Black Athletes -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilma Rudolph #blacklivesmatter


Today for our Black Lives Matter Series I have decided to share two Black athletes. I struggled today with whom I should share. I thought about writing a post about Chadwick Boseman. As I read about him I will be honest I wondered if I am doing these amazing people justice with my posts. I was wondering if I am making a difference. I decided there is so much out there right now about Chadwick Boseman that I don't need to feature him here. I know I am a small blog and I don't really expect to grow big because I am not willing to monetize and I am not about pushing my own work plus I accept our work as it is and don't make it perfect. But sometimes I wonder if you are really reading this and caring about what I write. If you are I would love a comment (other than spam). Anyway, today we are going to look at two Black athletes: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilma Rudolph and the roles they have played in our society.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at Pre-White House Correspondents' Dinner Reception Pre-Party - 14090760686
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 2014 by Yahoo / CC BY

Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. was born on April 16, 1947 in New York City. His father, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Sr. was a police officer and his mother was Cora. He was their only son. He was always the tallest kid in his class. At age 9 he was already 5'8" (taller than me!). In eighth grade he already had grown another foot and could dunk the basketball. He went to Power Memorial Academy and started making a high school career in basketball. He set New York City records for scoring and rebounds. He graduated in 1965 and headed to the University of California in Los Angeles. There he became the best college player and lead his team to three national championships in 1967-1969. In each of those years he was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player. In 1968 he boycotted the Summer Olympics to protest the unfair treatment of Blacks in the United States. He did not try out for the United States Men's Olympic Basketball Team that year. They however did go on to win the gold medal without him. During his senior year at UCLA he met Habiba Abdul-Jabbar at a Lakers game. The two began to date and eventually got married.  They had three children, two daughters and one son. They divorced in 1978.

In spring of 1969 he was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks. In his first professional year he finished second in the league in scoring, third in rebounding and was named Rookie of the Year. In 1971 he lead the Bucks to the NBA finals and they swept the Baltimore Bullets. He won his first of six MVP honors. 

Shortly after the 1971 season ended, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This new name means "noble, powerful servant". He was named by Haamas Abdul Khaalis. Kareem purchased and donated a house in Washington, DC for Khaalis to use as the Hanafi Madh-Hab Center. However Kareem eventually found he disagreed with some of Khaalis's teachings and they parted ways. He studied the Quran on his own and renewed his faith. He believes his name change was a way of honoring family history. His ancestors were slaves brought to America by a Frenchman, named Alcindor, from Trinidad. Many of the slaves were Muslims. 

 In 1974 he led the Bucks to the NBA finals again and this time they lost to the Boston Celtics. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1974
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1974
Kareem was not happy living in Milwaukee. At the end of the 1975 season he demanded the management arrange to trade him to New York or Los Angeles. He eventually was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. Over fifteen years he made the Lakers perennial winners. They won five league titles. Over the years he also played some roles in Hollywood films including Game of Death and Airplane! In 1985 the Lakers beat the Celtics in the league finals. He was named the MVP for the sixth time but now he was 38. He retired from basketball in 1989. He is very proud of how long he was able to play successfully. He broke many records and won the most MVP honors. He is the NBA's all-time top scorer. 

He has another son, Amir. Amir's mother is Cheryl Pistono. Since retiring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has authored several books and does public speaking. He has also done some coaching and is a basketball ambassador. He has turned to the entertainment business some. In 1995 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In 2007 ESPN voted him the greatest center of all time. In 2008 they named him the best college basketball player of all time. In 2016 they named the second best NBA player of all time (behind Michael Jordan). In 2012 he was selected by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be a U.S. Global Culture Ambassador. In 2015 President Barrack Obama awarded him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2020 he was nominated for an Emmy Award. 

In November 2009, Kareem announced he had leukemia. In February 2011, he announced he was cancer free as much as one can be after surviving. In April 2015 he underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery. 

