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'Kareem: Minority of One' review: Abdul-Jabbar documentary will please sports fans only

NBA Star Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the HBO

NBA Star Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the HBO documentary "Kareem: A Minority of One." Photo Credit: HBO / Nikara Johns

THE DOCUMENTARY "Kareem: Minority of One"

WHEN | WHERE Tuesday night at 10 on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. in New York in 1947, was one of the two or three greatest players in NBA history, and has the championship rings (six: four as a player, two as an assistant coach), duration (20 years in the league) and sky hook as proof. This thorough sports bio covers it all, from the Power Memorial days through to the Lakers, with dozens of interviews, including Pat Riley, Magic Johnson, Cornel West and Billy Crystal. Riley sums up the career perfectly with this: "The most unstoppable weapon in the history of the NBA."

MY SAY I once had a strange -- OK, weird -- fantasy about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: He could've been a TV critic if that basketball thing didn't work out. He'd have been a damned good one, too. I could see him at the TV Critics press tour, his long arm raised. "Hi, I'm Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and I wanted to ask you about that casting decision in 'The Grinder.' "

Reason is, Abdul-Jabbar is an outstanding writer and cultural critic who has written widely and well about TV and pop culture. He knows the game, all right -- the TV game. But he's also written about history and World War II. He's an expert Holmesian -- as in Sherlock -- and has a recent novel, co-written with Anna Waterhouse, to prove that.

He's also an expert in life, and its travails. He's suffered from leukemia and recently underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery. Abdul-Jabbar may have retired in 1989, but No. 33 has had a whole other life since then, and by most accounts a successful, interesting one.

You won't even get a glimpse of that, however, in this richly deserved and well-produced documentary. It's sports most of the time. Nevertheless, many colleagues and journalists still speak of the remote, mysterious figure. "Kareem was a different piece of toast, man," says former Lakers teammate James Worthy.

But maybe the piece of toast was hidden in plain sight all those years, or in the years since, his nose doubtless buried in a book by Arthur Conan Doyle, or more recently binge-watching the third season of "Girls." A different piece of toast, indeed.


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