ICONOCLASTS season finale: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar + Chuck D
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is Chuck D’s hero.
Of course, he’s a lot of people’s hero. Indisputably one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Abdul-Jabbar has six NBA championships, eight MVP awards and more career points than anyone else (33,387). His jersey number, 33, was retired by his alma mater, UCLA, and both of the pro teams he played for, the Milwaukee Bucks and the L.A. Lakers. But that’s just for starters; learn more about what makes him truly extraordinary on tonight’s powerful season finale of ICONOCLASTS.
Abdul-Jabbar is a bestselling author, a cultural ambassador and an intergenerational role model. As Chuck D puts it, “He’s transcended what he’s known for.” And Chuck D should know — he wrote a fifth-grade book report on him. He says he dreamed of going to UCLA “because he had UCLA on his chest; I didn’t even know what UCLA was.”
“Mr. K has been famous for 50 years,” says Chuck D. “He changes the atmosphere around him.”
The rapper, producer and activist first met his hero on an airplane — as a passenger, not a pilot (the 1980 classic comedy AIRPLANE! is hardly Abdul-Jabbar’s only screen credit, but it’s probably his funniest).
That’s just one of the many ways he has been “very influential in shaping American culture,” as Chuck D says. The same could be said for Chuck D himself.
As a member of Public Enemy, he helped form the sound of early hip-hop and the political consciousness of countless kids (as well as a few of their parents).
Chuck D started out as part of a DJ’ing unit that strove to use music to disseminate information to the radio-listening audience — especially young black people who lacked a sense of where they came from (who would ask, for example, who Malcolm “the tenth” was.) “If we don’t have a sense of any of our history,” he says, “we will never be post-racial.”
Both New Yorkers — Abdul-Jabbar was born in Harlem and loved the Brooklyn Dodgers; Chuck D grew up on Long Island — they share an appreciation for the cultural impact of the Harlem Renaissance. “I think it’s important for the black community to have everyone understand that we have contributed a lot to what makes America a great place,” says Abdul-Jabbar.
The first song Chuck D wrote for Public Enemy was “Timebomb,” and its first line was, “You go ooh and ahh when I jump in my car/People treat me like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”
In the episode, Chuck D strolls through Abdul-Jabbar’s collection of memorabilia — including his very first little league trophy — which he took on tour to raise money for his Skyhook Foundation.
Perhaps most impressive of all is his stack of championship rings. “They accumulate, I guess,” says Abdul-Jabbar. “… Or they just don’t come at all,” pipes in Chuck D.
Abdul-Jabbar describes Chuck D as “a leader and a teacher — someone who makes people think. Being able to use his art in that way, I think, is a great achievement.” And Chuck D returns the favor: “I always learn things when I’m with Mr. K. He’s like an immense sea of influence and knowledge and humanity… I’ve learned so much from him, as a man.”
Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered how Abdul-Jabbar developed that legendary skyhook shot, the answer is — well, we’ll let you find out for yourselves tonight, as we bid farewell to another inspiring season of ICONOCLASTS. Who would you like to see featured next time around?
Sundance Channel and Grey Goose Entertainment present ICONOCLASTS every Tuesday at 8P.