Leland Stein III

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar appointed global cultural ambassador

In sports column on March 23, 2012 at 10:49 pm

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar appointed global cultural ambassador

By Leland Stein III

ImageKareem Abdul-Jabbar continues to craft himself as a noteworthy proponent of education. Recently he was appointed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, With President Obama’s blessing, global cultural ambassador.

In his new State Department role he will engage young people worldwide.

The Hall of Famer and NBA career scoring leader will promote the importance of education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding and using sports as a means of empowerment.

“It’s a great honor and I’m thrilled that they see me as the person that could get this done,” Abdul-Jabbar told reporters.

The 64-year-old said he remembers a similar program under President John F. Kennedy where speakers came to his school in Harlem.

“So now I get to follow in the footsteps of one my heroes,” he said. “I remember my hero Louis Armstrong being in this position. Wow, I am elated with this opportunity to continue in my passion for young people and education.”

Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs, said Abdul-Jabbar will travel the world to engage a generation of young people to help promote diplomacy.

Stock said Tuesday the appointment is part of Clinton’s vision of “Smart Power” that combines diplomacy, defense and development to “bridge the gap in a tense world through young people.”

Abdul-Jabbar said he will share his take on life in America, adding: “I’ll be doing a few basketball clinics, too.”

He made his first official trip recently when he traveled to Brazil for a number of events centering on education.

“I look forward to meeting with young people all over the world and discussing ways in which we can strengthen our understanding of one another through education, through sports and through greater cultural tolerance,” he said. “On my first trip to Brazil, it was amazing to talk to young people and share the gift of knowledge that comes with education, not only in books, but life learnings.”

Since his retirement in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar has been involved in projects focused on African-American history and socio-economic justice. His 2011 documentary, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” sought to highlight these issues. He has also launched the Skyhook Foundation, which works to improve children’s lives through education and sports.

Last year, he received the Lincoln Medal for his commitment to education, understanding and equality and his contributions that exemplify President Abraham Lincoln‘s legacy.

His latest book, “What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors,” was released earlier this month.

He says Clinton told him: “In Brazil, they would be shocked to find out black Americans were so much involved inventing so many useful items that we use today.”

“And indeed they were shocked to learn about their history which in fact is very similar to our history,” Abdul-Jabbar said after his trip to Brazil. “I am excited and honored to serve my country as a Cultural Ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. The trip to Brazil indeed showed me that this position has merit and can honestly be used for the enhancement of others’ cultural perspective. I continued to look forward to meeting with young people all over the world and discussing ways in which we can strengthen our understanding of one another through education, through sports, and through greater cultural tolerance.”

Like Muhammad Ali, being a Muslim should only break down even more barriers as he moves in and out of world communities.

Kudos to Clinton for realizing Abdul-Jabbar’s gifts, because he seems perfectly suited for his new job as the latest U.S. global cultural ambassador.

The legendary former UCLA star scored 38,387 points during his 20-year NBA career with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstei and at Twitter at LelandSteinIII

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