Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the all-time greats of American basketball, has been cast in a new role, having been named as an American cultural ambassador by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In that capacity, Abdul-Jabbar will represent the United States abroad in an effort to engage young people to help promote democracy.
“We're thrilled that you’re doing this,” Clinton said, speaking at the State Department. “It’s a great opportunity to meet with and talk to young people.” She said that Abdul-Jabbar had “a great story that you not only tell, but exemplify, from the streets of Harlem to the NBA.”
Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs, said that Abdul-Jabbar’s appointment is part of Clinton’s vision of "Smart Power," which combines diplomacy, defense and development to "bridge the gap in a tense world through young people.”
Abdul-Jabbar will travel to Brazil on Jan. 22 for a number of events centering on education, using his own experiences to help connect with young people.
Speaking on MSNBC, Abdul-Jabbar said he accepted the position because “I would like to see that my country is portrayed in accurate fashion.”
He added, “I think the best way to do that is for ordinary Americans to go out and meet people in the world and let them know what American is all about, for real.”
Over the last eight years, the National Basketball Association and the Women’s National Basketball Association have developed a working relationship with the State Department, specifically in the department’s sports envoy program.
Under that program more than 40 active and former players, as well as coaches and executives, have visited nearly two dozen countries around the world.
Abdul-Jabbar, who won six NBA championships and a record six regular season most valuable player awards, is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He has also been an actor, basketball coach and author.
The appointment comes just as a children’s book written by Abdul-Jabbar is about to be released. “What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors,” will be published later this month.
Abdul-Jabbar said that he wrote the book in an effort to “fill in the gaps” that existed in the portrayal of African-Americans in the literature he read growing up.
“When I was a kid, the only thing in our history books that Black Americans were associated with were issues of slavery and civil rights,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “And there’s so much more to that picture. This is my attempt to fill in some of the blanks and to give a more balanced picture of what Black Americans have experienced.”
In recent years, the 64-year-old retired athlete has been suffering from chronic myeloid leukemia. However, he said, “I’m managing it and doing what the doctors tell me to do to continue to live my life in the same way that I did before I was diagnosed.”
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(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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