Sometimes, even the NBA’s all-time leading scorer misses an easy one.
The coolest thing about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is that being one of the greatest basketball players of all time isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him. He’s an actor, writer, activist, ambassador, and creator of the most efficient and unguardable shots basketball has ever seen — the skyhook.
But, his most recent take on what happened between Will Smith and Chris Rock at the Oscars was an airball.
On Monday, “Cap” wrote a piece titled, “Will Smith Did a Bad, Bad Thing” on Substack that explained why he feels that “the slap” was a blow to the Black community. It was another of the countless think pieces, columns, and takes that have been expressed since Sunday night. Everybody has something to say about “the slap,” and feels that his or her opinion deserves its moment in the conversation.
At this point, it would be a waste of energy to try to change someone’s mind on how they feel about Smith, Rock, or Jada. No matter how insane or stupid their takes may be, people feel how they feel. But, in actuality, all this moment really did was provide us with information on who can and can’t fight, who has and hasn’t been in a physical confrontation, who will defend themselves if need be, and who would rather file charges than handle the matter themselves. Common ground is scarce here, so stop looking for it.
However, what Abdul-Jabbar wrote wasn’t just annoying, it was infuriating, condescending, and belittling to Black America. It was an outdated take that too many older Black people have about respectability politics, and how the actions of one Black person are responsible for all Black people under the white gaze, which is most often times a racist one that won’t change — even if we do everything right and are/were considered one of “the good ones” like Smith.
“From everything I’d seen of Pinkett Smith over the years, she’s a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote as if he lives in the Smith household and knows the inner workings that woman and her marriage from afar, despite all the details they’ve publicly shared over the years. Newsflash, just because you’re tough and capable, it doesn’t mean that you are required to continually be the butt of someone’s terrible joke and an unpaid prop for the public’s entertainment.
“The Black community also takes a direct hit from Smith. One of the main talking points from those supporting the systemic racism in America is characterizing Blacks as more prone to violence and less able to control their emotions. Smith just gave comfort to the enemy by providing them with the perfect optics they were dreaming of,” Abdul-Jabbar continued. To him, the optics of “the slap” between two Black men did more damage than the optics of Charlottesville, Derek Chauvin, Kyle Rittenhouse, January 6th, or what we had to watch Ketanji Brown Jackson endure during her Supreme Court nomination hearings.
And this is from a man who has a son that was sentenced to 180 days in jail last year for stabbing his neighbor over a dispute about some damn trash cans.
This isn’t one of those situations where an older person scolds a younger generation for not living up to a standard or being the old angry man yelling from his yard. What Abdul-Jabbar did was something that’s called “punching down,” which is something he’s done before. In December, he was upset at LeBron James for doing the Sam Cassell “big balls dance” after hitting a dagger 3-pointer against the Pacers that closed out an overtime win in Indiana.
“Why do you need to do a stupid, childish dance? It doesn’t make sense.....GOATs don’t dance,” Abdul-Jabbar asked?
Well, why are you upset that the man that’s going to dethrone you as the game’s all-time leading scorer is still having fun playing a kid’s game?
Of all the things that are going on right now in the world, a man that became an icon by always being on the forefront of important things has too often been concerned with trivial matters.
At the end of his op-ed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks about how he’d always been a fan of Will Smith, but that the Oscars have forever skewed how he will see him. “But it will be difficult to watch the next movie without remembering this sad performance,” he said.
Well, what if we all did that? Judged people for one minor mistake instead of seeing their humanity in totality. Because if we did, it would mean that the greatest center of all time would be remembered for his awful takes instead of his skyhook and the champion he was on and off the court.