TIME Parenting

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Not Everyone in the Village Is Worthy of Raising a Child

Minnesota Viking v Tennessee Titans
Running back Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings looks on during a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on Aug. 28, 2014 in Nashville. Ronald C. Modra—Sports Imagery/Getty Images

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. He is also a celebrated author, filmmaker and education ambassador.

The five most destructive words to our village are 'That’s how I was raised'

We’re constantly told that it takes a village to raise a child. But when I look at the recent epidemic of domestic violence charges against NFL players, I’m convinced we need to take another look at those in our village whom we allow to help raise our children. Not just at those who commit these terrible acts, but also those apologists in the media and sports industry who, either through their fuzzy logic or their desperate need to pander to their demographics, perpetuate a permissive attitude toward domestic violence.

First, we need to look at Ray Rice, Jonathan Dwyer, Adrian Peterson, and other professional athletes who have recently been caught engaging in illegal and unacceptable acts of violence and reevaluate how we treat them in our village. Like it or not, professional athletes, movie stars, and recording artists are role models for our youth. And being a role model translates into big bucks because kids are willing to spend money to come see them perform as well as on products they endorse. That’s one of the reasons they get paid so much money.

The NFL, NBA, and other professional sports organizations encourage this ideal of role model by touting their players’ charitable and community activities, which often seems like part of a branding campaign rather than a sincere drive to contribute. I don’t think entertainers (which is what professional athletes are) should be promoted as role models for our children because many of them don’t have the maturity, self-control, desire, or training to accept that responsibility. Athletes should be models of how to play their sport and nothing more. The exceptions would be those few who distinguish themselves by taking an active and admirable role in bettering their communities, as Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali did.

Unfortunately, as long as there’s more money to be made off a role model than just an athlete, the hype will continue. And we will continue to be shocked and outraged every time an athlete is caught punching, slapping, and spanking.

Maybe we should direct our outrage elsewhere:

Outrage #1: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and other apologists claim that this whole cluster-flub at least brought awareness to the problem of domestic abuse. This is disingenuous on a couple levels. In the Ray Rice case, the NFL and the Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti did their best to (at the very least) ignore evidence of domestic abuse. And, at worst, they may have covered it up so there would be no awareness. That’s like getting caught flashing people while wearing nothing but a trench coat — and then wanting credit for bringing trench coats back in fashion.

Outrage #2: Why does it take TMZ to bring awareness of domestic violence? The awareness should have been there all along. For years we’ve seen the statistics, the photos of bruised and battered women and children, heard their testimonies of relentless abuse. We’ve had books and songs and Lifetime movies. Didn’t we learn about that from the O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, and Hope Solo cases? Donald Sterling displayed racists behavior before TMZ released those tapes. Racism and class struggle and police profiling have been a constant and humiliating practice long before Ferguson. Once the media furor dies down, do we just revert back to our default setting of closing our eyes until the next media-ready event occurs?

Can’t we fight injustice without TMZ? By that I mean that we have to keep the pressure on even when there are no cameras rolling. The NFL has instituted changes, they tell us, with panels and experts and transparency. Before, they relied on public lethargy. A player smacked a spouse, it was reported in the news, a minor punishment followed, the public forgot. Now that they’re promising more transparency, I worry that they have more incentive to bury any incidents, hiding them completely rather than risking another protracted public inspection. While they will undoubtedly assure us that this will not be the case, their past performance does not inspire confidence.

Outrage #3: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hit his four-year-old son with a thin part of a branch and was indicted for reckless or negligent injury. This has sparked a national debate on the effectiveness and ethics of spanking. Worse, thanks to commentators like Charles Barkley, the debate has degenerated into a race issue. “I’m from the South,” Barkley explained on TV. “Whipping—we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

The five most destructive words to our village are “That’s how I was raised.”

These words are the triumph of routine over reason, of self-delusion over self-interest, of excuses over evidence. In short, the phrase embodies the kind of muddled thinking that our culture “officially” stands against because doing something just because “that’s how I was raised” is the definition of hive mentality. It’s celebrating the joys of brainwashing over rational decision-making.

Most people embrace these words with great pride when it reflects their core values of being hard working, compassionate, patriotic, religious, or family-oriented. But they condemn anyone else who uses them when it goes against accepted American tradition. When a man straps on a bomb, climbs on a school bus, and detonates, some would justify his behavior by saying that his actions were an outgrowth of how he was raised. When a teenager drags a black man to his death behind his truck, some make the same claim. When a group of teens tie a gay boy to a fence and beat him to death, their actions reflect how they were raised.

Barkley may be accurate in his description of the South, and not just among African-Americans. According to an ABC poll, 73% of Southerners approve spanking children, as opposed to 60% in the rest of the country. Where he’s wrong is in justifying spanking (“We all spanked our kids.”) in light of what we know today about the harmful effects of spanking:

  • Spanking may stop certain behavior, but it makes long-term behavior worse.
  • Children who are hit are more likely to use violence to resolve problems with siblings and peers.
  • The Canadian Medical Association Journal analyzed 20 years of data and concluded that spanking yields no positive outcome.
  • The journal Pediatrics said that “harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders.”
  • One study concluded that frequent spanking (once a month for more than 3 years) resulted in children having less gray matter in certain areas of the brain “linked to depression, addiction, and other mental health disorders.” Another found that spanking affected the brain by decreasing cognitive ability.

This is not a condemnation of those who have sparingly used light spanking in the past, before such research was available. But it’s been out there for at least a decade now and any responsible parent wanting to use corporal punishment should at least do the research. Watching Sean Hannity beat his desk with his belt while proclaiming that being whipped with a belt by his father had not left him mentally abused should be all the proof necessary of its detrimental effects.

Additionally, watching the NFL play Twister with the truth, contorting their statements and explanations into some tortured Gordian knot of misinformation is to witness one of the standard bearers of influence on our children undermine everything they are supposed represent: fair play, work ethic, compassion in the face of competition. That’s part of what they sell to the American public and therefore they are obliged to actually do something when that promise is threatened.

