On June 29, 2021, the NBA announced that Carmelo Anthony was the
inaugural recipient of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice
Champion award. Anthony was selected in recognition of his
years of mentorship for young NBA players, his activism through the
Carmelo Anthony Foundation and his most recent partnership with
Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade to create the Social Change
Throughout his life, Kareem has been committed to advocating and
fighting for equality for groups who have been marginalized. The
NBA has been committed to social activism as well, and their
efforts seemingly increased in the wake of the murder of George
Floyd in May of 2020.
Last month, the NBA formally unveiled the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Trophy at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles. NBA Deputy Commissioner
Mark Tatum was on the scene to present the new trophy to Anthony
and recognize Kareem’s mission to fight for social justice.
“We created the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Champion award last
season in recognition of Kareem’s leadership, his unwavering
commitment to equality and his life-long pursuit of social
justice,” Tatum said. “Kareem is one of the greatest players in NBA
history, if not the greatest player in NBA history, but he’s also
one of our greatest trailblazers, not just on the court but more
importantly off the court. He set the standard for generations of
athletes — not just basketball players, but athletes — who have
dedicated their lives to using their voice to advocate for
meaningful change to uplift marginalized people.”
Abdul-Jabbar also spoke at the event, noting how proud he is
that the NBA has made social justice
activism a core part of the league’s identity.
“There aren’t many sports organizations that would make social
justice not just a priority, but a mission,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
“That’s why I am so proud to have been 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 to provide the highest level of social commitment.”
When BasketballNews.com asked about the criteria for winning the
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award, he thought for a
“I think the next recipients need to think about things in their
community they can change using their platform and their wallet,"
he explained. "And if they can spare the time and the money, they
can go and do these things in their communities, the positive
change that they incentivize to make everyone smile and make the
community a better place to live. That’s what it should be
Abdul-Jabbar has advocated for social change during periods of
heightened political unrest, such as the Civil Rights
Movement and over the last few years with the protests against
excessive force from law enforcement against members of the Black
“We can’t just arbitrarily remove people’s avenues that they
have when they protest,” Abdul-Jabbar told BasketballNews.com.
“It’s not a thing that’s going to be here all the time, where we’re
protesting. But sometimes you have to stop and consider what’s
going down, that there needs to be a change with what’s going
Tatum spoke about how the NBA evaluates and determines the
winner of the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion
“One of the things that we look at is a player’s commitment, how
long they’ve been doing it,
what are the results,” Tatum told BasketballNews.com. “Have they
been able to really put
resources behind it and deliver results in the areas that they are
focused on here?"
Among several quality candidates, Tatum says Anthony stood out
for several reasons.
"It's because of how long he’s been doing it, his commitment to
it, his passion for it," Tatum said. "He's been successful in areas
of voting access, criminal justice reform and representation in
government. Because of the results that he’s shown for it through
his organization, he became the inaugural winner of the award.”
Abdul-Jabbar acknowledged that pushing for social justice and
change can be difficult. When asked about the political climate
over the last few years and how that can come into conflict with
the business of the NBA (such as when the Milwaukee Bucks refused
to take the floor during the 2020 NBA Playoffs after charges were
not brought against the officer who shot Jacob Blake), Tatum
reiterated the NBA’s firm stance on pushing for social progress and
supporting its players.
“We have a long history as a league, the league and our players,
of standing up for social justice and fighting for equality,” Tatum
said. “And we always support our players when they speak out about
things that are important to them. So in that particular case, as
we saw, we supported our players and we listened to them. It really
is a partnership where we figured out the best way forward and the
best approach. Obviously, there were a lot of things that came out
of that in terms of fighting for voting, and I know the Milwaukee
Bucks, for example, were on with the legislature of not only the
city government but state government as well to try to enact change
in these areas.
"Again, it’s a partnership between the players and us. We always
support their right to say what they want to say and to work on the
things they want to work on because it’s consistent with our
The NBA is expected to announce this year's finalists for the
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion award at some point
during the 2022 NBA Playoffs.