Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

My 5 Minutes with the President

The legendary athlete and Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is still the only athlete to be named the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player three times. As a professional, he led first the Milwaukee Bucks and then the Los Angeles Lakers to six championships. After 20 seasons, he retired with nine NBA records, many of which still hold. His scoring record of 38,387 career points (24.6 on average per game) will probably never be equaled.

After retiring from active play, he studied with martial arts master Bruce Lee, making his motion-picture debut alongside Lee in the film “Game of Death.” He also made a memorable appearance in the comedy classic “Airplane.”

Today, much of his time has been devoted to writing. His first book, an autobiography, was titled Giant Steps, after a tune by one of Abdul-Jabbar’s heroes, jazz saxophonist John Coltrane. A second memoir, Kareem, is an account of his last season, interspersed with memories of childhood and reflections on his life in basketball. He recounts his most interesting coaching experience as a volunteer at Alchesay High School on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in A Season on the Reservation. Subsequent books include Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African American Achievement and Brothers in Arms, the story of the all-black 761st Tank Battalion in World War II. His latest, On the Shoulders of Giants — an examination of the poets, artists, musicians, athletes and activists of the Harlem Renaissance, informed by his own experience growing up in Harlem — has been made into a documentary featuring interviews with Maya Angelou and Bill Russell, as well as music by Wynton Marsalis. For more information, go to kareemabduljabbar

ROBIN BRONK: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: The revolutions changing the Middle East. I think that he will be effective if he backs the democratic change that has become popular in the area. I am fascinated with the details of this area of the world and I would like more in-depth information. 

RB: If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would it be?
KAJ: I would tell him to be alert for opportunities that will enable the U.S. to be on the right side of the conflicts that are shaking the Middle East due to the fact that there are tremendous opportunities there for democracy to gain a real foothold. 

RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?
KAJ: How does the 24-hour-a-day news cycle affect his ability to do this job? Does it help him, or does it put more pressure on him so that his responses are more difficult to figure out? 

RB: What book would you lend President Obama? Why?
KAJ: Silent Spring. Because environmental issues are so important.

RB: If you were going to send the president to one place in the United States for a day, where would that be? Why?
KAJ: To New York City, so he could address the U.N.

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?
KAJ: No.

Bronk is a seasoned Capitol Hill strategist and advocate. She started her career at The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for the arts and entertainment industry, in July 1998. During her tenure as CEO, Bronk has taken The Creative Coalition from a New York-based entity to a national organization. www.thecreativecoalition.org