Unbeknownst to him, basketball legend-turned-author Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was pulled into the 2008 campaign fray this week.
In a radio ad airing in South Carolina, Abdul-Jabbar's former teammate Magic Johnson endorses Hillary Clinton and suggests that her chief rival, Barack Obama, is an overreaching rookie.
"We won our first game on a last-second shot," the former L.A. Lakers point guard says in the ad. "I was so hyped. But the captain of my team said, 'Take it easy rookie, it's a long season, it's a long road to the championship.' He was right."
The team captain that Magic is referencing: Mr. Abdul-Jabbar, who told the Huffington Post that Magic has it wrong about Obama. "I don't think he's a rookie. He's served as a senator very capably, and he is very skilled in terms of his ability to organize and lead people. And that's what we need right now."
Abdul-Jabbar, who recently authored a book charting the lasting impact of the Harlem Renaissance, said he doesn't fault Magic Johnson for his endorsement. "Mrs. Clinton is not a bad choice, I just think Mr. Obama is the best choice."
But he noted, "Unfortunately, Mrs. Clinton has been at many times a divisive figure, and I don't think that's intentional on her part, but I do think that's the case."
Abdul-Jabbar's book "On the Shoulders Of Giants" addresses the legacy of key African American leaders (in a glowing book review, the Washington Post said the author had transitioned from "iconic professional athlete to astute cultural historian.") But he chose not to weigh in on the recent racially-loaded spats between Obama and Clinton.
Instead, he pointed to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's false claim that his father had marched with Martin Luther King Jr. as the "most outrageous attempt to use Dr. King's legacy in a very fraudulent way." He also described as "disgraceful" former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee's recent embrace of the Confederate Flag as a political issue.
Abdul-Jabbar saved his sharpest criticism for the Bush administration. "I don't think a country that practices extraordinary rendition and has denied people habeas corpus and has practiced torture, that is not a country I am very proud of," he said. "We need people that can reach out in various directions and make the case for our nation both internally and in terms of foreign policy. I think Obama's the right person to do that."
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