Thriving Despite Adversity
- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar turns is celebrating his 76th birthday.
- A six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, he previously held the all-time leading NBA scoring record.
- Over the years, Abdul-Jabbar has beaten prostate cancer after detecting it early.
- He has also survived leukemia and deals with a heart condition called atrial fibrillation, or AFib.
- By opening up about his health battles, he’s educated many people and brought awareness to disparities in healthcare.
Today, the world celebrates 76 years of Abdul-Jabbar. And in those years, we’ve seen him accomplish quite a lot.Read More
On this day 39 years ago, I passed Wilt Chamberlain to set a new NBA scoring record. Two months ago, LeBron James passed my record. That's exactly how it should be: athletes constantly pushing each other to prove there are no limits of human achievement. #Lakers #UtahJazz #NBAâ€¦ pic.twitter.com/6bkXz4QK7c
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) April 5, 2023
“On this day 39 years ago, I passed Wilt Chamberlain to set a new NBA scoring record,” he Tweeted on April 5, 2023. “Two months ago, LeBron James passed my record. That's exactly how it should be: athletes constantly pushing each other to prove there are no limits of human achievement.”
Abdul-Jabbar is also big on philanthropy and community outreach. Just last month, he paid a visit to Oakland, California, to congratulate two high school basketball teams on their state championship wins and speak with them about the importance of education.
Oakland Tech and Oakland High state championship teams have a special guest join in on their team photos. @kaj33 is speaking to both teams.
My guy in the front showing off his skyhook formðŸ˜‚ pic.twitter.com/musVImJSN2
Charlie Walter (@CharlieWalterTV) March 29, 2023
“My hope is that they get an understanding that education is the key to success and that science, engineering, technology and math are good fields to focus on,” he said.
“I think this is a very important lesson for all kids in the inner city, and I try to get around and give a good message that will have some success, I hope, at the end of it.”
In addition, Abdul-Jabbar has continued to share his written thoughts on things that matter to him both within and outside the world of basketball.
With his featured publication for the onlince platform Substack since 2022, he’s been talking about everything from gun control to Academy Award nominations to womens rights.
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“My years as a basketball player defined me, but my years as a writer refined me,” he writes on his Substack bio.
“Sports gave me a public voice and I have been using it since my years at UCLA to speak up and out about social injustice. That voice was amplified when I was chosen as U.S. Global Cultural Ambassdor and when I received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama.
“For me, those honors were just opportunities to continue the fight for doing what's right. That is how I slam-dunk these days.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Health Battles
On top of it all, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a major healthcare advocate. He’s used his platform to educate others about various diseases and conditions as well as disparities in healthcare, as he’s faced many health issues himself.
One of his health battles has been with chronic myeloid leukemia.
He was diagnosed in 2008 after dealing with hot flashes and sweats. In 2018, he told People he was prescribed a "targeted group of medication" for the blood cancer that he was still taking daily.
He later explained that “precision medicine was used to focus on the genetic mutation driving my disease.”
"In my case, what we say is I've managed it down to a microscopic level,” he told People in 2018. “There are no bad white blood cells, and that's how we discuss the type of management that I do, which enables me to say that I'm healthy."
Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer of the white blood cells. In CML, blast cells (or immature white blood cells) form and uncontrollably multiply and divide. This change in cells creates an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which is responsible for turning healthy cells into CML cells.
As the disease progresses, CML cells crowd out healthy cells and eventually build up and spill over into the blood. CML cells can also land in other areas of the body, among them the spleen, intestinal tract, kidneys and lungs.
Although CML usually grows fairly slowly, it can also turn into a faster-growing acute leukemia. When this happens, CML may become more difficult to treat.
With early diagnosis and treatment, experts say the prognosis for the disease is very good.
Abdul-Jabbar is also a prostate cancer survivor. In September 2020, he opened up about being diagnosed 11 years prior.
“I beat it because I was screened and it was detected early,” he said in a video for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
In announcing his previous prostate cancer battle, Abdul-Jabbar also made sure to highlight the systemic racism that perpetuates our healthcare systems.
“I've been fortunate because my celebrity has brought me enough financial security to receive excellent medical attention. No one wants an NBA legend dying on their watch. Imagine the Yelp reviews,” he wrote.
“I'm also lucky that one of my sons is an orthopedic surgeon and another is a hospital administrator. Dad gets to nag them for medical advice whenever he wants.
“But while I'm grateful for my advantages, I'm acutely aware that many others in the Black community do not have the same options and that it is my responsibility to join with those fighting to change that. Because Black lives are at risk. Serious risk.”
Most recently, Abdul-Jabbar has been dealing with atrial fibrillation, or AFib.
According to the Mayo Clinic, AFib is “an irregular and often very rapid heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots in the heart.”
Some people with AFib don’t notice any symptoms, but signs and symptoms of the condition can include:
- Sensations of a fast, fluttering or pounding heartbeat (palpitations)
- Chest pain
- Reduced ability to exercise
- Shortness of breath
It’s important to always bring up any symptoms you may be having to your doctors. AFib is a serious medical condition that increases a person’s risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications, so it requires treatment.
Possible treatment options include medications, therapy to reset the heart rhythm and catheter procedures to block faulty heart signals.
"When the doctor first told me that I had AFib, that I had to start doing certain things differently, I didn't want to believe him," Abdul-Jabbar said.
"I just felt that it was something that was going to go away, and that my lifetime of athletic effort would help me past this pointâ€¦But, I'm just like anybody else, and I need to treat it the right way."
In March 2023, Abdul-Jabbar said he had been able to manage his symptoms and avoid any other issues since his diagnosis. “[Hoping] to keep it that way,” he has been eating healthy, drinking more water and taking his medicines.
"If I can do that, I can maintain my healthy lifestyle," he said.