Abdul-Jabbar shows film, says cancer at ‘minimum’

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - A few days after putting a comment on his Twitter account that he was cancer free, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said Thursday that it was a “misstatement.”

“You’re never really cancer free and I should have known that,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “My cancer right now is at an absolute minimum.”

The 63-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, a six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in 2008. He spoke Thursday at Science Park High School, after the screening of his new full-length documentary about the Harlem Rens basketball team, “On the Shoulders of Giants.”

“It’s not life-threatening,” he said, “at this point in my life.”

Abdul-Jabbar said when he was first diagnosed with leukemia, he didn’t know what to think. He feared the worst.

“I thought I might be dead in a few months,” he said. “I had a good friend (actor Bruno Kirby) who was diagnosed with leukemia and was dead within 30 days. I really had no understanding of what I was dealing with.”

With the help of a medication called Gleevec, CML can be monitored better, and the chances for recovery are improved. Abdul-Jabbar is a spokesman for Novartis, the company that produces Gleevec.

“Medical science has made great strides over the last 20 years,” he said. “People in my position are able to live their lives to the fullest. I’m very grateful for that. I’m lucky that they caught it in enough time, and I’ve responded well to the medication. If not for the success that medicine has made, I might be part of a much different story right now.”

The basketball star turned author wrote a book about the Harlem Renaissance Big Five, also known as the Harlem Rens. They were a basketball team comprised of African-Americans who fought to be a part of the game, only to be set back by the racism that plagued the United States before World War II. The book chronicles the Rens as they made their way toward playing in the first non-segregated championship in 1939 against a team from Oshkosh, Wis.

Abdul-Jabbar’s book became a documentary that was shown to approximately 1,000 Newark high school students on Thursday. A panel discussion followed.

“The film has all the things I love,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It has basketball, jazz music and the history of African-American people. I think the film came out really well. I’m happy with it. I spoke with various educators and they believed that New Jersey would benefit from seeing it. It seemed to me that they were interested in it.”

Perhaps it’s the start of something special for Abdul-Jabbar.

“The main reason why I did the film is that it is enabling me to make the transition from a jock,” he said, “and give me credibility as a scholar and a filmmaker. I’m going to continue to make that work.”

Abdul-Jabbar made sure to get his message across to the nation’s youth. On Wednesday, the film was shown to students at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, where Abdul-Jabbar grew up.

“You’re the main reason why I did what I did with this film,” Abdul-Jabbar told the students. “I want to challenge you to make Newark and New Jersey a better place. I hope to read about you doing good things in the future. So go forth, do your thing and be successful.”

Abdul-Jabbar has scheduled another screening next week in Los Angeles.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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