In an interview with the Guardian, National Basketball Association legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar praised Colin Kaepernick for confronting racism—and slammed Donald Trump for appealing to it in his quest for the presidency.
As the Guardian’s Donald McRae notes, in 2015, shortly after Abdul-Jabbar condemned Trump in an op-ed for the Washington Post, Trump sent the basketball star a handwritten note: “Kareem—now I know why the press always treated you so badly,” it read. “They couldn’t stand you. The fact is you don’t have a clue about life and what has to be done to make America great again.”
Reflecting on that message from the soon-to-be President of the United States, Abdul-Jabbar explained, “If you judge yourself by your enemies I’m doing great.”
“Trump’s not going to change,” he said. “He knows he is where he is because of his appeal to racism and xenophobia. The people that want to divide the country are in his camp. They want to go back to the 18th century.”
“Trump wants to move us back to 1952 but he’s not Eisenhower—who was the type of Republican that cared about the whole nation,” Abdul-Jabbar continued, noting “even George Bush Sr. and George W. Bush’s idea of fellow citizens did not exclude people of color.”
Abdul-Jabbar added George W. Bush’s “cabinet looked like America … Even though I did not like his policies, he wasn’t exclusionary.”
Abdul-Jabbar also criticized Trump’s support of accused child molester Roy Moore for Alabama’s Senate seat. “You have a guy like [Moore] but he’s going to vote the way you want politically,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That’s more important than what he’s accused of? People with that frightening viewpoint are still fighting a civil war. They have to be contained.”
Turning to Kaepernick, Abdul-Jabbar defended his fellow athlete for leading the NFL protests—a cultural flashpoint that’s become a significant source of criticism for the president.
“The whole issue of equal treatment under the law is still being worked out here because for so long our political and legal culture has denied black Americans equal treatment,” Abdul-Jabbar explained.
“I don’t know how anybody could not be moved by some of the things we’ve seen,” he said. “Remember the footage of Tamir Rice getting killed? The car stops and the cop stands up and executes Tamir Rice. It took two seconds. It’s so unbelievably brutal you have to do something about it.”
“LeBron James and other guys in the NBA all had something to say about such crimes,” Abdul-Jabbar said, referring to t-shirt that star basketball players wore in the aftermath of the shooting. “They weren’t talking as athletes. They were talking as parents because that could have been their kid.”
The sports superstar-turned-writer also described his feelings after watching “I Am Not Your Negro,” a 2016 documentary inspired by James Baldwin's unfinished Remember This House manuscript.
“I saw it two weeks after the Trump election,” he explained. “It was menacing for my soul. It made me think of how bad things were for James Baldwin. But remember him speaking at Cambridge and the reception he got? Oh man, amazing! I kept telling people: ‘Trump is an asshole but go and see this film. Trump doesn’t matter because we’ve got work to do.’”