It feels fitting that in a time of the Movement for Black Lives and the last months of the first black president, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jim Brown and Bill Russell, champions of social justice, will receive the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, not only for their achievement in sports but also for their activism, Sports Illustrated reports.
It’s also fitting that all three participated in the “Ali Summit” in Cleveland in 1967, where prominent African-American male athletes gathered to determine whether to support the beleaguered heavyweight champion, who had refused to step forward for the military draft because of his religious objections to war. The athletes, after talking with Ali, decided that he was sincere in those beliefs and stood up for him. The three-time champion died in June at the age of 74.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 69, who was the anchor of the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers, is a legend on the basketball court; he is still the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. A class act both on and off the court, the Hall of Famer not only is a cultural icon and best-selling author but also serves as the U.S. cultural ambassador, “a role in which he travels the world promoting the importance of education, tolerance and cultural understanding,” Sports Illustrated reports.
“Muhammad Ali was both a friend and a personal inspiration to me as an athlete and as an activist,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement, SI reports. “To receive an award in his name is especially moving because it means I am honoring his legacy as a man who defied conventions and courageously risked life and career to making America a land of freedom, equal opportunity and social justice.”
You still don’t want to be on 80-year-old Jim Brown’s bad side. Known as a fierce runner on the field and an equally fierce champion of the black community, Brown still looks as if he could suit up today. He was a three-time NFL MVP for the Cleveland Browns, and after retiring from football, “he founded the Black Economic Union to promote economic development in black communities, and the Amer-I-Can program, which teaches life skills to underprivileged children,” SI reports. Brown is widely respected for his work with gangs and his ability to walk into some of the toughest communities in the country and speak directly to the person in charge.
“I am deeply touched to be honored for a lifetime spent working to establish common ground and mutual respect for all perspectives and backgrounds,” Brown told SI. “I hope that this tribute serves as a symbol of inspiration for all Americans to be champions of social justice. This is a proud moment for me, and I am thrilled to be recognized alongside two other transformative athletes with whom I share a long history of activism and friendship, and for whom I have great respect.”
If you’re in a McDonald’s and you drop your coffee, there is a good chance Bill Russell will catch it before it hits the floor. At 82, Russell, who won 11 championships in his 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics and was a five-time NBA MVP, was a beast on the backboards.
He was also the first “African American to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1975,” SI reports. Russell has been an outspoken champion for civil rights and fighter of racial injustice since his time in the NBA.
“To be a true influence of positive change in the world often means that you have to stand up against injustice and fight through adversity,” Russell told SI. “I am honored to be recognized alongside some of the great cultural icons of our time who have used their platforms to fight for civil rights and social justice, regardless of the risk, including my good friend Muhammad Ali, to whom the award is dedicated. Our work has just begun.”
The award presentation will take place at SI’s Sportsperson of the Year gala Dec. 12 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Read more at Sports Illustrated.