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Kareem Abdul-Jaabar: My Body Wants To Assassinate Me

As the NBA playoffs begin, all-time basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jaabar reflects on the love/hate relationship he has had with his own body as he and it have aged in the years since he retired.

My body is an assassin. And his main target is me. He wants to kill me, but not all at once. He’s a sadistic sniper, hitting me here, allowing me to recover, then hitting me again in a different spot. He shot me with leukemia, prostate cancer, and Afib. He’s not done. He’s waiting out there somewhere, crouching in the bushes, controlling his breathing, line up his crosshairs on a fresh part of my body.

Oh, the betrayal. My body and I used to be best buds. We chummed around everywhere together, eating great food, playing basketball, enjoying romantic relationships. Sometimes we got hurt, but we healed fast and laughed it off. Together we felt like we could do anything, achieve greatness. And we did.

Now I sometimes feel about my body like I’m caring for a gruff hobbling parent, hauling him to appointment after appointment, while he shows no gratitude. Yet, he leans all his considerable weight on me as I schlep him around all day. It’s exhausting.

Still, I love the old curmudgeon. He may trip me when I’m not looking. May make me forget a book title or where I left my glasses. May be adding a laser scope to his rifle. But sometimes he forgets his sinister mission and comes out from the bushes to hang with old friends, play with grandchildren, and comfort others. He’s not all bad.

Our evolving relationship has actually done me more good than harm. I learned how to lean on others when I was ill. That is not a small accomplishment. Each clumsy potshot he’s taken has brought me closer to my friends and family. Plus, seeing dedicated doctors and nurses doing all they could to help me nurtured my faith in humanity. Faith in humanity is an endangered emotion these days, so I’m happy whenever I experience it anew.

Maybe my body isn’t an assassin. Maybe it’s still my best buddy. It’s just that now we have a different, more mature relationship, based on shared joys and shared struggles. In his song “Old Friends,” Paul Simon wrote about two old men sitting on a park bench: “Old friends, memory brushes the same years/Silently sharing the same fears.” Me and my body are those old friends. Maybe we do share the same fears about deterioration and death, but they’re a lot less scary facing them together.

And neither of us intends, as Dylan Thomas said, to “go gentle into that good night.”

Kareem Abdul-Jaabar: I hope you’ll join me on the path forward by subscribing to my newsletter in which over the coming months I hope to entertain and inform—and even surprise. Every new edition of the newsletter goes directly into your inbox, so you’re always up to date. The cost is $5 per month or $50 for the year. Less than the cost of the average NBA ticket for one game. That gives you access to additional articles, my frequent posts, and allows you to join in the vigorous comments with other members of the community.

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