Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on life beyond the court

(CBS News) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a basketball legend who has made a life and career for himself that extend far beyond his old home on the court. Not that he hasn't tackled challenges along the way, as Lee Cowan tells us in this Sunday Profile:


No pro basketball player in history has given a scoreboard as much to do as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

With his trademark "Skyhook," a rainbow that rarely missed, the one-time Milwaukee Buck-turned-L.A. Laker legend racked up an astounding 38,387 points during his 20-year career.

Add to that his six MVPs and 6 NBA championships, and you've got one of the greatest centers to ever play the game.

"I was lucky to play as long as I did," Jabbar said, checking out a new statue of him, towering outside the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. "I didn't have anything else to do!"

And yet, he says, all those stats aren't the only measure of his life. "I think worrying about stats is, like, being petty, you know? Totally unnecessary."

"You did what you did," said Cowan.

"Yeah, and people appreciated it," Jabbar continued. "You can't do better than that, you know?"

If he seems a bit understated, that's as much a part of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's persona as his 7-foot, 2-inch frame.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers wins the tip-off during an NBA game against the Los Angeles Clippers, at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles in 1987.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

There was always a mystique about him, not just because he was a Catholic turned Muslim. Not because he hailed Malcolm X, or boycotted the 1968 Olympics.

It was because as a player he was almost unmatched, but as a personality, he seemed just out of reach, with a reputation of being aloof and kind of a loner.

"That's how it ended up," Jabbar said. "Because I was so on guard about giving away anything that would be embarrassing. And that's all you want to avoid."

As a result, he not only tried to avoid the press, but he usually avoided his fans, too. "The spotlight is tough, and it caused some burnout," he said. "I didn't handle it in the best way."

"You think you were just overwhelmed by the celebrity of it all?"

"Of course I was overwhelmed by it. That's not for ordinary people," he laughed. "You know, there's a sense of balance, and when you're in a position like mine, that gets obliterated."

And his reaction? "I withdrew."

He's hardly withdrawn anymore. He just finished competing in the ABC reality show "Splash," a diving competition that had new fans cheering even his flops.

At 65 it was an athletic achievement, especially given that a few years ago he was told he had a rare form of leukemia.

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