Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of basketball’s all-time greatest players and one of the most loved, shook the sports world years ago when he announced that he had cancer. In an effort to help people understand his disease, the sports legend made the public disclosure nearly a year after being diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia (Ph+ CML).
Ph+ CML is a slow progressing type of blood cancer that’s characterized by an abnormality known as the Philadelphia chromosome, which produces a protein called BCR-ABL. BCR-ABL has been identified as the sole cause and driver of CML.
“Having lost one of my closest friends to a different, highly aggressive form of leukemia, I knew how serious my diagnosis was,” said Abdul-Jabbar, now age 73. “My own life expectancy became a question mark.”
Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, converted to Sunni Islam in 1968, though he did not begin publicly using his Arabic name until 1971. He boycotted the 1968 Summer Olympics by deciding not to try out for the United States Men’s Olympic Basketball team. This action was in protest to the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the United States.
Abdul-Jabbar won five championships with the Los Angeles Lakers before retiring in 1989. He was diagnosed with CML in December 2008 and is being treated with a medicine that targets the abnormal protein that causes his leukemia. With treatment, Abdul-Jabbar is expected to live a full, active life.
Abdul-Jabbar learned of his condition after consulting a doctor about hot flashes and night sweats.
“Fortunately, my cancer was detected in its early stages,” he says. “I also am lucky to have a son who, at the time, was training to become a doctor, and was able to calm me down and be a solid sounding board until I could get all my questions answered by my specialist.”
The intensely private Abdul-Jabbar, a father of five, said he came forward after learning many patients don’t regularly take their medication and skip appointments to the doctor.
“I’m telling my story to encourage fellow patients to take charge of their health,” he said. “Work closely with your doctor, monitor your disease and, above all, take your medicine.”
Now, after a few years from announcing his cancer, Kareem is doing very well. “You’re never really cancer-free and I should have…