What Can Managers Learn From Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

by buildingpharmabrands

sky hook

What can managers learn from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? If you are not a basketball lover or fan, the first question that comes to your mind is: Who is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the most celebrated players in basketball history with the most points in the game in his twenty-year long career – a staggering 38,387. He is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, the single most devastating shot in the history of NBA. Further, he is the only player in the 107-year history of NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) to be named as the Most Valuable Player of the tournament for three years in a row. And he is more. A leader, historian, successful writer, a New York Times best selling author and an award-winning filmmaker, who produced a documentary about unsung African-American Heroes.

Today, Kareem’s leadership skills have taken a new direction. He believes education issues should be a critical focus in the US and around the globe. Last year, Kareem was named as a US Cultural Ambassador by Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton. He was also named as California’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) After-school Ambassador.

Kareem was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia (Ph+CML) in 2008, and has become a passionate cancer advocate, speaking across the country to others about his cancer journey. His cancer right now is at an absolute minimum and he is very positive that his illness would not prevent him from leading a normal life.

Kareem is currently writing three new children’s books for Disney’s Hyperion, which are based on a basketball street gang due for publication later this year. He is a regular contributing columnist for ESPN.com and Huffington Post.

Kareem has been multifaceted and multidimensional. Here are his thoughts on very important leadership and managerial qualities and conduct in his own words spoken on different occasions. You are sure to get the big picture that he is not only Big in physical terms but also a giant for his philosophy, character and as a human being. They are worth emulating for every one of us in our constant pursuit of excellence. Managers, in particular can learn a lesson or two in setting an example for their teams and how to build and lead winning teams.


  1. A team will always appreciate a great individual if he’s willing to sacrifice for the group.
  2. Five guys on court working together can achieve more than five talented individuals who come and go as individuals.
  3. One man can be a crucial ingredient on a team, but one man cannot make a team.
  4. A lot of players think the game is all about individual performances when it’s really all about a team game.
  5. You can’t win if you don’t play as a unit.
  6. Great players are willing to give up their personal achievement for the achievement of the group. It enhances everybody.
  7. I learn to appreciate my teammates, because you can’t win by yourself. One person can’t get it done. So you appreciate the guys who put in the hard work and don’t necessarily get the accolades or the big paycheck, but they’re the guys who make it possible for you shine and for the team to shine.

Pursuit of Excellence

  1. The extra pass and the extra effort on defense always get the job done.
  2. Fundamental preparation is always effective. Work on those parts of your game that are fundamentally weak.
  3. You have to be able to center yourself, to let all of your emotions go…Don’t ever forget that you play with your soul as well as your body.
  4. I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.
  5. Your mind is what makes everything else work.
  6. I’m not comfortable being preachy, but more people need to start spending as much time in the library as they do on the basketball court.
  7. I try to do the right thing at the right time. They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing.
  8. To excel, you need both talent and practice. But a good work ethic trumps lazy talent every time. Conditioning and preparation are key aspects for any competition.


  1. As a parent, I have a job as a role model to my children, and by extension, to other young people.
  2. I tell kids to pursue their basketball dreams, but I tell them not to let that be their only dream.
  3. I think someone should explain to the child that it’s OK to make mistakes. That’s how we learn. When we compete, we make mistakes.


  1. You can’t win unless you learn how to lose.
  2. If not shown appreciation, it gets to you.
  3. When we went up against teams that were better, I just hoped that we could steal the victories.


When asked by Alison Beard of Harvard Business Review in an interview: as a captain, how did you motivate other players, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar replied, “ By example. I was always in shape. I was always a team player. I understood the fundamentals of the game and worked on them constantly, during the season and in the off-season. And I tried to be always prepared and focused.

On coaching, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a gentle and meaningful suggestion to all the coaches be it in sports or in business. He said: Respect always makes people more amenable to criticism or a correction. The whole idea of mutual appreciation really smooths out those interactions between people on different levels. 

Finally, when asked what he would like to be remembered for, Kareem replied, “ Well, I know I’ll be remembered for the things I did on the basket ball court. I hope people will also see that I am not just someone of a singular dimension, and that I am multidimensional, and that my books and my film are worthy of somebody that should be respected. And If that’s how I’m remembered, I’d be very pleased.”