The six-time NBA MVP, who converted to Islam in 1968, discusses the public's reaction to Muslim athletes today and how he expanded his career as an author after retiring in 1989.
MAGGIE GRAY:What do you think the response would be today if a high-profile athlete converted to Islam?
KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: I don't think there should be any great uproar about it, unless that person started talking about some of the horrible things that certain people who claim to be Muslim do. As long as that person could be themselves and be an upstanding citizen, I think they should be allowed to have their religious freedom.... [Their religion] doesn't have to be something that makes us alienate them, unless they take a hostile or contrary attitude to being a U.S. citizen.
MG:Do you feel like you were immediately accepted when you converted 47 years ago?
KA: I don't know if I was accepted immediately, but I think as time went on, people saw that I was not being political with my decision, so they just left me alone—as long as I wasn't trying to cause any chaos or make political hay out of it.
MG:What was it like to walk away from the game after a 20-year pro career?
KA: There were a number of things I wanted to do that I couldn't do while I was still playing, mainly spending more time with my kids. Still, after a while you have to find something to do to keep from going crazy. For me, writing has also been an outlet. My first history book, Black Profiles in Courage, was published in 1996. From then on I just stuck with writing. It's very cathartic for me because there are a lot of things I want to say.
For more of Abdul-Jabbar's interview, plus the SI Now archive, go to SI.com/sinow
"I think they should be allowed their religious freedom."
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