Yes, it takes a village to raise a child. But not everyone in the village is worthy of the task.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). He also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Race

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Bruce Levenson Isn’t a Racist; He’s a Businessman

Bruce Levenson
Atlanta Hawks co-owner Bruce Levenson Dave Tulis—AP

Sure, there are assumptions he makes that are cringeworthy—but the questions about how to attract more white fans were entirely reasonable.

Well, the pitchforks are already sharpened and the torches lit anyway, so rather than let them go to waste, why not drag another so-called racist before the court of public opinion and see how much ratings-grabbing, head-shaking and race-shaming we can squeeze out of it? After all, the media got so much gleeful, hand-wringing mileage out of Don Sterling and Michael Brown.

The only problem is that Atlanta Hawks controlling owner Bruce Levenson is no Donald Sterling. Nor is his email racist. In fact, his worst crime is misguided white guilt.

I read Levenson’s email. Here’s what I concluded: Levenson is a businessman asking reasonable questions about how to put customers in seats. In the email, addressed to Hawks president Danny Ferry, Levenson wonders whether (according to his observations) the emphasis on hip-hop and gospel music and the fact that the cheerleaders are black, the bars are filled with 90% blacks, kiss cams focus on black fans and time-out contestants are always black has an effect on keeping away white fans.

From left: Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Dominique Wilkins Courtesy of Iconomy, LLC

Seems reasonable to ask those questions. If his arena was filled mostly with whites and he wanted to attract blacks, wouldn’t he be asking how they could de-emphasize white culture and bias toward white contestants and cheerleaders? Don’t you think every corporation in America that is trying to attract a more diverse customer base is discussing how to feature more blacks or Asians or Latinos in their TV ads?

Back when the original Law & Order first launched, there was a cast shake-up that added more women, reportedly in an effort to attract more female viewers. MTV shows like Finding Carter and Teen Wolf can’t get through an emotional scene without a pop song coming in to sing to the viewer what they should be feeling, because that’s what their demographic wants. Car companies hire specialized advertising agencies to create ads to appeal specifically to women, blacks and Latinos. That’s business.

Sure, there are a few assumptions he makes that make me cringe a little. For example: “My theory is that the black crowd scared away the whites and there are simply not enough affluent black fans to build a significant season ticket base.” On the other hand, I have no evidence that he’s wrong on either count. Even if he is, the question still needed to be raised, because racism is a realistic possibility as to why whites in Atlanta may not be coming.

To Levenson’s credit, in that same paragraph, he dismisses fans who complained about the arena’s site as code for racist fear that “there are too many blacks at the games.” He further decries the white perception that even though the percentage of blacks in attendance had lessened, they still feel it’s higher and therefore somehow threatening. His outrage seems authentic.

Businesspeople should have the right to wonder how to appeal to diverse groups in order to increase business. They should even be able to make minor insensitive gaffes if there is no obvious animosity or racist intent. This is a business email that is pretty harmless in terms of insulting anyone — and pretty fascinating in terms of seeing how the business of running a team really works.

The thing that makes me mad is that Levenson was too quick to rend his clothing and shout mea culpa. In his apology, he wrote, “By focusing on race, I also sent the unintentional and hurtful message that our white fans are more valuable than our black fans.” But that’s not the message in the email at all. If the seats had been filled, even if by all blacks, the email wouldn’t have been written. He wasn’t valuing white fans over blacks; he was trying to figure out a way to change what he thought was the white perception in Atlanta so he could sell more tickets. That’s his job.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). He also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Media

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: America’s Dark Obsession With Vigilante Justice

DEXTER
Showtime's Dexter Christian Weber—Showtime

Our belief that the government wants to help us achieve fairness is lower than ever—leading to fantasies of lawless revenge

The events in Ferguson and elsewhere across the U.S. have launched a heated national dialogue that questions our faith in the benevolence of government institutions — especially police, judiciary, and politicians. Dead black bodies always makes us wonder whether they really have the best interests of the American people at heart, or just the best interests of some American people. Sometimes in the dense fog of passion and tear gas it is hard to see what values a country as diverse as America really shares. One way to check the heart of American attitudes is to lay our fingers on the pulse of pop culture, which often subtly reveals the truth long before the news pundits compulsively check their Twitter to see what’s trending and chase after it.

One pop culture truth that has clearly emerged over the last few years is that the sharp rise of vigilante heroes in our books, TV, and movies is supplanting the traditional cultural heroes of the precinct, ER, and courtroom. I’m not talking about Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Avengers, or any other super-powered beings fighting other super-powered beings. That’s adventure-fantasy that has little to do with the political or social landscape. I’m talking about our grim-faced, non-powered heroes who, realizing that government is either too impotent or too corrupt to deliver justice, take up arms against the sea of troubles — and by opposing, end them.

A quick look at movies and TV will confirm the rise of these DIY knights: Batman, the Punisher, the Arrow, Black Canary, Sherlock Holmes, Jack Reacher, Kick-Ass, Ray Donovan, Dexter, Luther, House, and the rogues of Persons of Interest and Sons of Anarchy, to name a only a few. Of course, there will always be cop, doctor, and firefighter shows because these dramatic, heroic professions lend themselves to exciting plot conflicts. But to ignore the seismic shift in who we’re elevating as heroes is like ignoring the backpack of meth you found in your teen’s closet.

What these vigilantes have in common is that they take the law into their own hands, sometimes coldly executing those people they decide are too evil to live. At the end of the BBC season of Sherlock, a smug media mogul who has destroyed the lives of many and manipulated governments through blackmail and printing lies thinks he has trapped Sherlock into being arrested. To which Sherlock responds, “Oh, do your research. I’m not a hero, I’m a high-functioning sociopath.” He then shoots the villain in the head. Problem solved. Justice delivered, hot and tasty.

Tempting, isn’t it?

In a world where we witness the most horrific, violent, sick bastards not only getting away with and profiting from crime, but also giving the finger to law enforcement behind a phalanx of high-priced, morally ambiguous lawyers, we can’t help but fantasize about a man like the Punisher who executes mobsters and terrorists and the morally ambiguous on sight.

But is that a healthy fantasy for our nation? And how did America go from admiring lovable police detective Columbo to admiring lovable serial killer Dexter?

