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March 02, 1984 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1984-03-02
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No tall
Giant Steps
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
and Peter Knobler
Bantam Books
pp. 324, $14.95
W HEN I WAS assigned to review
the autobiography of Kareem Ab-
dul-Jabber, I was expecting the typical
sports biography, written either to
make the necessary amount of money
needed to ease the star's retirement or
a boring, unimaginative and usually
arrogant account of the athelete's all-
star career and exploits.
However, from the outset Kareem in-
telligently (already a surprise)
describes the struggles and frequent
beatings that he faces while growing up
on the streets of New York. It became
apparant that Giant Steps, written by
Kareem and Peter Knobler, would be
The reader will discover that the life
being described for the majority of the
book is the off-court mysterious Kareem
- his beliefs, views and many
From his young days as Lew Alcin-
dor, his life defined the conflicts and
prejudices which he would face for the
remainder of his life. As a black
discriminated against by whites, and as
an unusually tall child ridiculed and
threatened by everyone, Kareem drove
himself into a shell in order to survive.
His cynicism spread to religion; as a
student at various Catholic schools,
Kareem quickly shunned Catholicism,
and if not for the iron-fisted rule of his
mother, Cora, he would have dropped
religion completely.
Kareem became aware of the
struggle for civil rights. As a result
of a weekend trip to segregated North
Carolina, and then through media
reports. Finally, in the summer of 1964,
his childhood innocence was destroyed
when he reported the street riots
in Harlem for a local youth newspaper.
Unfortunately, due to these misfor-
tunes, Kareem began to distrust
strangers, and he writes, All my
reservations became conscious, each
chance meeting with a stranger and

every introduction by a friend
became a potential source of pain. I
read all gestures intensively and
terribly often found them racially
hurtful, therefore personally unac-
ceptable. People who tried too hard
to be frierdly were patronizing racists;
people who didn't try hard enough
were blatant racists. People I didn't
know weren 't worth knowing;
people I did know had to Watch
their step.,
Kareem's concern of the racial ten-
sion in the United States did not prevent
him from becoming the most
dominating high school basketball
player in the country, perhaps ever.
The recruiting for Kareen was fast and
furious, with Michigan finishing a close
but disappointed second (a trend that
continues today in Michigan sports)
and UCLA the winner in the big sweep-
stakes. When he arrived at UCLA,
Kareen found himself in the middle of a
sports dynasty, and thus, he continued
his winning ways.
However, although a winner on the
court, he continued to feel like a neglec-
ted loser off court, as his alienation with
American society accelerated during
his college years. Although living in a
wealthy area, he was still poor and
feeling neglected. As a young man with
a lot to say, he was hoping to express
himself in the press. But, the media
was only interested in asking him
basketball questions, and when he
became bored with their questioning,
he was labeled as ''moody'' and
Sports fans will remember his junior
year for his two memorable confron-
tations with Elvin Hayes of the Univer-
sity of Houston. Kareem was further
upset with the press when they gave an
overwhelming advantage to Elvin in
Houston's slim victory, while Kareem
was injured, yet when UCLA won the
rematch by over 30 points, it was only
because Kareem was taller. Further-
more, for his decision to boycott the
1968 Olympics because of the racial
prejudice' in America, he received
hate mail and was called a traitor.
It was also during college that
Kareem turned to Islam, first under the
influence of Malcolm X, and later
Hamaas Abdul-Khaalis, a former
friend of his father. Hamaas had a
profound effect on Kareem as. a
teacher, and was mainly responsible
for his conversion to Islam. Under
Hamaas' guidance, Kareem began to
question our involvement in Vietnam,

as well as the apartheid in South Africa.
His life off the basketball court began to
When Kareem left college and en-
tered the world of professional basket-
ball, he strained his relationship with
his parents, made his acceptance of
Allah public, and became his own man.
Unfortunately, his life in Milwaukee
left him far from his friend,
and Kareem became a loner
His relations with the media continued
to deteriorate as his performance on
the court improved. Kareem felt he
was a target for everyone's abuse, 1
was supposed to take it because I
was large. It's been that way my
whole life; rather than appreciate
my use of what I've been given,
people consistently tried to cut me
In comparisons with other big men,
such as Willis Reed and Bill Walton,
Kareem was always the villian,
succeeding only because of his height
advantage. His only strength came
from his relationship with Hamaas, but
the murder of Hamaas' family in
Kareem's townhouse and then Hamaas'

takeover of three Washington D.C.
buildings in protest of a blasphemous
depiction of Muhammad in a movie,
forced Kareem into further isolation for
fear of being murdered.
Luckily for both Karrem and the
readers, his attitudes changed when he
met Cheryl Pistano, who succeeded in
freeing Kareem from his own personal
seclusion. Kareem lightened up to both
the fans and the press, finally relear-
ning how to smile. The humor of
Kareem begins to shine in the latter
portions of the book,
Kareem's articulation and intelligen-
ce show throughout the book, and
although he is admittedly excessively
cynical throughout a large protion of
his life, he has many important
messages to tell. Kareem does not
pretend to be the star of stars, but in-
stead has a sincere desire to change
wrongdoings of society.
Giant Steps is good reading for
everyone, especially people who have
struggled to conjure up an accurate
image of who Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
really is. They will be happy to know
that the villain is finally a hero.

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12 Weekend/Friday, March 2, 1984

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