Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on why he’s been so outspoken about NBA players & COVID-19 vaccine

The six-time NBA champion, Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and civil rights icon spoke with Yahoo Sports senior NBA writer Vincent Goodwill about his recent comments regarding notable players around the league and the coronavirus vaccine.

Check out more of Kareem’s thoughts on this and other hot topics by subscribing to his Substack. Also, his new essay “Black Cop’s Kid” is available now on Amazon.

Video Transcript

VINCENT GOODWILL: Welcome to Yahoo Sports. I'm Vincent Goodwill, NBA senior writer here with one of the GOATs. NBA legend, Hall of Famer, six time champion, six time MVP, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Mr Abdul-Jabbar, thank you for joining us today. You have a substack that you have just started along with an essay on Amazon called "Black Cop's Kid."

Just first to start off, you've been pretty candid with your Substack. Your first entry so far. Starting about the narrative of the dumb jock athlete and going now into some of the hesitancy with the COVID vaccine. What's prompted you to go and move in this direction to use your voice in this way through Substack?

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think that lives are at stake. It's important here. People are dying. The ignorance that has been perpetrated, and the misinformation that has been spread around everywhere that has made it impossible for people to get an understanding of what's going on. People who say they haven't finished doing the research yet really haven't done any research, because it's very clear here. You know, look at Texas. Look at Florida. The states with the least amount of vaccination have the highest rate in the COVID epidemic. One relates to the other.

And this affects Black Americans more than it affects any other group. So, you know, it's imperative that we understand that that's what's happening, and we do everything we can to fight this. And masks and vaccinations are the best way for us to fight this.

VINCENT GOODWILL: You're right. Whenever someone says that they're doing the research, I can picture someone with a beaker and a syringe and working in a lab somewhere trying to figure out something that the world's greatest scientists have not. Especially African-American scientists who helped develop this vaccine.

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Yes.

VINCENT GOODWILL: Are you a little disappointed from the standpoint that it's big voices. It's Kyrie Irving, Bradley Beal, guys who you know have been civic minded have spoken out over the past year through some of the things that happened with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. They have been some of the greatest voices. Yet they are some of the greatest voices in the hesitancy movement. Are you disappointed that it's those guys that have been largely speaking-- not necessarily speaking out for the vaccine or speaking out against it, but just their own personal situations?

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think they made it impossible for us to understand what they're saying. You know, what is important here? People dying or the fact that they want to be private about getting vaccinated? Any player who elects not to comply with local vaccination mandates will not be paid for the games that he misses. That's from the commissioner's office. So, you know, this is not just a game that they're playing. This is important. And people have to understand what's going on here.

The information that you need is not that hard to get, and you'll see that the vaccines are safe. And they're effective. That's all you got to know. Save your life, don't transfer it to someone in your family that you love and care for, and you'd have to live with the fact that you helped transmit it to that person. We don't want that to happen. So let's get with it.

VINCENT GOODWILL: One of the things that the league talked about was they wanted to Institute a mandate for the COVID 19 vaccine. They said it was a nonstarter with the union. Do you sit on that it should be mandated from the union or do you believe that the union should keep the league out of that particular realm? But that all players should also be vaccinated? Is that a tightrope that the league and the union are walking here?

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: I'd like to see some cooperation. You know, I'd like to see them work together and make sure the league is going to look out for the players. The front offices are going to look out for the game and the integrity of the game. And if everybody stays in their compartment and does the right thing, it will come out right. And that's what's been happening so far. So that's why I have confidence. You know, they have done a great job anticipating what the next issue is and getting ready for it.

VINCENT GOODWILL: You're right about that. And going to your former team, the team you retired with, the Lakers. LeBron being the statesman for the league, he came out a couple of days ago and said that, yes he is vaccinated, but he doesn't want to be viewed as like a spokesperson to tell especially Black Americans that Black Americans should be vaccinated. Is that a hard line for someone like him to walk, where you can turn it on and off of being a servant for the public?

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think LeBron can because of his record. Look at what he's done. So he doesn't speak as a spokesperson for getting vaccinated, but he is speaking as a parent and a father and someone who has to care for his family. And in that context, he got vaccinated and he got his family vaccinated. So there's a lot of ways to skin this cat, but we've got to get the message across.

VINCENT GOODWILL: Absolutely. You've been up front. Mr Russell, Bill Russell has been up front. Jerry West and also Gregg Popovich, when you talk about some of the respected figures in the NBA's past and present, you guys have gotten in front of it. Why did you consider it so important to be vocal about this? Even though you've been vocal, you know, since you've stepped into the public eye?

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, a lot of people are relating back to the Tuskegee incident where Black Americans were denied treatment and allowed to die. This is different. This is something where we have to get treatment. We have to go and be aggressive about getting treated and doing the right thing for our communities. Getting treated so that this just does not become the overwhelming disaster that it could become.

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