The NBA on Thursday morning announced the creation of a new annual award that will recognize an active player for their efforts toward social justice. The honor is named after legendary Basketball Hall of Famer and lifelong civil rights activist Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Each team will nominate a recipient, and a panel comprised of NBA and WNBA greats, league officials, and notable activists will narrow it down to five finalists, the league said. Winners will be chosen for following Abdul-Jabbar's "mission to drive change" and for having inspired others to do the same.
“I’m honored and grateful to be associated with this award that will recognize the dedicated and selfless people fighting to promote social justice for all marginalized people,” said Abdul-Jabbar. “To me, it’s another giant step in the right direction for the country and all people who value equality.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said Abdul-Jabbar is one of the league's greatest, both on and off the court.
“In addition to being one of our greatest players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has devoted much of his life to advocating for equality and social justice,” Silver said. “With this new award, we are proud to recognize and celebrate NBA players who are using their influence to make an impact on their communities and our broader society.”
The new award is somewhat similar to those handed out every year by MLB and the NFL, the Roberto Clemente Award and the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, respectively. For both of those awards, each team nominates an honoree, and a final winner is chosen from there.
The new NBA award comes less than a year after the league officially adopted Black Lives Matter messaging amid nationwide protests over the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Countless active and retired NBA players took part in peaceful protests and calls for justice, including former standout Stephen Jackson, a friend of Floyd's.
Abdul-Jabbar was active in the civil rights movement throughout his dominant college career and into the pros, advocating on behalf of the underserved and against injustice with dignity and poise. He has long said growing up in poverty in New York City's Dyckman housing projects was a formative and appalling experience.
Kareem supported Muhammad Ali's refusal to join the military, helped organize a boycott of the 1968 Olympics in the wake of the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and withstood great bigotry when he converted to Islam and changed his name in 1971. In 2016, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.