March 11, 2007
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: No to Mediocrity
Considered one of the greatest players of all time, he was center for UCLA, and also played for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. Known for his "Skyhook" shot, he used that as an example as one small strength you can hone in on and "do it better than anyone else."
He wore a suit and a tie on stage. Despite the fact that I don't know him and never had a conversation with him until I ran into him in the bookstore later that same afternoon, he seemed extremely unnatural in the suit, as if he was in someone else's skin. During our chat, I was shocked to learn that he had already celebrated his 60th birthday. After the fact, I quietly asked the Universe to bless me with the same graceful aging.
He joked with us about his height. “When you are this tall and bend down to tie your shoes, you think, ‘what else can I accomplish when I’m down here.’” He added, “I was such a big baby that my birthday was both April 15 and 16th.”
The man had a sense of humor, evident even if a speech writer wrote his lines. I also discovered another interesting tidbit about him during a meditation session we did together the next day......he practices bikram yoga which he does together with his son.
Born in Harlem, he told us about his youth and noted that throughout his life, he has learned that the world is really a series of questions that we ask ourselves. “The feeling in Harlem at the time, was that "if we just stuck together, we’d be fine.”
Moving forward, beyond Harlem, beyond teenage life, he talked about all the things he has learned, most noticeably a "modern mantra" to break down racism and inequality, something we still have not turned into reality: "focus on what we have in common; our similarities rather than our differences."
“What I learned from musicians,” he said, “is commitment and integrity. If you love what you do, you’ll never feel like you have worked a day in your life. Spend your time strengthening your strengths. Don’t try to do it all – perfect the one or two amazing things you do best.”
He also spoke to history and his love for it. “When a great man dies, an entire library burns down. No mistakes, only lessons.” He ended with a note on priorities and necessaries for long-term success. “Pop culture has to stop promoting mediocrity and focus instead on education, family and community support.”
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