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HBO preparing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar documentary

By Rich Heldenfels Published: May 14, 2014

The basketball legend and social force remains an outspoken presence.  The official word: HBO Sports and Mandalay Sports Media, in association with Iconomy® Multi-Media & Entertainment, have begun production and commenced photography in Los Angeles on a documentary about the life and career of Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the National Basketball Association’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, and six-time MVP and world champion.

Scheduled to debut in early 2015 on HBO, the film will be directed by Ron Yassen, produced by Deborah Morales, whose credits include the award-winning documentary “On the Shoulders of Giants,” and executive produced by Mike Tollin, whose credits include the Oscar®-nominated documentary “Hank Aaron: Chasing The Dream,” the hit HBO series “Arli$$” and such feature films as “Coach Carter,” “Radio” and “Varsity Blues.” The documentary on Abdul-Jabbar will spotlight an athlete who had unparalleled impact on and success in basketball, and has journeyed through many controversial and landmark moments over the past 50 years.

“Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a legendary figure and an American sports icon,” says Ken Hershman, president, HBO Sports. “While he has lived so much of his life in the media spotlight, his extraordinary story has never been explored in depth, and we are grateful to Kareem and his team for allowing us to bring this story to life.”

Tollin, co-chairman of Mandalay Sports Media, says the film will “reveal the complexity and genius of Kareem both on and off the court. By his own admission, Abdul-Jabbar has had a complicated and occasionally hostile relationship with the media. This is a unique opportunity to tell all sides of his story.”

Ferdinand Lewis (Lew) Alcindor, Jr. was born in New York City in 1947. After leading his high school team to three consecutive New York City Catholic championships, the 7’1” Alcindor headed west to play for John Wooden and the UCLA Bruins, where he dominated college basketball like never before. Alcindor was a two-time Player of the Year (1967, 1969) and a three-time First-Team All-American (1967-69), setting multiple UCLA records, including highest scoring average (29 points per game) and most points in a single game (61). During his three years on the UCLA varsity team, Alcindor and the Bruins were 88-2 and won three consecutive NCAA Championships.

He remains the only player in history to be named Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament three years in a row and received the first Naismith College Player of the Year Award. After the slam dunk was banned, Alcindor crafted one of the most remarkable collegiate careers in history with his signature skyhook shot. But he was also no stranger to controversy, and did not shy away from taking an unpopular stand when he felt compelled to address cultural and political issues.

Drafted No. 1 overall by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks and the ABA’s New York Nets in 1969, Alcindor opted for the NBA, where he captured Rookie of the Year honors in 1970. In 1971, he continued his winning ways alongside newly acquired guard Oscar Robertson, and won the NBA Championship, as well as his first NBA scoring title, NBA MVP and NBA Finals MVP.

After winning the NBA Championship, Alcindor officially changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The NBA superstar attributed the name change to his family’s lineage from slavery and the importance of Islamic tradition during that trying time in American history.

In 1974, he requested a trade to a more diverse market and went to the Los Angeles Lakers, where the future NBA Hall of Famer became world-renowned, later pairing with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr., the first overall draft pick in 1979. During the ensuing era, the Lakers became one of the most famous and glamorous teams in NBA history. Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers won five of their eight appearances in the NBA Finals. In 1989, after playing 20 professional seasons and scoring 38,387 points, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar retired.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s successes didn’t end with his playing days. He has never been shy about speaking candidly on a wide variety of subjects and expanding his intellectual and personal horizons beyond the hardwood. Abdul-Jabbar has appeared in dozens of TV shows and movies, often lampooning his own persona, as in memorable cameos in “Airplane!” and “Game of Death,” Bruce Lee’s final film. He has also written eight books, four of them New York Times bestsellers. In Jan. 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appointed him a Cultural Ambassador for the United States.

Abdul-Jabbar’s personal journey dovetails with an explosive period in American history. He was – and remains – equipped with a unique and remarkable perspective through which to interpret the past half-century of the country’s narrative. This film will provide an intimate glimpse at Abdul-Jabbar through incisive interviews and rare archival footage.

Noted for its unique storytelling ability, HBO Sports has collected 33 Sports Emmy® Awards for production excellence in the documentary genre and has won the Sports Emmy® for Outstanding Documentary in five of the last seven years.

 

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