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Monday, October 1, 2007

I Can’t Find a News Peg or Any Excuse …

posted by on October 1 at 20:51 PM

… to put this great quote on Slog, but then I realized: I don’t need a news peg or any excuse.

I read the autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar this weekend, Giant Steps. It’s a good read. Not a typical sports book at all. For example, the only thing he says about UCLA’s famed NCAA three-peat in 1969 is, “In spring 1969, after we’d won our third straight NCAA championship…it was time to think about the pros.”

That’s all he says about perhaps his most famous accomplishment in sports.

Mostly, his account of college is about LSD, not fitting in with California surfer frat boy culture, summers back home in Harlem fighting with his mom, Islam, Vietnam, girls, and not having any money.

It’s a sweet coming-of-age book. (The bulk of the book is actually about his youth. And in the final couple of chapters when he does talk about his NBA years, he mostly talks about personal stuff.)

Anyway, there’s this hilarious quote in Ch. 8. He’s talking pretty earnestly about his early 20s pretentious flex your head period when he actually offers up a wonderful piece of wisdom.

He begins: “All sophomore and junior years I’d been looking for something to believe in. Having abandoned the religious underpinnings of Catholicism senior year in high school and the physical trappings when I left my mother’s house, and then being taught by Malcolm X that some central philosophy was necessary in order to live a meaningful life, I began my own study of comparative religions …” Okay, whatever.

And then he goes on about black studies and existentialism and Taoism, Hinduism … building up to his big Islamic conversion. But on the way, he slips in this line:

“I was definitely into taking responsibility for my actions, but the rest of existentialism left me cold. Zen was just too subtle for me, and the Hindus bewildered me with their different gods for every day.”

“Zen was just too subtle for me” !!!

I’m in love with this. I am set free. I have been trying forever to be god damn Zen. And it makes me crazy that I cannot do it. And now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sets us absolutely straight on this Zen thing.

I am set free from trying to be Zen. Thank you Mr. Jabbar.


RSS icon Comments


Josh, I don't believe UCLA won 3 NCAA championships in a row. Didn't they lose to Houston in the 1968 game in the Astrodome?

Posted by neo-realist | October 1, 2007 9:02 PM

I was confused about that too. Elvin Hayes is, of course, my favorite player of all time.

Turns out Elvin's 39-point, 15-rebound face job on Jabbar (Alcindor) in the Astrodome in 1968 was just a mid-season game. The big deal about the game was that it ended UCLA's 47-game winning streak. (It was also the first-ever regular-season college basketball game to be televised nationally.)

UCLA actually went on to win the NCAA that year, beating Houston along the way in the semi-finals.

Jabbar and UCLA won the NCAA in 1967, 1968, and 1969.

Posted by Josh Feit | October 1, 2007 9:14 PM

How subtle can a religion that hits its followers with sticks be? Zen is anything but subtle (and not just because of the stick thing).

But Jabbar is a cool dude. Thanks for the book rec.

Posted by Ryan | October 1, 2007 9:34 PM

Maybe he's talking Japanese Zen, with tea ceremony, ikebana, and all that.

Forget Zen though, what did he say about acid?

Posted by Ebenezer | October 1, 2007 9:56 PM

Reminds me of what happened after Gary Snyder wrote Ed Abbey a fan letter, gushing about Abbey's writing and relationship with the earth. Ed wrote back and said, "Gary, I love your stuff too, except for all that Zen and Hindu bullshit."

And at that moment, for all his faults and because of them, I fell in love with Edward Abbey.

Posted by Huh | October 1, 2007 10:19 PM

Currently reading David Halberstam's book on the NBA, Breaks of the Game, which is primarily about another mercurial UCLA center, Bill Walton (known as Lew Alcindor during college).

Posted by Seth | October 1, 2007 10:20 PM

Does he talk about moonlighting as an airline pilot?

Posted by Mahtli69 | October 1, 2007 10:23 PM

Come to my dojo and work out for a couple years, Josh. You'll understand Zen a bit better after that.

Posted by Gitai | October 1, 2007 10:41 PM

I am pretty sure that being set free from trying to be Zen is in fact some kind of major Zen milestone. That is, I was always given to understand that anybody who claims to have a firm grasp on the whole Zen thing is doing it wrong.

But I could be mistaken.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 1, 2007 10:42 PM

@5: one of my favorite Abbey quotes. Thanks for the reminding.

Posted by gnossos | October 1, 2007 11:07 PM

The Christian Brothers of Ireland (Edmund Rice) closed Lew's hs, Power Memorial Academy down years ago. But the alumni put together a great website.

Posted by Br. Pervert | October 1, 2007 11:39 PM

Neither Kareem nor Giant Steps can hold a candle to the much greater Wilt Chamberlain and Wilt's amazing book Wilt: Just Like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door.

Posted by Roger Williams | October 2, 2007 12:31 AM

Try not. Do.

Posted by Jude Fawley | October 2, 2007 7:08 AM

You're right, Josh, zen is too subtle for you (as it is for most Americans, we're over stimulated). Why don't you take a stab at right-wing fundamentalism? Nothing subtle about that, plus it would add an interesting viewpoint to the Stranger staff!

Posted by Todd | October 2, 2007 8:55 AM

kareem was also a great jazz connoisseur and an old school new yorker. peep his new book on the harlem renaissance ( on the shoulders of giants.)

kareem would make a great coach for the sonics, but they have never called on him. instead they went for that choke artist carlissimo whose greatest accomplishment is having been choked by spreewell and playing second fiddle in San Antonio. kareem has coached native americans on reservations and advised the LA Lakers. but the league just will not give him a chance, despite being one of the best minds in basketball. the man is too outspoken.

Posted by SeMe | October 2, 2007 9:30 AM

@1: UCLA won SEVEN national basketball championships in a row. They also won 88 straight games, post-Alcindor.

@6: Bill Walton was not "known as Lew Alcindor during college".

UCLA has the coolest fucking sports alumni is the USA: Alcindor, Walton, Arthur Ashe, Rafer Johnson, Jackie Robinson, Flo-Jo and others. Suck it 'SC!

Posted by DOUG. | October 2, 2007 10:07 AM

"Bill Walton (known as Lew Alcindor during college"

Ok this is just too out there to be a typo.

Lew Alcindor was Kareem. Lew Alcindor ruled the high school circuit in New York City. Lew Alcindor was not a tall red headed hippie. Bill Walton came of age at UCLA and was one of the baddest white boys ever.

Posted by SeMe | October 2, 2007 10:13 AM

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