ‘Still the daunting hero’

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James side by side.
Lakers legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says his criticism of LeBron James comes in the “spirit of a loving older brother offering guidance, whether wanted or not.”
(Richard Shotwell / Invision/AP; Luis M. Alvarez / AP)

Lakers Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Sunday helped unveil a trophy bearing his name and likeness — in the form of his hands on a basketball — for the NBA’s Social Justice Champion Award.

In a nearly 10-minute interview with reporters that followed, Abdul-Jabbar was asked directly about his past criticisms of LeBron James. In addition to crediting James for his work, Abdul-Jabbar called some of James’ actions “embarrassing” and “beneath him.”

Late Sunday afternoon in an email to The Times, Abdul-Jabbar elaborated on his feelings about James and his admiration for his work as an activist:


Speaking at the unveiling of a social justice trophy in his name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said LeBron James’ actions are ‘beneath him’ sometimes.

Over the years, I’ve been asked to comment on and write about LeBron James. A couple years ago, I wrote an article for Sports Illustrated about LeBron as a Sportsperson of the Year in which I said: “[T]his generation couldn’t do any better in the hero department than LeBron James. Part of being a hero is to have both the modesty to feel unworthy of such a heavy word and the strength to accept the responsibility that comes with others looking to you to be that hero. What is a hero but someone who stands up for those who can’t? Who embodies our cherished ideals of sportsmanship: fair play, hard work and compassion? That pretty much describes the LeBron James I’ve watched and come to know since he was the No. 1 pick in the 2003 NBA draft and was named Rookie of the Year.” In the two years since I wrote that, my respect and admiration has only grown for LeBron as I watched him champion worthwhile causes while maintaining his status as an elite athlete. As he closes is on my all-time scoring record, I have been a cheerleader urging him on, happy to pass the mantle to someone so worthy as an athlete and a person.

Solomon Hughes, who plays Abdul-Jabbar in ‘Winning Time,’ helps us tell the true story of the star center, civil rights activist and possible GOAT.

LeBron is still the daunting hero I described two years ago. He’s still a major force in improving lives in the Black Community. He’s still one of the greatest basketball players in history. He’s still a man who has earned the overwhelming admiration of millions. And every day he goes out and proves why he deserves that admiration.

On occasion I have chided LeBron when I thought he was dropping the ball when it came to supporting the community. But I did so in the spirit of a loving older brother offering guidance, whether wanted or not. So, when I said that he has done some things he should be embarrassed about, that wasn’t a slam or a barb or even a finger wag, it was me recapping some of what I’d said in the past. The Sports Illustrated article was an homage to LeBron for winning the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his role in social activism. So, when I think he may be veering from the path that made him win that award, I’ll mention it. I’m a journalist. That’s what I do. But I believe LeBron is strong enough and gracious enough to understand that I have only love for him in my heart.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar criticizes LeBron James for not being embarrassed about some of the things the Lakers star has said about COVID-19.