Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s life has been a case study in the art of the possible, from his humble Harlem roots to N.B.A. fame and through his life after basketball as a historian and scholar. His next endeavor will draw on all of it.
Abdul-Jabbar was named a United States cultural ambassador Wednesday, with a mission of promoting education, racial tolerance and cultural understanding among young people around the world. He leaves Sunday for a six-day assignment in Brazil and will visit at least four more countries this year.
“It’s a great opportunity for me, just to connect with them on these issues and present some insights into what is possible and what has happened here in America,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon.
Abdul-Jabbar’s appointment was announced by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a brief ceremony earlier in the day. He is the first sports figure to be named a cultural ambassador during the Obama administration.
Brazil provides an intriguing first assignment. The country has the largest population of blacks outside of Africa, and race relations are tense, Abdul-Jabbar said.