Claremont Insider: Scanning the Blogosphere

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Scanning the Blogosphere

The Los Angeles Times has new blog on its website. At 7'2" the new Times writer may be the world's tallest blogger and certainly holds the record for most career points scored in the National Basketball Association by a blog writer.

Former LA Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the author of the eponymous Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Blog, but don't dismiss Kareem' new endeavor as the self-serving ramblings of an ex-jock.

Kareem, who graduated with a degree in history from UCLA, devotes many of his posts to African-Amercian history, as he did with this recent piece on Charlotte Ray:

Charlotte E. Ray: Beyond the law

Sometimes there’s a heavy price to be paid for being an innovator. The greater the innovation, the greater the price to be paid. This is especially true for African-American women innovators, who not only braved the cruelty of racism, but also the harshness of sexism. How hard it must have been to come home after a long day facing racists, only to find the same hostile intolerance on the faces of men of your own race, even your own family. That’s how it was for Charlotte E. Ray (1850-1911), the first African-American female lawyer in the United States.

Ray was born in New York City to a father who was a minister and journalist, and a mother who partnered with her husband as conductors on the Underground Railroad. Getting a good education was important to Ray, so she attended one of the few schools that allowed women, the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C. Knowing that women had an even more difficult time being admitted to law school, she applied to Howard University as “C.E. Ray." She graduated in 1872 as a Phi Beta Kappa and passed her bar exam the same year. However, despite her ambition, discipline, courage, and intelligence, the first black female lawyer was unable to maintain a law practice.

She returned to New York City in 1879, and she became a teacher in the public schools as well as an activist with the National Women’s Suffrage Association and the National Women’s Suffrage Association. Eventually she married, moved to Long Island, and died at the age of 60 from bronchitis.

Maybe what makes Charlotte Ray especially admirable isn’t her historic milestone of being the first black female lawyer, but that in face of failure as a lawyer, she didn’t turn her back on the community that failed to support her dream, but renewed her commitment to making others' lives better. That is the definition of heroic.

Kareem, formerly known as Lew Alcindor, came west from New York City in 1966 to play for UCLA coach John Wooden, won three consecutive NCAA championships with UCLA and very well might have one a fourth if freshman had been allowed to play in those days. He went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers, winning six NBA championships and being named the league's Most Valuable Player six times.

Kareem's skyhook, which he could shoot with either hand, was nearly unstoppable, and he never seemed to get enough credit for his defense. A lot of the Showtime Laker fastbreaks in the 1980's were ignited by Kareem blocking an opponent's shot to a teammate. And, unlike former Laker centers Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal, Kareem could make a free throw.

We still remember that Game Six of the 1988 NBA championship series against Detroit with the Lakers down by one point with 14 seconds left to play and Detroit up three games to two, Kareem getting fouled by Bill Laimbeer and then making two free throws to win the game and tie the series, which the Lakers went on to win in the seventh game.

During his playing career, Kareem was seen as aloof and sullen, and he had a somewhat distant relationship with the press, partly because he wouldn't be pigeonholed. After a fire destroyed his home in Bel-Air in 1983, we learned that he had a world-class jazz album collection that was lost, and that generated much sympathy for Kareem. Around that time the public's perception of him seemed to soften a bit and fans were much more willing to just let Kareem be himself rather than trying to make him fit some preconception of what he should be.

Kareem's post-NBA career has been nearly as interesting as his playing years. He has spent time as a volunteer coach in Whiteriver, Arizona, on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and wrote a book called "A Season on the Reservation" about his experiences there. He's also written several books on African-Amercian history.

Kareem reputation for aloofness may have cost him more than one head coaching position. The Wikipedia entry for him notes:

Many basketball observers, in addition to Abdul-Jabbar, believe that Kareem's reticence, whether through disdain for the press corps or simply because of introversion, contributed to the dearth of coaching opportunities offered to Kareem by the NBA. In his words, he said he had a mindset he could not overcome, and proceeded through his career oblivious to the effect his reticence may have had on his coaching prospects in the future. Kareem said: "I didn't understand that I also had affected people that way and that's what it was all about. I always saw it like they were trying to pry. I was way too suspicious and I paid a price for it [Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog]."

Kareem is currently a special assistant to the Lakers and has been credited with helping in the development of current Laker center Andrew Bynum.

One always associated a certain gracefulness with Kareem, lofting a skyhook or patrolling the lane to block a shot, and he has carried that grace into the rest of his life.