For today’s NBA players, activism off the court is just as important as the games they play in. LeBron James, Chris Paul and Steph Curry are some of the most notable stars to push for change in their communities. The league has taken notice, officially recognizing their athletes for social justice work while committing big dollars to key causes.
The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice award has been announced by the NBA as an annual honor recognizing current players for their activism. Each year the honoree will be granted $100,000 to donate to an organization they are passionate about. The other four finalists for the award will be tapped into $25,000 for an organization of their choosing. That’s a $200,000 commitment from the league every year to social justice and equity.
"I’m honored and grateful to be associated with this award that will recognize the dedicated and selfless people fighting to promote social justice for all marginalized people,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “To me, it’s another giant step in the right direction for the country and all people who value equality.”
“In addition to being one of our greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has devoted much of his life to advocating for equality and social justice,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. “With this new award, we are proud to recognize and celebrate NBA players who are using their influence to make an impact on their communities and our broader society.”
There couldn’t be a better namesake for the award than Abdul-Jabbar, a six-time NBA champion, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, and career long civil rights activist. When Abdul-Jabbar was just a sophomore at UCLA, he joined NFL legend Jim Brown and other Black athletes to defend Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam. The next year, he boycotted the 1968 Mexico Olympics to protest racism and discrimination in the United States.
“White America seemed ready to do anything necessary to stop the progress of civil rights,” Abdul-Jabbar said in his book, ‘Coach Wooden and Me.’
“I thought that going to Mexico would seem like I was either fleeing the issue or more interested in my career than in justice."
Throughout his NBA career and long after, Abdul-Jabbar has written books and articles celebrating Black achievement and charting a path to liberation. In 2016, he was awarded the Presidential Medal Of Freedom from President Barack Obama. Today, his Skyhook Foundation works to promote STEM education for underserved kids in Los Angeles.
Each of the NBA’s 30 teams will nominate one of their players for the title of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion. A committee of NBA legends, league executives and social justice stakeholders will select the finalists and winner, which will be announced in the postseason. The award sets the NBA apart from other sports leagues, reaffirming their mission for equality and inclusion while celebrating players for refusing to “shut up and dribble.”