A Chat with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is helping to raise funds to prevent prostate cancer. Other projects involve writing books and helping a current NBA player.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the highest scoring NBA player of all time and still considered one of the most elusive personalities in sports. Since his retirement in 1989, the man who led every basketball he ever played for, from All-American with the Power Memorial High School Panthers to five NBA championships with the LA Lakers, he's been extremely hard to pin down. He's been a jazz promoter and a producer. He's played a pilot in the movie "Airplane." He's written books, including 2000's "A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apaches," about coaching basketball on an Apache reservation; and two year's ago, the book "Brothers in Arms," the epic story of the 761st Tank Battalion, World War II's forgotten heroes.

He's now working with the National Basketball Association and the Prostate Cancer Foundation to raise funds and awareness. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joins us from our studios in New York.

Thanks for being with us.

Mr. KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR (Former NBA Player): My pleasure.

SIMON: Tell us a bit about how the program in which you're speaking is going to operate. There are these, what inevitably - I guess in this day and age we call these Lance Armstrong-like wristbands that are being sold in NBA arenas around the country.

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, the wristband program is under the auspices of the NBA. And you can go online to nbastore.com and order any of 18 players' wristbands. All the profits will go to cancer research, specifically prostate cancer.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. We'll explain, there are some contemporary stars, like Tony Parker and Tim Duncan and Lebron James; you can get their wristbands, and then...

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Old-timers, like myself.

SIMON: Well, I wasn't going to phrase it that way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: But you and Jerry West, who's - my God, a basketball executive, of all things, now; and Walt Frazier and Oscar Robertson.

When you talk about prostate cancer, prevention and cure, is it hard to get attention for something like that, when there's so many, for lack of a better word, other maladies that cry out for public attention, when there's so many wristbands, for that matter?

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think prostate cancer deserves the attention that we're trying to bring to it. Thirty-four percent of all men will have to deal with it in some way or another. And it's very easy to treat, given the fact that early analysis is part of the picture.

SIMON: I have to ask this while we have the chance. Would you still like to coach in the NBA?

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Yeah, I think I could do a good job. Of course, you know, it all depends on the opportunity, and I haven't had the good fortune to come across one. But I've been working with the Lakers now for a little over a year, teaching a young player name Andrew Bynum, who's 19 years old and wants to be a dominant center player. And I've had a good experience with that. And I'm hoping to see him continue to improve.

SIMON: You were the most famous high school basketball player in the nation, but still went to UCLA. As a generalization, what do you think about youngsters going from high school into the NBA?

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: I think in this day and age, with so much financial reward involved in it, I think it's not a bad choice for a youngster to go from high school into the NBA. But when I had the opportunity to do it back in 1965, it really didn't make much sense. Getting an education and making sure that you have the means to do something with your life other than basketball was an important thing.

SIMON: May I ask? You're working on another book?

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Yes, I am. I'm working on a book that relates what happened during the Harlem Renaissance and the early days of professional basketball. One of the best basketball teams that they never heard of played in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and into the 1930s, and was the first professional championship team in this nation.

SIMON: Forgive me. What team was that? I know it wasn't the Globetrotters, because they actually...

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: It wasn't the Globetrotters. That's right. The Globetrotters were from Chicago.

SIMON: Right.

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: They used the name Harlem to let people know that they were a black team. But the New York Renaissance Big Five, also known as the Harlem Rens, that was the best team in early professional basketball. Nobody knows their story.

SIMON: Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, been wonderful talking to you. Thanks very much.

Mr. ABDUL-JABBAR: Thank you. It's a pleasure talking to you.

SIMON: Speaking with us from New York, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He's the all-time NBA scoring leader. He's raising funds to find a cure for prostate cancer.

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