On Sunday, April 3, the NBA unveiled the new Kareem Abdul-Jabbar trophy that was awarded to the league’s annual Social Justice Champion, Los Angeles Lakers forward, Carmelo Anthony, prior to the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets game.
The honor recognizes a current NBA player for pursuing social justice and advancing six-time NBA Champion, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, and member of the 75th Anniversary team, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s life mission to engage, empower and drive equality for historically marginalized or systemically disadvantaged individuals and groups.
The trophy was unveiled during the pregame ceremony at Crypto.com Arena. During the event, NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum and Abdul-Jabbar delivered remarks on the ongoing benevolent efforts of players and working with very talented artists on the social justice award project.
“What a great award this is. This award not only recognizes the one player, but several players who are doing work in their communities every single day, throughout the year to fight for social justice, to fight for equality, to fight for inclusion,” said Commissioner Tatum, who expressed appreciation for the work of Anthony and other socially conscious players in the league. “And to have the trophy be named after Kareem Abdul-Jabar, one of the greatest in the game, but also one of the greatest off the court and one of the social justice champions.”
According to the NBA, the trophy’s structure features a 3-D print of Abdul-Jabbar’s hands holding up the inclusive ideals in the form of a basketball globe, which represents the impact athletes and activists can have to use their platforms and advance social justice globally. The gold, six-sided base symbolizes harmony and balance, while celebrating Abdul-Jabbar’s holistic excellence – both with his six NBA titles and many accolades outside of the game.
Speaking to the media about the award, Kareem noted, “There aren’t too many sports organizations that would make social justice a priority but a mission. That’s why I am so proud to have been a part of the NBA for so much of my life. They have proven themselves to be dedicated to providing the highest level of athletic competition, while also pledging the highest level of social commitment. With the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award, they are acknowledging that while sports uplift people’s spirits, it’s just as important to uplift their daily lives.”
In attendance were trophy designers, James Adams, Jr., Jason Garrett, and Lacy Talley, three artists from the inaugural NBA Foundation grantee Marcus Graham Project, and Literally Balling artist, Victor Solomon. The trophy honors Abdul-Jabbar’s legacy and draws inspiration from his commitment to creating an equal and just society, leveling the playing field, and ensuring that every child is free to dream.
According to Garrett, his organization was given an opportunity to work on the social justice award by the NBA as an extension of the workshops they are already operating.
“Our organization received the inaugural grant from the NBA Foundation, and what we do from the I Creative Workshop, we travel around the NBA and find top-level talent within the ego system. We train them, expose them to opportunities, then help them find work within marketing, sports, media, and advertising,” he said.
“Our work is very important and valuable because the opportunity is so hard to find for our community. We have the talent, but people don’t know how to access that talent.“
Victor Solomon, an accomplished artist who works with the NBA to redesign and produce all the NBA trophies, reflected on the collaboration.
“This trophy is very special, not only for its symbolism surrounding the celebrating social justice, but we had an amazing opportunity to collaborate with Kareem. We wanted to do something personal and relating to him,” said Solomon, who added that the group made a 3D capture of Kareem’s hands to create the mold for the trophy.
“I think art and sports have lots of parallels – the discipline, creativity, and innovation that is required to elevate, they kind of merge in this beautiful way. We’ve had a great opportunity with the trophy redesign program to merge these two worlds together. It’s very special to celebrate a conceptual honor and to integrate Kareem’s legacy, spirit, and DNA into it at the same time.”
Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points. He won a league-record six MVP awards, earned six championship rings, and two Finals MVP awards. Throughout his life, he has been a steadfast advocate and activist for civil rights and social justice.
Emphasizing the relevance of the award, Abdul-Jabbar reflected, “I grew up in the 60s and 70s when the Civil Rights Movement was at its most turbulent. There were peaceful protests and violent riots. “There is still a long way to go before we are judged by the content of our character. And the only way we can get there is to team up for the rights of all marginalized people. Many of those ideals and values have been incorporated into the design of this magnificent trophy created by the Marcus Graham Project,” Kareem said.
“While I value my years in the NBA, the many lifelong friends I made, and of course, my championship rings, this reward may be my and the NBA’s most important legacy. Because with it, we all stand tall, not to just reach a hoop but to protect those who others would diminish, exploit, or make feel to feel powerless or voiceless.”