Taking shots at TrumpOn the third day of the Democratic National Convention on July 28, retired NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar went on stage at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. In 2012, Hillary Clinton, then the secretary of state, selected the basketball player as a U.S. global cultural ambassador.
“I’m Michael Jordan, and I’m here with Hillary,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “I said that because I know that Donald Trump couldn’t tell the difference.” The audience broke into laughs. As the 69-year-old endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, he did not talk about himself.
He was there to create a dramatic mood for the next speaker, Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim U.S. soldier who died in a car bomb attack in Iraq in 2004. Addressing Trump’s anti-Muslim bigotry, Khan asked, “Have you ever been to Arlington cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave Americans who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s appearance reminded me of two sports stars. The first is Muhammad Ali, who passed away on June 3. Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Just as Ali fought for civil rights and refused to be conscripted into the U.S. military during the Vietnam War, Abdul-Jabbar boycotted the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City by refusing to join the U.S. national squad to protest racial discrimination.
In “Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali and the Spirit of the Sixties,” author Mike Marqusee wrote about an encounter between the two legends. Upon meeting Ali, Abdul-Jabbar said the boxer was inspiring courage in many people to challenge the American establishment.
Half a century after that first meeting, Abdul-Jabbar stood at the Democratic National Convention not just for Hillary Clinton but for Ali as well.
I thought of Michael Jordan not just because Abdul-Jabbar jokingly introduced himself as Jordan. “Redemption Song” also discusses how civil rights activists asked Jordan to help defeat Jesse Helms, an openly racist Republican incumbent senator, in his home state of North Carolina.
Jordan, who once played basketball for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, refused to help. Am I going too far to assume that Abdul-Jabbar mentioned Jordan because of this background?
After the Democratic National Convention, Hillary Clinton took the lead over Donald Trump in election polls. Abdul-Jabbar, the all-time leading shooter in the NBA with 38,385 points in his career, is more familiar with scoring baskets than making assists. Will his assist lead to a slam dunk in the final election in November?
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 1, Page 30
*The author is editor of the JTBC Digital News Room.