They call Lakers legend and NBA icon Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 'The Captain' because he was – and still is – a brilliant leader and champion, much like the title subject in Walt Whitman’s famous poem.
Whitman’s "O Captain! My Captain!" was written to honor Abraham Lincoln and mourn his death. In the poem, Lincoln is the ship’s captain and the ship is the United States. It’s a metaphor. I’m willing to bet Kareem Abdul-Jabbar knows all that because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a genius.
Kareem’s brilliance was once again on display over at The Huffington Post where he explained to those who didn’t know that being a retired professional basketball player does not make you a dumb jock.
What do people expect when an ex-jock discusses pop culture? "Hmmm. Magic light box have good shows. Me like some. Others make me puke Gatorade. Me give it three jock straps."
Maybe this will help: I have a degree from UCLA. I'm an amateur historian who has written books about World War II, the Harlem Renaissance, and African-American inventors. I read a lot of fiction as well as non-fiction. I watch TV and movies. I have acted in both. I have been a political activist and an advocate for children's education. How should an aging, black jock like myself know anything about pop culture? Man, I am a living part of pop culture and have been for nearly 50 years. Beyond that, I think pop culture expresses our needs, fears, hopes and whole zeitgeist better than some of the more esoteric and obscure forms of art.
The Captain, in response to surprised reactions to his review of the HBO show "Girls", not only underscores his intelligence and sense of humor, but also highlights the misconception that jocks are inherently thoughtless.
The NBA, in fact, is rife with evidence to the contrary. For every dumb jock stereotype there is a savvy businessman or multitalented artist or “amateur historian.”
It’s not just Kareem. Former Lakers like Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, just to name a few, have all proven their smarts beyond the locker room in business, television, philanthropy, branding, etc.
Shaquille O'Neal, who will have his Lakers jersey retired later this year, is a media mogul, actor, musician and a “big Aristotle.” Magic Johnson, perhaps the most notable example of this, has as an entrepreneur, business partner and CEO proven that his business savvy is on par if not far superior to his athletic abilities. Like Kareem, Magic has innumerable successes and accolades in a wide variety of fields since his retirement form the Lakers, which he partially owned before selling his stake to help buy the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Take a look around the NBA current and past and you will see guys like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and others who prove Kareem’s point that not only are athletes capable of intelligence and contributions off the court, but that they are actually doing it all the time.
There will always be people of varying degrees of intelligence in professional sports, like there is in every other part of society. And there will always be people who are shocked when a guy can make a perfect hook shot and quote Moby Dick. They used to call a guy like that a Renaissance man.
Renaissance man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a simple answer to those so easily shocked by his intelligence:
What can I say to those critics except, "Don't judge me by the color of my team jersey, but by the content of my articles."
It’s just another example of why Kareem is and always will be the Captain. And why I for one am looking forward to reading his thoughts on pop culture and anything else.
You can follow Erick Galindo on Twitter @ErickGeee