Current Los Angeles Lakers All-Star small forward LeBron James and former Los Angeles Lakers All-Star center are not as close as L.A. fans might hope.
Just the opposite, in fact.
When asked about Abdul-Jabbar after the Lakers' first preseason game, a 105-75 loss to the visiting Sacramento Kings, James offered a contrite, affectless response from behind shades in the Laker locker room, saying he had "no thoughts and no relationship" with the Showtime great.
This is not entirely surprising news, as James has ignored "Cap" in his all-time Laker rankings in recent seasons.
Abdul-Jabbar is now an active writer responsible for several narrative fiction and historical books beyond the standard issues (he has a few of those too, all excellent), a frequent Substack and occasional bylines in The Hollywood Reporter, Sports Illustrated and more.
The 7'2" Hall of Fame big man recently levied criticism against James for what he perceives to be underwhelming civic engagement.
Last December, Abdul-Jabbar took to his aforementioned Substack to criticize a James social media post that appeared to downplay the impact of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, in which LBJ compared it to a flu or cold, despite evidence that it remains far, far deadlier and more debilitating.
“While LeBron is a necessary and dynamic voice critical of police brutality against the Black community, he needs to be the same necessary and dynamic advocate with vaccines, which could save thousands of Black lives right now,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote at the time. James opted to not respond at the time.
This past April, the NBA's all-time regular season leading scorer spoke somewhat off the cuff with reporters after presenting James's then-Lakers teammate Carmelo Anthony with the league's first-ever Social Justice Champion award. In talking to reporters following the ceremony, Abdul-Jabbar said this about the four-time champ, James:
“I admire the things that he’s done that have gotten all our attention... Sending a whole school to college? Wow. That’s amazing. His thoughtfulness and willingness to back it up with his wallet, you got to give him credit for that... So I’m not throwing stones. I just wish he wouldn’t, you know, some of the things he’s done, he should be embarrassed about. That’s just where I’m coming from.”
Abdul-Jabbar then tried to contextualize his comments within the broader spectrum of James's numerous off-court achievements, with a special focus on his philanthropic ventures, in a missive to The Los Angeles Times.
“On occasion I have chided LeBron when I thought he was dropping the ball when it came to supporting the community. But I did so in the spirit of a loving older brother offering guidance, whether wanted or not. So, when I said that he has done some things he should be embarrassed about, that wasn’t a slam or a barb or even a finger wag, it was me recapping some of what I’d said in the past. The Sports Illustrated article was an homage to LeBron for winning the Muhammad Ali Legacy Award for his role in social activism. So, when I think he may be veering from the path that made him win that award, I’ll mention it. I’m a journalist. That’s what I do. But I believe LeBron is strong enough and gracious enough to understand that I have only love for him in my heart.”
As recently as last week, James was incredibly complimentary to Abdul-Jabbar's on-court legend during some Media Day remarks about Cap's current NBA scoring record.
It is understandable that James perhaps does not want to engage in a war of words with the six-time champion and six-time league MVP. There is considerably more nuance to Abdul-Jabbar's insights than might meet the eye in a pull quote. Hopefully James will consider that and the duo can work towards finding some mutual ground, as both all-time greats have their hearts in the right place, and are ultimately on the same side of so many issues.