Historically, the popularity of the vigilante hero increases during times of social chaos when the people lose confidence in the integrity of government. The golden age of the American private eye story is the 1920s and 1930s, during the Great Depression and Prohibition. In the massive upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s, the outsider vigilante hero again took center stage. For whites it was Clint Eastwood as rogue cop Dirty Harry and white-collar architect Charles Bronson blowing away street punks in several Death Wish movies. For blacks it was blaxploitation movies like Shaft, Trouble Man, Super Fly, and Foxy Brown delivering neighborhood justice while standing up to the condescending Man.

Today, our belief that the government wants to help us achieve justice is lower than ever. Politicians make predictable flag-waving speeches about the bravery and sacrifice of our troops in order to get themselves elected, but allow the Veterans Administration to let vets die through deliberate paper shuffling inaction. Isn’t that the definition of murder? Yet, no one was charged. Justice? No wonder the Punisher and the Executioner are veterans who come home from war, find the country in a bigger mess than the war zone they left, and use their military skills to bring justice.

As of June 2014, a Gallup Poll showed only 7% of Americans had confidence in Congress, the lowest of 17 institutions measured and down from 42% in 1973. Gallup concluded, “The dearth of public confidence in their elected leaders on Capitol Hill is…a challenge to the broad underpinnings of the nation’s representative democratic system.” The criminal justice system only got the support of 23%. If these two powerful symbols of democracy and justice have no public confidence, then when it comes to fixing the system who we gonna call?

Dexter?

The problem is that the highly entertaining and emotionally satisfying legend of the Just Vigilante is only a fantasy — and one with possible harmful real-life effects.

First, it perpetuates the idea among our young that having corruption in government or big business justifies breaking the law. If you cheat on your taxes, shoplift from a department store, or don’t vote, aren’t you just sticking it to Corrupt Society? Getting a little street justice, instant karma, or political payback? No, you’re just emulating their despicable behavior. If you become just like your enemy, who’s really won?

Second, the vigilante fantasy encourages thinking of violence as the default method of solving problems. That’s the opposite of what this country stands for, which is reasoned, thoughtful debate in an effort to resolve differences peacefully. It is not meant to be an excuse to grab your guns and line up on the border threatening children. Or open carrying guns into Denny’s frightening patrons.

Third, it undermines the concept of American justice by celebrating emotion over logic. Our judicial ethos proclaims that the only way to ensure justice is to deliberate rationally, without passion. Our vigilante heroes are often triggered by a rage for revenge due to the murder of a loved one. That’s the worst person to be in charge of seeking justice. Police blotters are filled with real revenge shootings in which the perpetrators killed the wrong people or innocent bystanders. We’ve seen how often an entire system of well-meaning professionals gets it wrong and convicts innocent people. Certainly the odds go up when one person without all the evidence judges guilt or innocence.

Fourth, many fictional vigilante heroes rationalize their actions because the villains “got out on a technicality” or “beat it through a legal loophole.” Nothing infuriates us more and we angrily blame our judicial system for these “technicalities” and “loopholes.” And yet, often the technicality or loophole that we so hate is actually something important, like searching without a warrant, racially profiling, or not reading Miranda rights. These aren’t minor “technicalities,” they are the foundation of the American ideal of protecting our people against the abuses of power. They are defending our Constitution as legitimately as soldiers on a front line. Yes, there will be miscarriages of justice because of these technicalities, but that doesn’t mean we dismantle the judicial system anymore than abandoning soldiers in a just cause just because we lose some to the miscarriage of friendly fire. We can’t parade around in stars-and-stripes sweaters getting teary-eyed when talking about patriotism, then turn around and complain about safeguards of the Constitution, the symbol of what we are being patriotic about.

Of course, our growing need for these stories is a symptom, not the disease. We need to accept that our stories are a sign of the times and try to fix the problems that give rise to our fantasies of taking the law in our own hands. The disenfranchised in society — the poor, women, minorities, LGBT — are even hungrier for justice than the mainstream because they experience less of it. It’s deliciously appropriate to our times that the new version of The Equalizer features Denzel Washington as the ex-Black Op agent now working at a Home Depot helping average people rather than the wealthy British original (brilliantly portrayed by Edward Woodward).

There are times when the individual should stand up to the communal notions of right and wrong, as did Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, and Gloria Steinem. But they did it with words, with courage, with intellect — not with violence. My hope is that we use the abundance of vigilante literature to fuel our outrage at injustice and to inspire us to, rather than cynically pull a trigger, fix what’s broken in our system through peaceful protest and the ballot box.

TIME

The Coming Race War Won’t Be About Race

Ferguson Lowenstein
A protestor during demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo. on August 17, 2014. Jon Lowenstein—Noor for TIME

Ferguson is not just about systemic racism — it's about class warfare and how America's poor are held back, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Will the recent rioting in Ferguson, Missouri, be a tipping point in the struggle against racial injustice, or will it be a minor footnote in some future grad student’s thesis on Civil Unrest in the Early Twenty-First Century?

The answer can be found in May of 1970.

You probably have heard of the Kent State shootings: on May 4, 1970, the Ohio National Guard opened fire on student protesters at Kent State University. During those 13 seconds of gunfire, four students were killed and nine were wounded, one of whom was permanently paralyzed. The shock and outcry resulted in a nationwide strike of 4 million students that closed more than 450 campuses. Five days after the shooting, 100,000 protestors gathered in Washington, D.C. And the nation’s youth was energetically mobilized to end the Vietnam War, racism, sexism, and mindless faith in the political establishment.

You probably haven’t heard of the Jackson State shootings.

On May 14th, 10 days after Kent State ignited the nation, at the predominantly black Jackson State University in Mississippi, police killed two black students (one a high school senior, the other the father of an 18-month-old baby) with shotguns and wounded twelve others.

There was no national outcry. The nation was not mobilized to do anything. That heartless leviathan we call History swallowed that event whole, erasing it from the national memory.

And, unless we want the Ferguson atrocity to also be swallowed and become nothing more than an intestinal irritant to history, we have to address the situation not just as another act of systemic racism, but as what else it is: class warfare.

