More than 175 children from JBA attended the special event sponsored jointly by the Andrews Youth Center and Reading is Fundamental, the nation’s largest nonprofit children’s literacy organization.
During the opening remarks Col. Bill Knight, Joint Base Andrews/11th Wing commander, reminisced about Abdul-Jabbar’s years as an NBA player.
“Most of you children may not know who he is but I remember watching him play professional basketball when I was young,” said Knight.
To give the children an example of Abdul-Jabbar’s celebrity, Knight asked “do you know who LeBron James is?” Shouts of approval erupted from the audience inside the gymnasium. Knight went on to say, “Well, Mr. Abdul-Jabbar is just as famous, and then he was the best of the best.”
Now 66, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer came to Andrews as part of a national tour to promote literacy and his latest book, ‘Sasquatch in the Paint,’ a book loosely written about his adolescent years. It is his second children’s book.
“I’m glad to be here at Andrews today. I’m here because I want to talk to you about the importance of reading in your lives. This book that I’ve written is called ‘Sasquatch in the Paint.’ It’s about a tall, nerdy kid named Theo, who was a lot like me growing up. He was an eighth-grader who grew so tall that a basketball coach is determined to turn him into a player. This book is about life lessons” Abdul-Jabbar said.
The book depicts the character trying to transition from being a child to adulthood. The book features some of the things that happened to Abdul-Jabbar in grade school, when he was an Army dependent.
“The character has to figure out what he’s going to do with his future,” he said.
Abdul-Jabbar, who was an Academic All-American at UCLA, stressed the value of academics.
“One thing that I would like for all of you to remember is how important it is to be able to read. Reading can take you anywhere you want to go,” said Abdul-Jabbar.
The NBA legend is best known for a professional career with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers. Over the past few years he has also become a best-selling author, writing a total of nine books.
Among his other credits Abdul-Jabbar is also a successful actor and cultural ambassador of the United States.
“His goal is to give as many free books away to children as he can, with a focus on the less fortunate children and military kids,” said Vince Eure, Andrews Youth Center director. “He came to Andrews to celebrate literacy and promote reading for kids and to leave them wanting to read more.”
Eure further noted that Abdul-Jabbar wants all children to excel academically, by going to school and getting good grades.
“Overall I think the event was a complete success. Introducing him to kids who didn’t know about him was great. Although he is an NBA legend, he promoted the importance of reading and learning to write so that they could possibly write a book one day as well,” said Eure. “I believe that he wanted for the kids to know it’s OK to go further than sports. My hope is that they got it.”
After reading his book, Abdul-Jabbar opened the floor to questions.
One child asked, “Why did you always win for the Lakers?” Smiling brightly, Abdul-Jabbar answered, “Because they paid me and my teammates a lot of money to win. So I guess that’s why I’m famous.”
Another child asked, “Did you score many three-pointers?” Mildly amused, Abdul-Jabbar answered, “Well actually I only made one. All the rest were from under the rim. That’s where I learned I was best,” referring to his legendary “Sky Hook.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s books have earned him an NAACP Image Award.
Abdul-Jabbar also introduced a book he wrote in 1996, “What Color Is My World?: the Lost History of African-American Inventors.” The book gives insight about lesser-known African American inventors.
Abdul-Jabbar used the book as a platform to test and educate the children.
“So, how many of you like potato chips?” asked Abdul-Jabbar. “Do you know that the inventor of the potato chip was an African-American named George Crum?”
“How did he make the potato chips,” asked one child.
“Crum sliced a batch of French fries as thin as he possibly could, and then fried them until they were hard and crunchy. So every time you eat a bag of potato chips – you now know it was invented by George Crum,” said Abdul-Jabbar.
During his career, Abdul-Jabbar was a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a record 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member. A member of six NBA championship teams, Abdul-Jabbar twice was voted NBA Finals MVP. In 1996, he was named one of 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1996 with 38,387 career points, 17,440 rebounds and 3,189 blocked shots.