Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is Still Tall

But the ambling, goggled grace of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ensured that all playground pickup games featured the pluck and flair of the sky-hook, a shot that brought instant shame or instant cachet to a schoolyard shooter, depending on his mastery of it.

Growing up in L.A. in the '70s and '80s as a kid who loved sports, I could not help but be swept up in the drama of the Lakers. Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird is still possibly the best matchup basketball has ever had to its credit. But the ambling, goggled grace of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar ensured that all playground pickup games featured the pluck and flair of the sky-hook, a shot that brought instant shame or instant cachet to a schoolyard shooter, depending on his mastery of it. Magic Johnson imitated Kareem's shot when he had to fill in at center during a finals game in the '80s.

Beyond Kareem's basketball prowess, he stood out as an American who had changed his name to reflect his beliefs. After retiring, he went on to write books about important subjects, revealing a man who thought deeply about society and social justice.

As a college student at UCLA, I often walked through the streets of Westwood. One day, I stopped at a light and found myself next to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I could have said so many articulate things to him then—about how I appreciated his individualism, about how I respected his sense of history, about how I, too, believed in the social justice that underpinned his life.

Instead, standing beside him, I regressed about ten years. I said, "I just want you to know I think you're one of the best basketball players ever." There I was, back in grade school, working on my hook shot and the stature I thought it might give me.

"Thank you," he said. The light turned, and we both started walking. He wasn't in a hurry but I lagged behind, wondering at how tall he was—on the street and in my mind.

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