By focusing on just the racial aspect, the discussion becomes about whether Michael Brown’s death—or that of the other three unarmed black men who were killed by police in the U.S. within that month—is about discrimination or about police justification. Then we’ll argue about whether there isn’t just as much black-against-white racism in the U.S. as there is white-against-black. (Yes, there is. But, in general, white-against-black economically impacts the future of the black community. Black-against-white has almost no measurable social impact.)

Then we’ll start debating whether or not the police in America are themselves an endangered minority who are also discriminated against based on their color—blue. (Yes, they are. There are many factors to consider before condemning police, including political pressures, inadequate training, and arcane policies.) Then we’ll question whether blacks are more often shot because they more often commit crimes. (In fact, studies show that blacks are targeted more often in some cities, like New York City. It’s difficult to get a bigger national picture because studies are woefully inadequate. The Department of Justice study shows that in the U.S. between 2003 and 2009, among arrest-related deaths there’s very little difference among blacks, whites, or Latinos. However, the study doesn’t tell us how many were unarmed.)

This fist-shaking of everyone’s racial agenda distracts America from the larger issue that the targets of police overreaction are based less on skin color and more on an even worse Ebola-level affliction: being poor. Of course, to many in America, being a person of color is synonymous with being poor, and being poor is synonymous with being a criminal. Ironically, this misperception is true even among the poor.

And that’s how the status quo wants it.

The U.S. Census Report finds that 50 million Americans are poor. Fifty million voters is a powerful block if they ever organized in an effort to pursue their common economic goals. So, it’s crucial that those in the wealthiest One Percent keep the poor fractured by distracting them with emotional issues like immigration, abortion and gun control so they never stop to wonder how they got so screwed over for so long.

One way to keep these 50 million fractured is through disinformation. PunditFact’s recent scorecard on network news concluded that at Fox and Fox News Channel, 60 percent of claims are false. At NBC and MSNBC, 46 percent of claims were deemed false. That’s the “news,” folks! During the Ferguson riots, Fox News ran a black and white photo of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the bold caption: “Forgetting MLK’s Message/Protestors in Missouri Turn to Violence.” Did they run such a caption when either Presidents Bush invaded Iraq: “Forgetting Jesus Christ’s Message/U.S. Forgets to Turn Cheek and Kills Thousands”?

How can viewers make reasonable choices in a democracy if their sources of information are corrupted? They can’t, which is exactly how the One Percent controls the fate of the Ninety-Nine Percent.

Worse, certain politicians and entrepreneurs conspire to keep the poor just as they are. On his HBO comedic news show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver ran an expose of the payday loan business and those who so callously exploit the desperation of the poor. How does an industry that extorts up to 1,900 percent interest on loans get away with it? In Texas, State Rep. Gary Elkins blocked a regulatory bill, despite the fact that he owns a chain of payday loan stores. And the politician who kept badgering Elkins about his conflict of interest, Rep. Vicki Truitt, became a lobbyist for ACE Cash Express just 17 days after leaving office. In essence, Oliver showed how the poor are lured into such a loan, only to be unable to pay it back and having to secure yet another loan. The cycle shall be unbroken.

Dystopian books and movies like Snowpiercer, The Giver, Divergent, Hunger Games, and Elysium have been the rage for the past few years. Not just because they express teen frustration at authority figures. That would explain some of the popularity among younger audiences, but not among twentysomethings and even older adults. The real reason we flock to see Donald Sutherland’s porcelain portrayal in Hunger Games of a cold, ruthless president of the U.S. dedicated to preserving the rich while grinding his heel into the necks of the poor is that it rings true in a society in which the One Percent gets richer while our middle class is collapsing.

That’s not hyperbole; statistics prove this to be true. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, just half of U.S. households are middle-income, a drop of 11 percent since the 1970s; median middle-class income has dropped by 5 percent in the last ten years, total wealth is down 28 percent. Fewer people (just 23 percent) think they will have enough money to retire. Most damning of all: fewer Americans than ever believe in the American Dream mantra that hard work will get them ahead.

Rather than uniting to face the real foe—do-nothing politicians, legislators, and others in power—we fall into the trap of turning against each other, expending our energy battling our allies instead of our enemies. This isn’t just inclusive of race and political parties, it’s also about gender. In her book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution, Laurie Penny suggests that the decreased career opportunities for young men in society makes them feel less valuable to females; as a result they deflect their rage from those who caused the problem to those who also suffer the consequences: females.

Yes, I’m aware that it is unfair to paint the wealthiest with such broad strokes. There are a number of super-rich people who are also super-supportive of their community. Humbled by their own success, they reach out to help others. But that’s not the case with the multitude of millionaires and billionaires who lobby to reduce Food Stamps, give no relief to the burden of student debt on our young, and kill extensions of unemployment benefits.

With each of these shootings/chokehold deaths/stand-your-ground atrocities, police and the judicial system are seen as enforcers of an unjust status quo. Our anger rises, and riots demanding justice ensue. The news channels interview everyone and pundits assign blame.

Then what?

I’m not saying the protests in Ferguson aren’t justified—they are. In fact, we need more protests across the country. Where’s our Kent State? What will it take to mobilize 4 million students in peaceful protest? Because that’s what it will take to evoke actual change. The middle class has to join the poor and whites have to join African-Americans in mass demonstrations, in ousting corrupt politicians, in boycotting exploitative businesses, in passing legislation that promotes economic equality and opportunity, and in punishing those who gamble with our financial future.

Otherwise, all we’re going to get is what we got out of Ferguson: a bunch of politicians and celebrities expressing sympathy and outrage. If we don’t have a specific agenda—a list of exactly what we want to change and how—we will be gathering over and over again beside the dead bodies of our murdered children, parents, and neighbors.

I hope John Steinbeck is proven right when he wrote in Grapes of Wrath, “Repression works only to strengthen and knit the oppressed.” But I’m more inclined to echo Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” written the year after the Kent State/Jackson State shootings:

Inflation no chance

To increase finance

Bills pile up sky high

Send that boy off to die

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

Make me wanna holler

The way they do my life

TIME Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Stop Keeping College Athletes Poor and Trapped

Ed O''Bannon
Ed O'Bannon playing for the UCLA Bruins in 1995. O’Bannon, along with a few other players, is suing for players to have control over the use of their likenesses, which earn millions of dollars for the NCAA. J.D. Cuban—Getty Images

Without unions, college athletics will remain a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

A new survey finds that 60% of incoming college football players support unions for college athletes. The horror! Were such unions allowed, our glorious cities would crumble to nothing more than shoddy tents stitched together from tattered remnants of Old Glory; our government officials would be loincloth-clad elders gathered in the rubble of an old McDonald’s passing a talking stick; our naked children would roam the urban wilderness like howling wolves, their minds as blank as their lost Internet connection. We would be without hope, dreams or a future.

