Tag Archive: lakers

Of Curses, Seforim & Kareem Abdul-Jabaar!

A little over a month ago I wrote about a reported meeting between Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This post went viral and was even cited in this article on ESPN.com. I have received emails from many readers around the globe who have responded to this story. One reader in particular shared the following story with me and was even so kind as to photocopy the following story that appears in a sefer entitled Birkas Abba Yaakov. This sefer was released in tribute to Rabbi Abba Yaakov Liff zt”l and shares many stories and vignettes about his life and passion for all things Torah. While he passed away now over 23 years ago, he will forever be remembered as one of the original students of Ner Israel Rabbinical College as well as the name behind the Yeshiva known as: Ner Yaakov.

On page 50 footnote 37 Birkas Abba Yaakov documents that the Rabbi was ill for several years before succumbing to his illness. On one occasion, the Rabbi had to fly to Cleveland to have an operation. And so, he took not one but two cases of seforim which were with him the entire stay. On his return flight back to Baltimore, passengers were up in arms that there was a famous basketball star on the airplane by the name of none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabaar! This name didn’t really register to Rabbi Liff until he returned home with all the suitcases and the two cartons of seforim; instead, there was a television and other electronics that belonged to none other than Kareem! The Rabbi quickly surmised that the airline must have mixed up the box with the seforim and this box (this was clearly in the days prior to the TSA!).

Indeed, when Rabbi Liff called the airline to alert them to the mix up he was told that Mr. Jabaar had already called requesting his electronics, but he denied that he had seen the seforim . In the interest of being the upstanding citizen that he was, Rabbi Liff sent him the box with the electronics but was visibly shaken by the loss of some of his favorite seforim.

A number of days passed and out of the blue an unaffiliated Jew called Rabbi Liff from of all places Washington. He told the Rabbi that he had found seforim with Rabbi Liff’s name and address inscribed in them in the middle of the highway between Baltimore and Washington! Rabbi Liff could only assume that the young basketball star threw the box out of his car window when he realized that it didn’t contain his electronics. Regardless of who actually treated his holy seforim this way, Rabbi Liff remarked then and there that whoever defiled his seforim in such a manner deserved to be cursed for having them be literally strewn onto the highway. After all, if not for a good Samaritan who happened to read some Hebrew—they would have been lost forever!

Within a few days, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar broke his right hand while playing a basketball game. It was such a hard hit that it broke the backboard as well as his hand. Reports of his injury were all over the media, and it took him months to recover. However, Rabbi Liff believed that the reason why his hand in particular was punished with this career altering injury was because it was this very hand that carelessly disgraced the Torah by throwing out the seforim of Rabbi Liff.

This is not the first report of a Rabbi cursing a public figure. There are alleged reports all across the Jewish world and perhaps even snopes.com as to which Rabbi supposedly cursed Joseph Kennedy, damning him and all his male offspring to tragic fates because of his resistance to help Jews flee the Holocaust. I am not here to debate the accuracy of either “The Kennedy Curse” or “The Jabaar Curse” that has only recently come to my attention. The take away that I believe we can all learn from these instances is that we never know who we may meet—even ever so casually—who will forever alter our life. We must treat every person, every human life, and the belongings of everyone with the greatest of respect! We never know what may come back to haunt us down the road or days later. By truly working this message into every aspect of our life (and not just from 9 to 5) we will show a great amount of honor to the Torah and the ways of Hashem.

UPDATE: I received the following from Rabbi Yechiel Liff (Rabbi Liff’s son). Despite the Sefer printing that Rabbi Liff was going to Cleveland, he son told me that he traveled to Milwaukee to have open heart by pass surgery. Indeed, this sits better with the overall story as the first city that Mr. Jabaar played basketball in was Milwaukee.

UPDATE 2: Kareem did not break a backboard. During the 1974 preseason, Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand after punching the basket support stanchion following a hard foul. On the play, Abdul-Jabbar scratched his eye and he would wear protective goggles for the rest of his playing career. The broken hand sidelined Abdul-Jabbar for the first 16 games of the 1974-75 season. With (Oscar) Robertson retired, the Bucks went 38-44 and missed the playoffs for the first time since Abdul-Jabbar was drafted (http://espn.go.com/nba/player/bio/_/id/4145/kareem-abdul-jabbar).

UPDATE: Rabbi Lau & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Story

A little over a month ago I wrote about a news report here in Israel that detailed the history and upcoming meeting of Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Recently, that post of mine has seemingly become viral and has brought thousands of new visitors to this site. And so, I’d like to thank a reader of mine, Eric, for directing me to this article on ESPN.com.

Henry Abbott of ESPN.com linked to the story reported on my blog and asked Kareem, “I have heard this amazing tale about your dad and a boy he helped liberate from a concentration camp at the end of World War II. Would you mind recounting briefly the story of Rabbi Lau and your dad?”

