Kareem Discusses His Film
The Hall of Famer on his film, Carmelo and his role in NBA history.
SLAM: That situation sounds similar if you look at Carmelo’s situation when he was in Denver. Is it fair for a player to determine where he wants to play next, even if it’s through a trade?
KAJ: Well, you know as long as the player lives up to the terms of his contract, as long as he plays hard and gives a good, honest effort every time he goes out there and lives up to the terms of his contract. When it comes time for him to have the opportunity to move on, or stay, that’s a business decision. Basketball, at that point, is a business.
I thought Carmelo handled it really well. He knew that he wanted to move on, and he never started dogging it, in terms of not living up to the terms of his contract with the Nuggets. He was at a point where he wanted to move on. It was a business decision to him; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
SLAM: I’ve always identified you with the evolution of the NBA more than any other player, just for the fact that you came in the year after [Bill] Russell retired and you left right before [Michael] Jordan hit the height of his dominance. Do you ever reflect on your role in the NBA during its evolution from the ’70s and through the ’80s?
KAJ: Yeah, sometimes I do. It was a really interesting time because when I came into the NBA it was still more or less the NBA of the 1960s, and when I left the NBA, the NBA was going on to the ’90s to become a very popular and special professional sport. So, I saw a lot of change. I think starting with the ’79-’80 season the NBA really started to take on a big role in terms of public awareness. People really enjoyed the dominant teams of that era — the Celtics, 76ers, Lakers, San Antonio. There were a number of good teams. Seattle, the Bullets. There were a lot of really good teams. So, it was nice to see the NBA evolve and overcome its third-place status among the major sports in America.
SLAM: Have you witnessed any players try to emulate your skyhook during a practice or any other situation?
KAJ: You know, Magic asked me to show me how to shoot it, and I showed him. He was able to use it to a pretty good effect. There’s only one other players nowadays that kind of shoots it like I did — LaMarcus Aldridge. It’s a great shot. I don’t think too many players use it now because the coaches teaching kids today seem to be only teaching guard skills. They teach how to play facing the basket, shooting jump shots — the jump shot is the dominant shot now. It makes it kind of hard to get the knowledge to teach this generation about playing with your back to the basket and using a different array of weapons. That has to do with the evolution of the game. But human physiology hasn’t changed. It’s still a great shot if you’re going against somebody — especially if you’re going against somebody taller than you are. It’s a great shot to use.
SLAM: What do you remember about your time witnessing basketball games in Harlem?
KAJ: Well, I used to see the Rucker League, starting in the early ’60s. The big game every summer for the Rucker League was against the Baker League from Philadelphia. That was a special contest. But in Harlem, the Rucker summer tournament is very popular. I saw Wilt Chamberlain’s team, some of the teams that had great New York City urban legends — I watched them play. It was a lot of fun.
SLAM: I recently wrote a story for SLAMonline about NBA players and teams using yoga. You used yoga for most of your career — is that correct?
KAJ: Yes, basically starting about the time I got traded to the Lakers. I was going through the Bikram Yoga College of India — they call it hot yoga now. It was a good experience for me. I’d say my ability to retire when I wanted to retire had a lot to do with the fact that I incorporated yoga training into my regimen. It really helped me in a lot of ways.
SLAM: I couldn’t let you go without asking you about the NCAA Tournament and your time at UCLA. Is there a game in particular from the three tournaments you played in that stands out among others?
KAJ: Oh yeah, UCLA vs. Houston in 1968. We beat Houston in the Astrodome. By winning that game…Houston seemed to convince everybody in the country that they were the best team. And the UCLA Bruins had a totally different opinion on that subject, and we were anxious for an opportunity to show people what we were talking about. It all worked out very well. We played them in the semifinal and showed them who was the best team.
SLAM: Do you still keep a close association with UCLA?
KAJ: Um, yes and no. The university has asked me to do some public announcements, and I’ve done that for them. I don’t go to too many games; I am in contact with the guys that I played with. I do have some contact with the present regime and friends of the people in charge with the basketball program.
SLAM: I just want to leave you with a final question about On The Shoulders of Giants. Are there any other points you would like to make about this film and your role in it?
KAJ: I’m glad there is some interest now in knowing what the landscape was like back in the 1920s and ’30s. I hope people enjoy watching the documentary and hopefully some of them will take a peek in the books and see what was happening at that time. It’s very interesting stuff.