Basketball and Black Pride: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Resident Organizing in New York City Public Housing

“In the summer of 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — known at the time as Lew Alcindor, and just barely twenty-one years old — was already a basketball legend. Impossibly tall and incredibly talented, he had led New York City’s Power Academy to 71 straight wins before joining John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins. After a year on the ‘freshman team,’ he had led the varsity to back-to-back NCAA titles, winning tournament MVP both times (he would add another title and MVP in 1969). And that summer, if you were a kid growing up in one of the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) developments, you could meet the legend in person. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could probably have been anywhere he wanted in the summer of 1968. Many people had expected — indeed, had demanded — that he would lead the United States to Olympic glory on the basketball court, but he declined the tryout, boycotting the Mexico City games in solidarity with the Olympic Project for Human Rights. His principled stand sparked a racist backlash, which he could have weathered on a Southern California beach or in the private company of other elite athletes, far from the public eye. Instead, he came home to New York City and led thirty-two basketball clinics for the New York City Housing Authority, in whose buildings he himself had grown up. We know Kareem Abdul-Jabbar today as a brilliant activist and public intellectual as well as a basketball superstar, a man who was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. As historian John Matthew Smith wrote earlier this year, Abdul-Jabbar’s legacy ‘transcends the game; in the age of Black Power, he redefined the political role of black college athletes.’ His work with NYCHA in 1968 — captured in a pair of digitized photos from the Authority’s collection at the LaGuardia and Wagner Archives — offers an early glimpse of his principled commitment to activism as well as athletic achievement. The programs he led also offer a window into the remarkable world of youth programming in NYCHA, which blossomed as a result of resident organizing in the late 1960s and 1970s. Born in Harlem in 1947, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar moved with his parents to the Dyckman Houses in Inwood in 1950. The move ‘was really considered a step up,’ he told the New York Times in 2009, recalling both the material comforts and the sense of community. He lived there until he left for UCLA. …”
The Gotham Center for New York City History
The reign of Lew Alcindor in the age of revolt
Lew Alcindor, Michigan, and the mystery of the big what-if?
W – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
YouTube: Lew Alcindor ( Kareem Abdul Jabbar ) & The 1963 All-American Basketball Team, Rare Lew Alcindor Power Memorial High School Highlights

12/14/1963-Lew Alcindor (#33), shooting, passing and defending power Memorial High School player, shown in action during game against Stepinac at Madison Square Garden.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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