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Volume 26 No. 5
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Personifies NBRPA's Community Outreach Effort

Abdul-Jabbar's Camp SkyHook program has graduated over 4,000 students from underserved communities
Photo: getty images

The National Basketball Retired Players Association in recent years has undergone a shift in focus away from player special needs to showing members what they can do with their money and brand that will keep them engaged and entertained in their post-playing days. That has led to an increasing number of former players looking back out toward the world to see how they can help their communities. Basketball HOFer KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR has been one of the leaders in that area. His foundation's Camp SkyHook program helps 4th and 5th graders around L.A. access a free, week-long STEM education camp experience in the Angeles National Forest throughout the school year. “We just want to expose them to what’s possible,” said Abdul-Jabbar during an interview last week around the NBA All-Star Game. The camp has graduated over 4,000 students from underserved communities, and Abdul-Jabbar said, “It’s not any hard sell on any one subject, but it’s just an idea to give them a background on what STEM is and point them to the fact that there is where the jobs are going to be in the 21st century.” NBRPA CEO SCOTT ROCHELLE said former players like Abdul-Jabbar are “really focusing on community work more and more,” with their schedules now being comprised of 60% community events and 40% business-oriented events. “You didn’t use to see that in the past,” Rochelle said. “You saw players scraping and scrapping for as much as they could in the business community, but now the community focus is really there.” He added players' foundations are stronger now and are no longer reliant on golf outings and annual galas. “They’re actually doing real hands-on work in the community and the players are leading that through their voice and their actions,” said Rochelle.

GIVING THEM A PLATFORM: NBA Commissioner ADAM SILVER has been steadfast in his support of players speaking out on social issues and bringing them to the forefront, especially in the current political climate. Abdul-Jabbar, who is no stranger to political issues, said Silver has “done a great job understanding that we’re not just basketball players.” The HOFer noted a lot of players in the NBA come from poor circumstances and there are “a lot of issues that they want to heal within their communities that they came from.” Abdul-Jabbar commended Silver on giving players the leeway to be involved in those issues and outlining parameters to do it in the right way. “You haven’t seen any players going off and doing stupid things, they’re talking about real issues and trying to get things done,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Look at what LEBRON JAMES does -- he's sending kids to school and that’s awesome. That’s the type of activism that everybody can get behind. Communities benefit from it, the players’ image benefits from it and I think ultimately our country benefits from it.”

QUICK HITS
* Abdul-Jabbar, on players like James and KEVIN DURANT starting their own media companies: “It’s really encouraging to see guys attempt to be involved in various things that have nothing to do with basketball. The whole idea of using your career as a springboard should be something in every basketball player's mind.”

* Abdul-Jabbar, on James preparing to become an NBA owner one day after he retires: “If LeBron has prepared himself for that, has gotten an idea of what the business environment is all about within the NBA, he’s certainly made enough money. So, if he wants to invest his money in the NBA, a business that he understands, makes total sense.”

* Rochelle, on NBRPA expansion: “The next step for us is Europe. We have a lot of our recent retired players who are returning to their home countries. As the NBA has grown globally, so has our membership obviously and the universe of our potential membership. Through the NBA Global Games, we went to London this year and engaged players there. Next year we’ll be doing a much larger activation in Europe during the NBA Global Games to recruit those players, let them know we’re here.”