One of the most interesting things I found about Kareem is this page of his heroes. Click on each one and read why he or she is one of Kareem's heroes. It speaks a lot about his character.


To teach your kids about his amazing man, here are some books I found about or by him.

Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph (1960)
Wilma Rudolph in 1960
by Henk Lindeboom / Anefo / CC BY-SA 3.0 NL

Wilma Rudolph was born on June 23, 1940 in St. Bethlehem, Tennessee. Her father was Ed Rudolph and she was his 20th of 22 kids. As a child she was stricken with double pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio. As a result she had to wear a brace on her left leg. The doctor told her that she would not walk again. She proved them wrong. Her mother, Blanche, told her she would walk again and Wilma decided to believe her mother and not the doctor. Her parents and siblings took care of her and massaged her leg like the physical therapist did. Her mother who was a domestic worker drove her an hour to therapy once a week. At age six she was hopping on one leg. At age 8 she was walking with a brace. At age eleven her mother found her playing basketball outside. 

Wilma attended the all-Black Burt High School. She was nominated as All-American in basketball in high school. The basketball coach gave her the nickname Skeeter and it stuck. A chance meeting with a college track and field coach got her interested in track and field. She was recruited to train with Tennessee State University track coach Ed Temple. She began competing on a college level in high school. In 1956 she competed in the Olympics and won the bronze medal in the 4x100 relay. She was 16 and the youngest member of the U.S. track and field Olympic team. 

In 1958 Wilma became pregnant. She was a senior in high school. She gave birth to her first daughter, Yolanda. On October 14, 1961, she married William "Willie" Ward. He was a member of the North Carolina College at Durham track team. They divorced in May 1963.  Then she married her high school sweetheart and Yolanda's father, Robert Eldridge. They had another daughter, Djuanna, in 1964 and two sons, Robert, Jr., in 1965 and Xurry, in 1971. They were married for seventeen years and then divorced. 
Giuseppina leone
Wilma in the Lead at the 1960 Olympics in Rome

After graduating high school she attended Tennessee State University. She also trained hard for the next Olympics. In 1960 she headed to the Olympics in Rome. Her performance there made her one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century. She won three gold medals and broke at least three records. The coach for the US Olympic track and field team was Ed Temple and many of the members of the team were his students at Tennessee State University. She was given the name as "the fastest woman in the world" as well as "The Black Pearl" and "The Black Gazelle". She became the first American woman to win three gold medals at the same Olympics. She said her favorite race was the relay because she got to share the podium with her teammates. When she returned home from the 1960 Olympics she refused to take part in the parade in her honor unless it was integrated. Her parade and banquet were the first integrated events in her hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee. After the Olympics the team competed in Europe. Often the fans came to see Wilma. She had her shoes stolen by fans as well as some fans banging on the sides of the bus until she waved. She was named by the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1960 and 1961.  

In 1962 she retired from track and field. She finished her degree at Tennessee State University and went into education. She also worked at several community centers and stayed involved in sports this way. She was inducted into the U.S. Olympics Hall of Fame. She also started a program to help amateur track and field stars. In 1973 she was voted into the Black Athlete Hall of Fame. In 1974 she was voted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame. In 1977 she shared her life story with an autobiography, Wilma

In 1977 her life story was made into a prime-time television movie. In 1981 she established the Wilma Rudolph Foundation which is a nonprofit organization that trains youth athletes. She claimed this was her greatest achievement in life. It is located in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1990 she became the first woman to receive the NCAA's Silver Anniversary Award. In 1994 she was diagnosed with brain cancer and throat cancer. On November 12, 1994 she died of a brain tumor. 

Wilma Rudolph paved the way for Black athletes and female athletes. Many people looked up to her. She has had over 20 children's books written about her. She still encourages and inspires kids and people all over the world today. She is remembered for her quiet and polite manner as well as her speed. 


As I stated there are many children's books about Wilma. Here are some of the ones I found.

There are more out there, but I thought this would be enough to get you started. I hope you will check out our other Black Lives Matter posts