Kareem Abdul-Jabbar described his first meeting with Muhammad Ali when he was still in college at UCLA and how that moment meant a lot while at the same time impacting him in numerous ways.
Meeting Ali in California in an unusual way
Muhammad Ali is perhaps one of the most influential athletes of the 20th century not just because of remarkable feats in the boxing ring but also for all the things he did for racial and social injustice in the US. Ali had a tremendous impact on society even though, at that time, a lot of people resented him and his actions in the US. You could say half of the population admired his actions while the other half thought he betrayed his country because he refused to participate in the Vietnamese war.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a big fan of Muhammad Ali growing up even before becoming one of the most prominent young basketball stars in the country. The opportunity to meet his idol was presented to him most unusually after moving to California to attend UCLA. In his book "Becoming Kareem," he details that he met Ali at the Hollywood Boulevard. Interestingly enough, Ali was doing magic tricks on the street with his friends when Kareem stumbled upon his hero with a few college friends.
"When I first met Muhammad Ali, he was performing magic tricks on Hollywood Boulevard. I was a freshman walking down the street with two of my buddies when we saw him strolling along with a small entourage, doing sleight-of-hand illusions for fans who would come up to him. Despite his legal problems with the government and his tumultuous professional career, here he was, casually sauntering down the street as if he hadn't a care in the world. Ali's magic wasn't just the simple tricks he performed, but his ability to draw everyone's attention to him, whether he was in a crowded room or on a busy boulevard. And once he had their attention, he never disappointed them".
Ali had a tremendous impact on Kareem
Ali was a unique personality with incredible charisma that made people want to be around him because of his positive energy and charm. That is the same feeling Kareem got when he first met him, and he recalls how Ali immediately started making jokes about how Kareem might be his biggest fan since he was standing at 7'2", which was a surprise for Ali as well.
"No matter how many people were around, he was the only one you looked at. He exuded confidence, a sense of purpose, and an undeniable joy. I shyly approached him to say hello. "Ah, another big fan of magic," he responded when I greeted him. "And I do mean big." Everyone laughed, including me"
Kareem witnessed Ali's activism and passion for doing the right things when he was still a kid. At first, he admired Ali because of his impeccable skillset in the boxing ring, but as soon as he got a bit older and understood what was going on in the world around him and what role Ali played in it, he cemented himself in Kareem's eyes as a true legend.
"Muhammad Ali's influence on me in those six formative years from when I was thirteen to when I met him on Hollywood Boulevard wasn't just in athletics. Not only had he conquered the boxing world through his undeniable dominance in the ring, but he had mastered the art of self-promotion unlike anyone else. By cannily playing the obnoxious court jester for TV cameras, Muhammad's brash, outrageous antics ensured that Something Would Happen. He bragged relentlessly and shamelessly—and in verse!"
Kareem followed Ali's footsteps in numerous ways after establishing himself as a prominent athlete. He changed his name following his religious conversion to Islam same way Muhammad Ali did early on in his career. They were both incredibly active on the racial and social issues in the US, and Ali served as a mentor and a role model for young Kareem in that sense as well. He learned how to use his voice and influence to stress out the significant problems impacting the African-American community and do their best to help out in any way possible.