Or at least that’s what you might believe based on the nuclear reaction a few months ago when a dapper man named Ramogi Huma attempted to destroy everything that America holds sacred with just such a proposal to unionize college athletes. His argument was simple: that college athletes should be classified as employees of their colleges and therefore receive certain basic benefits. He did not advocate player salaries but only programs to minimize brain-trauma risks among athletes, a raise in scholarship amounts, more financial assistance for sports-related injuries, an increase in graduation rates and several other similar goals.

You would have thought he’d proposed dressing the Statue of Liberty in a star-spangled thong.

But Huma is not alone in his assault on the NCAA’s ironfisted control of all things related to college athletics that might generate income (as befits its new motto: “If it earns, it’s ours”). Other current and former college athletes are questioning the NCAA-brand Kool-Aid. Former UCLA basketball player Ed O’Bannon, along with a few other players, is suing for players to have control over the use of their likenesses, which earn millions of dollars for the NCAA — but not a cent for the players. Another class-action antitrust suit has been filed to remove the cap on players’ compensation — currently limited to the value of the scholarship they receive plus room and board — as an illegal restraint of trade.

Predictably, the NCAA is against any scheme to get college players paid, claiming that unionizing will “completely throw away a system that has helped literally millions of students over the past decade alone to attend college.” Attend but not necessarily complete, especially if you suffer any long-term injury. Because if you don’t compete, you don’t complete.

And the NCAA has the backing from some powerful Washington politicians who, according to Senator Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), worry about strikes that will “destroy intercollegiate athletics as we know it.” Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio) also chimed in: “I haven’t looked at the specifics of this and what would be required, but having formally chaired the House Education and Workforce Committee and worked with the National Labor Relations Act for the last 30 years, I find it a bit bizarre.”

Nothing more reassuring than someone who acknowledges he hasn’t really “looked at the specifics” but has an opinion anyway.

Well, Congressman, here are some specifics:

  • Last year, NCAA March Madness made $1 billion for CBS and Turner Broadcasting.
  • The NCAA takes in more than $6 billion a year.
  • The NCAA president made $1.7 million last year.
  • The NCAA’s top 10 basketball coaches earn salaries that range from $2,200,000 to $9,682,032.

While these coaches and executives may deserve these amounts, they shouldn’t earn them while the 18-to-21-year-old kid who plays every game and risks a permanent career-ending injury gets only scholarship money — money that can be taken away if the player is injured and can’t contribute to the team anymore.

The irony is that the NCAA and other supporters claim paying athletes would sully the purity of college sports — desecrating our image of a youthful clash of school rivalries that always ends at the malt shop with school songs being sung and innocent flirting between boys in letterman jackets and girls with pert ponytails and chastity rings. In reality, what makes college sports such a powerful symbol in our culture is that it represents our attempt to impose fairness on an otherwise unfair world. Fair play, sportsmanship and good-natured rivalry are lofty goals to live by. By treating the athletes like indentured servants, we’re tarnishing that symbol and reducing college sports to just another exploitation of workers, no better than a sweatshop.

Everyone’s hope was that once these inequities were exposed, the NCAA would do the right thing. That hasn’t happened on a meaningful scale. Instead, it battles in court, issues press releases and appeals to Norman Rockwell nostalgia.

The athletes are left with the choice of crossing their fingers and hoping their fairy godmothers will persuade the NCAA to give up money that it doesn’t have to, or forming a collective bargaining group to negotiate from a place of unified strength.

Most Americans agree that the athletes are being shortchanged. A recent HuffPost/YouGov poll concluded that 51% of Americans believe that universities should be required to cover medical expenses for former players if those expenses were the result of playing for the school. A whopping 73% believe that athletic scholarships should not be withdrawn from students who are injured and are no longer able to play.

But when it comes to these same student-athletes’ forming a union, an HBO Real Sports and Marist College Center for Sports Communication poll showed 75% of Americans opposed to the formation of a college-athlete union, with only 22% for it.

Why such a difference between wanting equity and supporting the best means to achieve it? Despite 14.5 million Americans’ belonging to labor unions, we’ve always had a love-hate relationship with them.

The love: Unions can be like protective parents arguing with an arrogant teacher over their child’s unfair grade. The hate: Unions can be like bossy spouses who complain about all the work they do for you while shoveling corn chips into their maw on the La-Z-Boy.

Our relationship with college athletes is much clearer. We adore and revere them. They represent the fantasy of our children achieving success and being popular. Watching them play with such enthusiasm and energy for nothing more than school pride is the distillation of Hope for the Future.

But strip away the rose-colored glasses and we’re left with a subtle but insidious form of child abuse.

Which raises the question: How will things change?

When I was a young, handsome player at UCLA, with a full head of hair and a pocket full of nothing, I sometimes had a friend scalp my game tickets so I could have a little spending money. I couldn’t afford a car, which scholarship students in other disciplines could because they were permitted to have jobs, so I couldn’t go anywhere. I got bored just sitting around my dorm room and frustrated wandering around Westwood, passing shops in which I couldn’t afford to buy anything.

How will things change? It’s possible the NCAA will eventually capitulate to these commonsense requests, but since it hasn’t so far, the only reason it would change its mind now would be the threat of a union. Either way, the union will have caused positive change for these young athletes. But without a union, these student-athletes will be without any advocates and will always be at the whim of the NCAA and the colleges and universities that profit from them.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). He also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Sports

Why LeBron Can’t Go Home Again

Cleveland Cavaliers v Atlanta Hawks
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on December 29, 2009 in Atlanta, Georgia. Kevin C. Cox—Getty Images

LeBron can never go home to the Cleveland he once knew

In his essay in Sports Illustrated about his return to play for Cleveland, LeBron James announced, “I’m coming home.” While his very personal and emotional explanation will resonate with many, others will find it disingenuous and self-serving. Because the awful truth is, as Thomas Wolfe titled one of his best-known novels, “You can’t go home again.”