Below is Kareem’s answer:

That story — people have gotten that all mixed up. There was a reporter in Israel who put my father into the tank battalion that liberated Dachau. My dad was a police officer in New York. One of the guys that he was a police officer with was in a tank battalion that liberated Dachau. Rabbi Lau was a boy in Buchenwald, which was also liberated by black troops, but it was a totally different group than the one that my dad’s friend was in. The group that helped liberate Buchenwald was the 183rd Combat Engineers, an all black unit.

To further illustrate the mix up, (perhaps due to the language barrier of the Israeli reporter?) Mr. Jabbar continued to clear the air swirling around this story by explaining that:

The reporter in Israel mixed all of the facts up, and got it all conflated. People were thinking my dad was a lieutenant in the 761st Tank Battalion. My dad was a lieutenant in the New York City Transit Police! And that’s how he got to know Smitty, who was one of the liberators of Dachau and other camps.

That said, he did express his great respect for the Rabbi when he mentioned that as early as 1997 he had met Rabbi Lau when he was in Israel. Indeed, Abdul-Jabbar remarked that, “I just wanted to say hi to him because he had a particular regard for the black Americans that were involved in his liberation!”

However, this recent claim of Mr. Jabbar goes contrary to what friends, acquaintances, and even published author and the former Dean of Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles, Rabbi Dovid Landesman, had heard from Kareem himself!

A number of years ago, Kareem visited an Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills by the name of: Beth Jacob Congregation. Indeed, he addressed the audience and as Rabbi Landesman, (who ironically enough wrote a book entitled, There are no Basketball Courts in Heaven) recalled here:

He retold the story, mentioning that he had been amazed that Rabbi Lau a]had remembered his uncle’s name (after all these years) and b] gone to the trouble of making a reception to express his gratitude (towards Jabbar during his visit to Israel). He told the audience that it had been a life lesson on what it means to express thanks!

While I was not present at Beth Jacob that particular Shabbos, I remember there being many teens who were not only buzzing about the fact that a Lakers great visited their Shul—but also about the powerful message that he relayed. And so, I wish I could utter with certainty the famous line of the legendary newscaster Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story. Good day!”

However, I can’t. There seems to be a contradiction between Kareem’s words in his recent interview with ESPN and his words that Rabbi Landesman recalled him making to the Orthodox congregation.

In Abbott’s piece Kareem dismissed the story by not simply being “misquoted” (which seems to be a line used by athletes sometimes) but  instead being “mixed up” or perhaps lost in translation.

On behalf of all the the seemingly hundreds of people who have emailed me asking for any more information on this story, I can only hope that Henry Abbott of ESPN.com or perhaps Brian and Andy Kamenetzky of the Land O’ Lakers Blog on ESPN.com, can help us all clarify this story once and for all.

For the record I do believe that Kareem should get his coveted statue outside of Staples Center!

Chief Rabbi Lau & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Meet!

Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is a tall man who brightens any room with his Torah depth and stature. He is viewed as a someone who has achieved wondrous feats! From surviving the Holocaust and continuing on the Rabbinic dynasty that he hails from, to serving as the Chief Rabbi of Israel and now Tel Aviv—he remains a legendary figure to all of Jewry. On the complete opposite spectrum stands the legendary Lakers Center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Born Ferdinand Lewis “Lew” Alcindor, Jr., he had a prolific college and NBA career becoming one of the best basketball players of all time. In 1971 Lew Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. To the naked eye it would seem that the only thing he shares in common with Rabbi Lau is that they are both luminous figures.

And yet, these two men—one a Jew and another a Muslim—are eagerly looking forward to meeting one another this July in Israel!

Why?

The former NBA star is making a film about none other than World War II, and will honor the final wish of his father. You see, Ferdinand L. Alcindor Sr., had one dying wish. He requested that his son visit Israel and meet the little boy that he personally rescued from Buchenwald and turned into a prominent Rabbi. This Rabbi is none other than Rabbi Lau!

Indeed, Rabbi Lau, who also serves as chairman of the Council of Yad Vashem remarked that, “the fact that such a famous basketball player, and a Muslim, is about to attach himself to the Holocaust issue is very exciting. I will certainly give my blessing to this initiative.”

Rabbi Lau said he clearly remembers how an African American solider came up to him during the liberation, picked him up, and told the residents of the German city of Weimer: “Look at this sweet kid, he isn’t even eight yet. This was your enemy, he threatened the Third Reich. He is the one against whom you waged war, and murdered millions like him.”

As someone who grew up in Los Angeles and followed the Lakers, I never thought I’d see these two figures mentioned in the same sentence—let alone meeting in The Holy Land! However, after reading about what Mr. Abdul-Jabbar intends to do with his film and his visit, I look forward to seeing these two legends of their respective fields work towards educating the world about the horrors of the Holocaust.

For the full story see here.

UPDATED: Kareem Responds to my blog post on ESPN.com! http://j.mp/ljvaTr


Want to schedule Rabbi Green for a talk, or Shabbaton? Got a question? Need an answer? Click here to contact Rabbi Green.

Listen to Rabbi Green's most recent podcast here.
Subscribe or View Archives.