NBA Legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, sits down with Huffington Post Sports to share 10 things he wishes he would have known before turning pro.
1. The difference between playing basketball and a basketball career. Playing college ball was relatively easy because it was only one part of my life. I also had my classes, which I loved, and the general carefree attitude of most college students: Adult responsibilities were way off in the future, along with flying cars and jet packs.
I wish I’d been emotionally prepared for the sudden weight of being a pro. At UCLA, Coach Wooden wanted to win, but losing didn’t have the ramifications it does in pros. In the pros, men’s careers are on the line with each game. Coaches and players have families that depend on them. It’s no longer the game of basketball, it’s the job of basketball. Under that relentless pressure, it’s very difficult and frustrating to try to figure out what you want to do with your life.
2. How to approach young women in a mature and non-self-conscious way. My height was already an obstacle. I towered over most women by a foot and half to two feet. I felt like Darth Vader approaching a bunny. Plus, it’s not a real turn-on for them to be staring up my nostrils.
I wish I’d been able to ignore the physical differences as I can now and just sit down, preferably on a shorter chair than them, and just talk to them about movies and books and history — anything but basketball.
3. How to dress for success. I was in college in the late 60s, at the height of the biggest cultural and fashion revolution in the history of this country. Yet, when I wasn’t dressed in my basketball uniform or sweats, I mostly wore some combination of t-shirts and khaki pants — the official uniform of Nerds International.
I wish I’d been a little bolder in my fashion sense when I turned pro. I’m not saying tie-dyed shirts and elephant bell bottoms, but there were some cool Edwardian suits and Beatle boots coming out of England that would have given me a royal look I could have rocked.
4. How to pick an automobile. If left to my own devices, I’d probably have bought the Batmobile that Adam West drove. I didn’t know or care about gas mileage, safety ratings, reliability or any of that stuff old people talked about.
I wish I’d listened to what those old people talked about. It would have saved me a lot of money wasted on looks over performance.
5. How to pick interesting places to go on vacation. As a college player, I traveled a lot. So I thought I knew the many places I’d visited, even though I’d only been passing through. When you turn pro, your vacations aren’t just to have fun, they’re to relax an exhausted body and rebuild a weary mind.
I wish I’d known that a good vacation isn’t just picking an interesting place to go, but also discovering all the things that make that place truly interesting. I wish I’d been more adventurous in my selections and less laid-back in exploring.
6. How to get in shape and stay in shape. You’d think as a top college athlete I was in the best shape of my life. Not really. Like most young people, I relied more on my youth and natural athletic ability than a smart, thoughtful regimen.
I wish I’d started yoga back then to better protect and heal my body. When I finally did start doing yoga in 1976, it put me on a path of physical rebuilding that allowed me to play for 20 years without major injuries.
7. How to prepare simple meals for a healthy diet. In college, I ate like a shark: Whatever swam past me got swallowed. At that time, we knew less about nutrition. But even if he had been more educated about nutrition, the arrogance of youth often rejects science in favor of pleasure.
I wish I’d eaten healthier foods to build a better body because the pro basketball schedule is probably the most grueling challenge to an aging body that there is.
8. How to maintain friendships through a rigorous travel schedule. College kids take so much for granted, especially friendships. They don’t realize how important yet fragile these friendships can be once plucked from the relatively protected garden of college life.
I wish I’d realized how much effort was necessary to maintain my friendships. Foolishly, I thought I could just pick up where we left off, despite my long absences. I wish I’d called more, visited more, and generally paid more attention to those people who were most valuable in my life.
9. How to develop a business Rolodex — and implement it. I was never that interested in the practicalities of business or career. I thought that if I played exceptional basketball, all else would fall neatly into place.
I wish I’d forced myself to pay more attention to the many business contacts and opportunities I had. If I’d started my pro career with that awareness, I might have accomplished much more, not just in terms of my own business gains, but in growing mySkyhook Foundation to do even more in the community.
10. How to become financially literate and aware of how investments work.
Like many professional athletes, especially back in the late Sixties, I focused on my sport and trusted others to focus on my business. That did not always work out to my benefit.
I wish I’d stepped up to the role of businessman more, learning about how investments work and what my financial options were.
I’ll be heading down to Final Four to hang out with NCAA Champions Bill Walton, Elgin Baylor, Dominique Wilkens and Tyus Edney. We have all partnered with PrimeSport and the NCAA and we will be appearing at this year’s Final Four in Atlanta to celebrate the 75th year of the NCAA Tournament. Any fans who would like to go to any of the NCAA games in person or attend the Final Four and join us should visit www.ncaa.com/hospitality
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