What are the main ideas of Becoming Kareem?

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In this memoir, basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s story is specifically directed to young readers. It follows him from his childhood and youth as Lew Alcindor, through his conversion and related name change, to his early career.

Abdul-Jabbar stresses that his early childhood was no indicator of his future tremendous success. He is straightforward about negative experiences from having an introverted personality, and the tightly disciplined household in which he was raised. While he credits basketball with helping him through the difficult teenage years, he does not promote the idea that playing sports is a panacea for all adolescents. Abdul-Jabbar is also straightforward in discussing the racism he faced on a daily basis.

The book emphasizes the importance of positive role models, especially adults who will mentor children but also older or more experienced adults in later phases. Many of these were his sports coaches, but he uses the term more broadly for people he admired and who set the bar high so that he was inspired to reach upward. The main individuals he discusses, in addition to his parents, are two coaches, Jack Donahue and John Wooden, as well as Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee.

Beyond his achievements in sports, Abdul-Jabbar credits Ali and other figures with inspiring his ongoing dedication to social justice issues of all kinds, not limited to racially-focused civil rights goals. Even as players cannot excel without other strong team members, social change cannot be effected without broad-based participation to helping the diverse communities of which all people are members.

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