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Abdul-Jabbar named U.S. global cultural ambassador

Secretary State Hillary Rodham Clintlaughs after receiving Los Angeles Lakers basketball jersey as gift from global cultural ambassador former NBA

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton laughs after receiving a Los Angeles Lakers basketball jersey as a gift from global cultural ambassador and former NBA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, at the State Department in Washington. Abdul-Jabbar will travel the world to engage a generation of young people to help promote diplomacy. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

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Updated: January 19, 2012 12:56PM

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has named all-time basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a global cultural ambassador.

Abdul-Jabbar — the former Los Angeles Lakers star who is the NBA’s career scoring leader — will travel the world aiming to engage a generation of young people and help promote diplomacy, education and social and racial tolerance, said Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs.

“I’m thrilled that they see me as the person that could get this done,” Abdul-Jabbar said.

The 64-year-old Abdul-Jabbar — who changed the game of college basketball as a star at UCLA and then played for the Milwaukee Bucks before being traded to the Lakers — said he remembers a similar program under President John F. Kennedy in which speakers came to the school he attended in Harlem.

“I remember when I was a kid and Louis Armstrong got to do somewhat the same thing for President Kennedy,” Abdul-Jabbarsaid. “It was a big deal then. Following in his footsteps — one of my heroes — really makes me feel good, and I hope I can go out there and do a good job.”

Stock said the appointment is part of Clinton’s vision of “Smart Power” that combines diplomacy, defense and development to “bridge the gap in a tense world through young people.”

Abdul-Jabbar said he will share his take on life in America, adding: “I’ll be doing a few basketball clinics, too.”

He will make his first official trip Sunday, when he travels to Brazil for a number of events centering on education.

Since his retirement in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar has been involved in projects focused on African-American history and socio-economic justice. His 2011 documentary, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” sought to highlight these issues. He has also launched the Skyhook Foundation, which works to improve children’s lives through education and sports.

His latest book, a children’s book titled

What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors, was released earlier this month.

“It’s certainly long overdue,” he said. “All Americans need to know what black Americans have contributed to American life. The earlier they know that, the better.

“When I was in grade school, all the books that dealt with black Americans just dealt with the issues of slavery and civil rights. There’s so much more to the story. To present the full picture, you’re going to have to have books like mine.”

Two years ago, Abdul-Jabbar announced he had a rare, but treatable form of leukemia — chronic myeloid leukemia — which affects about 5,150 Americans a year, according to the American Cancer Society.

The prognosis is usually good because of one of the few real breakthroughs in cancer research — the drug Gleevec, a pill that was approved for use in this country in 2001 that has transformed having this condition from being a death sentence into something manageable to live with. Before Gleevec, fewer than 40 percent of patients survived. Today, about 95 percent do, according to the American Cancer Society.

“I am doing very well,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I hope to continue doing what I am doing. Being able to manage my disease has enabled me to live my life and do all the things that are important to me.”

The former UCLA star scored 38,387 points during his 20-year NBA career with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.

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