Abdul-Jabbar glad he went public with leukemia diagnosis

By Beth Harris, AP
Sunday, November 15, 2009

Abdul-Jabbar surprised by reax to leukemia news

LOS ANGELES — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is glad he went public about being treated for a rare form of leukemia because it has given him a chance to reconnect with people.

The NBA’s career scoring leader said Sunday that since his recent announcement he has been stopped by people in public who wish him well and encourage him about his condition.

“The response has been really intense,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to play out this way, but it’s been wonderful. I’ve got people’s prayers and their support and they ask what they can do. People just want to connect and it’s been beautiful.”

Their reaction has taken the 62-year-old six-time NBA MVP by surprise. Abdul-Jabbar was known for being introverted and sullen during his 20-year playing career, often refusing to talk to the media. As a result, he has been a low-profile presence since retiring in 1989 despite his stellar basketball accomplishments at UCLA and in the NBA.

Abdul-Jabbar said he’s in good spirits about his future because the chronic myeloid leukemia is in remission. He was diagnosed last December.

“I’m not dealing with a death sentence and that’s one thing that was very important for me to communicate with everyone, that this condition can be managed,” he said. “Too many people don’t understand that.”

Several of his former teammates and opponents from his NBA days have reached out to him and Abdul-Jabbar said he is appreciative.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Abdul-Jabbar had confided his condition to him before the public announcement.

“We’re obviously empathetic toward what he’s going through,” Jackson said.

He plans on continuing his job as a special assistant coach with the NBA champion Lakers, working on a documentary based on his last book, “On the Shoulders of Giants” about the Harlem renaissance, and keeping in touch with his five children ranging in age from 18 to 37.

Abdul-Jabbar said he hasn’t closed on the door on being a head coach in the NBA, a job that has eluded him for years.

“I really need to deal with what I’m dealing with now and I really can’t pursue it,” he said. “I got a full plate right now.”

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