Wolfe, who took that title with permission from writer Ella Winter, used it to mean that after we leave home and are battered about by our adventures in life, we are changed. And in our disillusioned mind, “home” becomes a romanticized symbol of our innocence, in which we dreamed limitlessly and were loved unconditionally. But that home, too, has changed because of our absence. The residents are more wary.

So it is with LeBron and Cleveland.

To some skeptical residents, LeBron’s return to Cleveland is less that of the prodigal son’s triumphant return home than the straying husband who abandoned his longtime partner to chase a younger, hotter, firmer slice having second thoughts. After realizing he traded a deep love for a sweaty romp, he’s coming home with a bouquet of roses in one hand and a diamond bracelet in the other, begging forgiveness for his foolish mistake of lustful youth.

All that doesn’t make LeBron’s desire to return any less sincere. Who hasn’t at some time or other hurt those we loved? And it takes a lot of courage to return to what many Clevelanders might consider the scene of the crime. LeBron is one of the best players in the world. He could have gone anywhere, but he chose Cleveland knowing he would have to endure a firestorm of criticism. Had he stayed in Miami or gone elsewhere, he would have been hoisted on shoulders and paraded through the streets. That testifies to his sincerity.

I’ve had some experience with wanting to go home. After playing with the Milwaukee Bucks for a few years at the beginning of my career, I had a longing to return to New York City. Oscar “The Big O” Robertson had retired, and without him we came in last, with no significant draft picks and little hope of turning things around the next year. I didn’t go to the press to negotiate for more money or a better deal. I went to the owner, and we had an amiable chat. We shook hands and kept it between ourselves so the team could make the best deal for both parties, because we each felt loyalty to the other.

My attempt to return home failed because New York didn’t have any players whom Milwaukee wanted. Instead, I went to Los Angeles (a second home, since I attended UCLA) along with Walt Wesley, and the Bucks got four players in exchange: Dave Meyers, Brian Winters, Elmore Smith and Junior Bridgeman.

When LeBron left Cleveland, he celebrated the move as if it were the exodus from Egypt and enslavement, and that arrogance left a bitter taste in his fans’ mouths. It was like showing up at a party with a new girlfriend knowing an ex would be there. Tacky. Even his return to Cleveland might have been seen as more from the heart, as he states in his essay, if it had just been announced as a fait accompli instead of leaving the press and fans to wait in anticipation for the word to come down from the mountain inscribed on tablets.

LeBron’s return to the Cavaliers is good for basketball. Each game will now come with a movie narrative attached: underdogs, redemption, forgiveness. I certainly will be watching. But the “coming home” narrative has been a little too orchestrated to silence the critics and slighted fans. But I think this passage from Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again sums up LeBron’s dilemma: “He had learned that in spite of his strange body, so much off scale that it had often made him think himself a creature set apart, he was still the son and brother of all men living. He had learned that he could not devour the earth, that he must know and accept his limitations. He realized that much of his torment of the years past had been self-inflicted, and an inevitable part of growing up. And, most important of all for one who had taken so long to grow up, he thought he had learned not to be the slave of his emotions.” In that way, LeBron can go home because he has grown up and realizes that being away from home made it that much more valuable.

But in another way, LeBron can’t go home again. At least not to the home he once knew. The residents may be grateful and joyful, but they are also wiser. Like the betrayed spouse, they will have to wait and see, they will have to be wooed, they will have to be convinced that his sincerity, to quote Porgy and Bess, ain’t a sometime thing.

TIME Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Soccer Will Never Be a Slam Dunk in America

Soccer doesn’t express the American ethos as powerfully as our other popular sports: We are a country of pioneers, and we like to see extraordinary effort rewarded... with points.

Has the time finally come to slap a Do Not Resuscitate bracelet on soccer’s prospects for popularity in America?

If it were up to me, the answer would be no, because soccer players are among the strongest, fittest, most strategic athletes in the world. But, for various reasons, the sport itself does not seem destined for the popularity that supporters have been predicting for the last decade. I’m reminded of the end of Man of La Mancha, when Don Quixote lies dying, but is suddenly inspired to rise once more and proclaim, “Onward to glory I go!” And then he drops dead. Soccer has been proclaiming this impending U.S. glory for years, and while there are signs of life in the body, the prognosis is not good.

Once the World Cup is over, soccer in the U.S. will return to its sick bed and dream of glory.This dire diagnosis probably seems crazy in the face of the current World Cup TV ratings success. Between Univision and ESPN, 25 million viewers tuned in to watch the U.S. play Portugal last Sunday. Compare that to 15.5 million viewers that the NBA finals averaged this year, or the 14.9 million averaged in last year’s baseball World Series. Worse, the NHL playoffs averaged only 5 million viewers. Only NFL football consistently beats soccer’s best rating.

The problem with those statistics is that it’s like using the ratings of bobsledding during the Winter Olympics to declare a new renaissance for bobsledding in America. The World Cup, like the Olympics, happens every four years, so the rarity factor alone will account for inflated ratings. For a more realistic view of its popularity as a professional sport, we need to look at how many people watch on a regular basis. Major League Soccer (MLS) averages a mere 174,000 viewers (compared to the NBA’s average of 2 million and NFL average of 17.6 million), while their equivalent to NBA Finals, the MLS Cup, averaged only 505,000 viewers.

The MLS points out that more people on average attend one of their games (18,807) than attend either NHL (17,455) or NBA (17,408) games. While that may be true, the reasons for that appear to be pretty simple: cheaper tickets and fewer teams playing fewer games. Add that to the fact that comparatively few people watch it on TV, and you have a sport that produces much less revenue than other major American sports. Like it or not, in the end that is the measure of a sport’s popularity.

