NBA

NBA 2K22: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks social justice and the impact of being a video game cover star

For the new generation of fans, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's famous skyhook is something more seen in the archives, but as the new cover star of NBA 2K22, the 74-year-old is bringing his game to a new audience.

The NBA 75th Anniversary Edition of the game celebrates three of the game's greatest scorers in Abdul-Jabbar, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant - an honour for the former Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks star.

"I was very pleased when I was asked to be on the cover of NBA 2K22, because it's something that associates with the game around the world, and I've felt that I've earned my place in basketball around the world. So, it's a real honour to be recognized like this," Abdul-Jabbar said.

"I guess, when they see me on there, maybe they might be inspired to check out what I did and how I did it and the length of time that I did it over. I think all of those factors are to be considered in understanding someone's abilities and greatness in the game."

While Abdul-Jabbar's legacy in the NBA is undeniable, winning six championships, six Most Valuable Player awards and still sitting with the most points scored in NBA history, his impact off the floor is even bigger given his vocal pursuit of social justice throughout his life.

From meeting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a 17-year-old to attending The Cleveland Summit in June 1967 alongside Bill Russell, Jim Brown and other prominent Black athletes in support of Muhammad Ali's stance against the Vietnam War to his continued work in helping underserved communities, the former Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks star has been a beacon for social change.

Last month, the NBA awarded its inaugural Social Justice Champion award in Abdul-Jabbar's name.

"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," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said.

"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."

Portland Trail Blazers star Carmelo Anthony was selected as the winner from a group of five finalists for his commitment to social justice, including creating the Social Change Fund alongside Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade - which aims to address social and economic issues facing Black communities, criminal justice reform and expanding access to voting and civic engagement.

Anthony, who currently serves on the board of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, also played a big role in the launch of the Trail Blazers Racial Injustice Initiative, a program that has provided more than $200,000 in funding to organizations fighting systemic racism.

During the height of last year's Black Lives Matter protests that swept the United States and countries around the world, NBA 2K joined the conversation, increasing funding to their 2K foundations program by an additional $1 million, "expanding its mission to help fight racial injustice and inequalities in black communities across the globe."

For two hours during George Floyd's memorial service in Minneapolis, online gameplay was paused to pay respect and in "The Neighborhood" players were provided with free t-shirts emblazoned with "Black Lives Matter" and "I Can't Breathe."

With Abdul-Jabbar on the cover for NBA 2K22, not only is the honour in recognition of what he achieved on the court, but his lasting impact off of it. The cover art for the Anniversary Edition was created by iconic African-American artist Charly Palmer, who was selected by TIME Magazine to design its July 2020 cover as part of its America Must Change issue.

"I think you can always call attention to social justice actions," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Not much you can do with a video game, but just the fact there is a connection I think enables people to maybe learn about what the players do away from the game."

With current NBA and WNBA players following Abdul-Jabbar's lead in helping serve their communities through vocal activism, his legacy off the floor lives on through today's athletes, something he is proud of.

"Already there have been efforts, successful efforts to reach out and make a bridge between communities and police agencies that have been facilitated by athletic teams," he said.

"I always talk about the WNBA All-Star and MVP Maya Moore. There was a young man in the state of Georgia who was unjustly incarcerated. She was able to use her influence and her money and her prominent position as an athlete to get that young man free from his unjust incarceration. They are now married. So, a whole lot of good things have happened just from the activism of various athletes.

"And the fact that they have a better financial structure around them due to their professional salaries enables them to do more things for their communities. So, I'm expecting that this will continue to be a growing trend."

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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