Saturday, December 2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar apologizes after criticizing LeBron James

After declaring Sunday that LeBron James should be “embarrassed” for “some of the things he’s done,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did not take long to reconsider his criticism. Later on Sunday, the 74-year-old NBA legend clarified that he continued to have “deep admiration and respect for LeBron,” and the next day he offered an apology to the Los Angeles Lakers star.

“It wasn’t my intention to criticize LeBron in any way,” Abdul-Jabbar said Monday on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “He has done so much for the Black community, as well as for the game of basketball.

“We may not always agree, but I want to wholeheartedly apologize to LeBron and make it clear to him that I have tremendous respect for him. And if he can accept that, I’ll be very happy.”

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Abdul-Jabbar, himself a former Lakers star who has long been outspoken on social issues, made his initial comments Sunday while helping unveil a new NBA award in his name. The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Trophy is being given annually to a player hailed by the league as its “social justice champion,” and the inaugural honor went to Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony.

On hand for the trophy presentation at Los Angeles’s Arena before a game between the Lakers and the Denver Nuggets, Abdul-Jabbar included in his remarks praise for acts of philanthropy by James, such as supporting a public school for at-risk children in Akron, Ohio. Abdul-Jabbar has also chided James in the past over the latter’s public comments on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines, as well as for a vulgar celebratory dance James performed during a game last year.

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“Sending a whole school to college? Wow, that’s amazing,” Abdul-Jabbar said of James on Sunday. “His thoughtfulness and willingness to back it up with his wallet, you’ve got to give him credit for that.

“I’m not throwing stones. I just wish he would — some of the things he’s done, he should be embarrassed about. … Some of the things that he’s done and said are really beneath him, as far as I can see.”

James, who sat out Sunday’s game and another one Tuesday against the Phoenix Suns with an ankle injury, did not immediately comment on Abdul-Jabbar’s criticism. On Monday, Abdul-Jabbar told SiriusXM NBA, “I’ve been talking to the press since high school. That’s 60 years of making statements, and I haven’t always gotten it right. And Sunday was one of those nights.”

In a statement Sunday to the Los Angeles Times, Abdul-Jabbar had said, “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 he 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.”

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Abdul-Jabbar cited in his statement a glowing appraisal of James he had penned for Sports Illustrated in 2020, when the magazine gave James a sportsperson of the year award. “This generation couldn’t do any better in the hero department than LeBron James,” Abdul-Jabbar had written. “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.”

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In addition to being multi-time NBA champions and MVP award winners with deep ties to the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar and James are linked by their career longevity and the all-time league marks they have attained. The NBA scoring record of 38,387 points that Abdul-Jabbar accumulated over 20 seasons is very much on the horizon for the 37-year-old James, who has come within 1,325 points over almost 19 seasons.

“I think if [James] stays healthy, he has every shot of breaking the record,” Abdul-Jabbar said Monday (via ESPN). “It’s a marathon race. It’s not a sprint. And he’s real close.

“So I hope that he achieves everything that he wants to achieve, because the accolades that he’s gotten for himself throughout his career are so well deserved and absolutely something that he has earned.”

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