The obvious question is why hasn’t soccer taken off in the U.S. as it has throughout most of the rest of the world? After all, youth soccer has exploded over the past few decades. In 1974, only 103,432 youth were registered players. In 2012, registered players amounted to over three million. In all, 13 million Americans play soccer (compared to 26.3 million who play basketball). When you look at those figures, you notice that twice as many people play basketball as play soccer, yet ten times as many people watch basketball on TV. This is important because the more people watching a sport translates into more people wanting to play that sport. That’s the money-making cycle. Watch. Play. Repeat.

Is there something fundamentally different about watching soccer that turns people away by the millions? Apparently so. For one thing, there’s a lot of movement but not much action. American audiences see people kicking the ball to a teammate, only to have it intercepted by the other team. A lot. To the average American used to the hustle of basketball, the clash of titans in football, the suspense of the curve ball in baseball, or the thrilling crack of the slapshot in hockey, the endless meandering back and forth across the soccer field looks less like strategy and more like random luck. It lacks drama. Of course, that’s not true at all, but that is certainly the perception.

Why aren’t those millions of youth soccer players since 1974 watching? Perhaps another perception is that it is a kid’s game. Kids get to run around, kick something, and generally wear themselves out to the gratitude of parents. Parents who dutifully and diligently attend their kids’ games don’t seem inclined to tune in to professionals on TV.

Soccer is counting on the growing U.S. Latino population to raise its popularity. Between 2002 and 2012, the Latino population increased from 13.3% of the U.S. population to 17%. I’m certain that will be a factor, but perhaps not a huge one — this ling of thinking doesn’t account for children seeking more traditional American sports in order to assimilate. As many parents will attest, some children refuse to follow in their parents’ sweaty sneakers.

Finally, soccer doesn’t fully express the American ethos as powerfully as our other popular sports. We are a country of pioneers, explorers, and contrarians who only need someone to say it can’t be done to fire us up to prove otherwise. As a result, we like to see extraordinary effort rewarded. The low scoring in soccer frustrates this American impulse. We also celebrate rugged individualism, the democratic ideal that anybody from any background can become a sports hero. We like to see heroes rise, buoyed by their teammates, but still expressing their own supreme individual skills. Certainly soccer has its celebrated stars, from Pele to Beckham, but those skills seem muted on TV where we’re often looking at small figures on a large field and therefore these feats appear less impressive than they really are. In football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, team effort is rewarded with points and individual greatness is as instant and immediate as a one-handed snagged football pass, a three-pointer from the corner, stealing home base, or a snap-shot of the puck into the goal.

Clearly, there are many dedicated soccer fans in the U.S. They play the sport, they watch the sport, they love the sport. But that group, though slowly growing, is not nearly enough to overcome the traditional favorites. To do that, it’s not enough that you’re as good as one of the popular sports, you have to bring something better. More excitement. More skill. More entertainment. For most Americans, soccer just doesn’t do that. And once the World Cup is over, soccer in the U.S. will return to its sick bed and dream of glory.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). Abdul-Jabbar also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: We Need to Stamp Out Misogyny in Sports

#YesAllWomen Live Rally in Seattle supports victims of violence
More than 100 community members came in support of the #YesAllWomen Live Rally in Seattle, May 30, 2014. Alex Garland—Demotix/Corbis

Sports plays a role in perpetuating sexism and misogyny—and it can play a role in ending it.

The most moving reading I’ve done in the past six months has come from the anguished tweets on #YesAllWomen that followed the Elliot Rodger shootings in Santa Barbara, Calif. Even more depressing than his horrific actions is the feeling that the national debates about cultural misogyny, mental-health care and gun control that followed have already lost momentum — shoved back into their dusty corner, awaiting the next bloody tragedy. Public outrage has a short half-life. Fist-shaking and finger-pointing quickly degenerates into helpless shrugging.

But we can’t let go of this question: Why in America do our mentally disturbed take out their anger so violently? In a Sept. 19, 2013, op-ed article in the New York Times, Stanford University psychological anthropology professor T.M. Luhrmann explained how when schizophrenics in the Indian city of Chennai (formerly Madras) hear voices, they are told to do domestic chores like cook, clean or bathe. But schizophrenics in San Mateo, Calif., hear voices that tell them to take very violent actions like cutting off a head and drinking the blood. In India they clean; in America they kill. America also has the highest gun-ownership rate in the world. And our number of multiple killings is nearly as high as that for the rest of the world combined.

Even more disturbing is why so much violence in America is directed at women. The answer to this question, at least in part, is that it’s a result of a lifetime of cultural influences. And while there are surely plenty of cultural influences to blame, one of the sources of this negative influence is amateur and professional sports.

Surprised to hear me say that? I’ve spent much of my life in sports and promoting sports as a positive influence on our youth and our culture. The benefits are obvious: building healthy bodies, practicing sportsmanship (should we call that sportspersonship?), learning teamwork, creating a supportive community and much more.

In fact, the image of girls and women in sports is much more culturally positive than that of mainstream society. In the sports world, women are praised for their athletic ability — not their physical appearance. We cheer the sweaty woman running down the field for her effort. Mainstream America tells her heels are required because she’s too short, makeup is required because her face isn’t attractive enough, cleavage is required to give men a reason to pay attention, hair coloring is required because aging is forbidden and blondes are sexier, Photoshopping is required because no woman (not even a model) can match the fantasy woman our culture promotes on the covers of almost every women’s magazine. (It’s not a coincidence that Rodger gave his object of hatred a hair color — “blonde slut.”) But in sports, women stand tall and proud in athletic shoes and uniforms because we’re more interested in what they do than how they look.

But — there’s a big but. Despite all the good in sports, there are many aspects of it that encourage our culture to look at women as less valuable than men.

The easiest way to determine women’s value to their culture is to look at how much we pay them in relation to men. Some studies suggest that in general women make less doing the same jobs as men (the Census Bureau concludes that women earn 77¢ for every dollar men earn). This national trend extends to professional sports. According to Forbes, the maximum salary for a player in the WNBA is $107,000, compared with the $30.5 million Kobe Bryant will make. Inbee Park, who won the 2013 U.S. Open in golf, received $585,000 for her victory. Justin Rose, the men’s winner, received $1.4 million. This disparity is seen less in tennis because Wimbledon, the French Open and the U.S. Open all pay male and female winners equally (which is why 7 of the 10 top-paid female athletes in the world are tennis players).

