Kareem Abdul Jabbar battles leukemia, books about the hoops legend.

Rather than fighting Bruce Lee, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is battling cancer.

NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar announced yesterday that he is undergoing treatment for a rare form of leukemia.

The league’s only six-time MVP said his prognosis is optimistic.

This is only the latest in a series of setbacks for Abdul-Jabbar, who was the league’s all-time leading scorer when he retired in 1989.

In 1983 his home was consumed in a fire, taking with it his valuable collection of oriental rugs and 3,000 jazz albums.  This contributed to his bankruptcy four years later.

Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball ranks Abdul-Jabbar as the third greatest player of all time-behind Bill Russell and Michael Jordan, and ahead of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird-but only after calling him a ‘ninny’ about 200 times during the course of the 700-page book.

David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game recounts the incident after Johnson’s first game as a pro. The then-20-year-old hugged Abdul-Jabbar after the center hit a game winning skyhook.  “You’ve got to pace yourself,” the veteran told the rookie, in essence.

Abdul-Jabbar’s basketball exploits and cameo appearance in Airplane, the legendarily politically incorrect film in which an El Al flight had a beard and an elderly white woman “spoke jive” with a young Samuel L. Jackson, are well known.

But his The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII’s Forgotten Heroes is not.

That’s too bad, because this accessible book recovers the forgotten story of the all-black battalion that served in the Battle of the Bulge and other European campaigns. Abdul-Jabbar learned about the battalion from a family friend during his childhood.  His purpose in writing the book was to honor their service by letting a younger generation know what they had done.

Although as a Celtics fan I had a visceral dislike for Abdul-Jabbar during my childhood and remember fans mobbing him as they stormed the floor after the Celtics’ victory in Game 7 of the NBA championship series, I do wish him well in his recovery and do recommend that people read his book.



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