This discrepancy extends to coaching as well. For Division I college sports, men get paid significantly more. Male basketball head coaches averaged $71,511, while female coaches averaged $39,177. Even in gymnastics, which is predominantly female, male coaches are paid more. This doesn’t even address the fact that there are more opportunities for males than females to play sports, both as amateurs and as professionals.

Many will argue that the pay difference is the result of free-market supply and demand. More people want to see men play professional basketball than want to see women play, so the players are paid accordingly. You can’t argue with economics. There is truth to this. You can’t force people to attend a sporting event if they don’t want to.

However, this is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. We can change things. First, we need to address why they don’t want to watch. This goes back to cultural biases. If we don’t value girls in sports in middle school and high school, then we don’t grow up to value them as professional athletes. And by value, I mean make athletic opportunities available, pay coaches equally and promote female sports with the same vigor with which we do male sports.

At the same time, the disrespectful and disparaging language used in sports furthers the gender gap. Male coaches often address their male athletes as ladies whenever they want to humiliate them. “Come on, ladies,” they’ll say, “lift your skirts.” Or, “You’re playing like a girl!” This is treated as a joke or good-humored tradition, but its long-term social effect is not funny. Even in movies and TV shows, we see tough women turning to men and saying, “Quit acting like a girl.” Cue audience chuckle at the reversal. But all that does is prove we’ve brainwashed women to be derogatory toward themselves.

We also need to address the culture of violence surrounding our athletes. When we see them resolving problems through violence, it can send a message to others to emulate them. Baltimore Ravens tackle Jah Reid was arrested for allegedly head butting, kicking and punching a man in a strip club (what attending strip clubs says about our culture of devaluing women is another matter). Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov was arrested on charges of kidnapping and assault of his girlfriend. Houston Rockets forward Terrence Jones was arrested for stomping on the leg of a homeless man. Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was charged with murdering a friend. This year alone football players Chris Rainey, Robert Sands and Daryl Washington were arrested for domestic battery or assault. We can’t as a culture glorify violence and then be surprised when our members resort to it as our “heroes” do.

Which brings us back to #YesAllWomen. Despite more than a million responses, it probably won’t change anything. It should be a national wake-up call that such a forum even needs to exist. And we should celebrate the opportunity for women to express their frustration. But we need to remember that while misogyny may be perpetuated mostly by men, it is enabled by both men and women in society who embrace gender inequality — or simply let it go unnoticed.

It’s reminiscent of the 1947 film Gentlemen’s Agreement, in which Gregory Peck plays a journalist who pretends to be Jewish in order to write about anti-Semitism. His Waspish fiancée realizes that there’s a “gentlemen’s agreement” to ignore distasteful anti-Semitic comments (and by implication racist, homophobic and misogynist comments) as if they never happened. She also realizes that ignoring them is part of the problem because the silence encourages them and thereby taints our whole society.

We can change things. Small things. One at a time. We start by not remaining silent in the presence of misogyny, not tolerating violence as a form of communication, and demanding gender equality in education, sports and jobs. Right now, tennis is showing us the way. All athletes need to help finish the job.

Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time NBA champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). Abdul-Jabbar also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

TIME Sports

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Miami Fans, Stop Whining About The Fault in Our Air Conditioning

Lebron James Cramping
LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat reacts after cramping up against the San Antonio Spurs during Game One of the 2014 NBA Finals at the AT&T Center on June 5, 2014 in San Antonio, Texas. Andy Lyons—Getty Images

How does it feel to play in that heat? I know all too well from Boston in the 1980s.

Correction appended: June 7

If you attended any recent showing of The Fault in Our Stars, you would have heard open sobbing from much of the audience. You could probably have heard the same from Miami Heat fans after Thursday’s opening game of the Finals, which should be called The Fault in Our Air Conditioning.

Some people blame LeBron James, accusing him of wilting like a hothouse orchid. Detractors have pointed out that pro football players battle it out in heat, rain, snow, and sleet. They slosh through sticky mud, slip on icy turf, suffocate in oven-like helmets under a blistering sun. Those same people wonder how lame it is that the $19 Million Dollar Man pulls up, well, lame just because the air-conditioning falters.

Those people don’t know what they’re talking about.

The average pro football game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes. But, according to a Wall Street Journal study, only 11 of the minutes are actual play. The rest is commercials, huddling, standing around, calling out plays, and jock adjusting. An NBA game is 48 minutes and, while they also spend some time huddling and adjusting, most of those 48 minutes are spent running up and down a 94-foot court. Again and again. Believe me, under those conditions, the heat can be a significant factor.

Why should you believe me? Because I played a Championship Finals game in 100-degree heat against the Celtics on June 8, 1984 (before LeBron was even born). The Boston Garden didn’t have air-conditioning at the time and Boston was in the middle of a hellish heat wave. I was 37 at the time (eight years older than LeBron is now), so the heat might have affected me a little more than the younger players. At one point during the game I was given oxygen as a precaution.

How does it feel to play in that heat? Here’s what I said at the time, with my typical charm: “I suggest that you go to your local steam bath, do 100 pushups with all your clothes on, then try to run back and forth for 48 minutes. The game was in slow motion. It was like we were running in mud.”

The Celtics won that series in the seventh game. We didn’t sit around blaming the heat. (We blamed Larry Bird for playing so phenomenally.) In fact, that loss in the Boston Oven, I mean Garden, only fueled us to come back the next year and beat the Celtics in the Finals, for the first time in Laker history.

Maybe Miami would have won if the air-conditioning hadn’t broken. But why even ask that question? Injuries are part of every sport. LeBron could have twisted his ankle, torn his ACL, or any of a dozen other common injuries. His particular kryptonite was heat.

The real winner here is the NBA. They couldn’t have asked for more—except a guaranteed seventh game—to add drama to the Finals. And, of course, bigger drama usually equals bigger ratings.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a six-time National Basketball Association champion and league Most Valuable Player. Follow him on Twitter (@KAJ33) and Facebook (facebook.com/KAJ). Mr. Abdul-Jabbar also writes a weekly column for the L.A. Register.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated LeBron James’ birthday. He was born Dec. 30, 1984.

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