The Jabbar Desert

When I got the idea to locate a big part of the storyline of The Forbidden City in a desert, I didn’t hesitate to name it the Jabbar Desert. The name seemed to fit the story well and, at the same time, it was an opportunity to pay homage to a basketball legend, Mr Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Basketball players usually choose a known player as their role model and hope to be like her/him some day. In an era when most players dreamt of becoming like Michael Jordan, I dreamt of playing like Jabbar.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar
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There were so many things I loved about his game – a game that evolved and changed significantly throughout his extremely long career. The thing that impressed me most was his composure.

I have spent many hours studying all the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics that took place in the eighties. During several of those games, Jabbar was often double- and even triple-teamed in order to be kept from scoring or passing successfully. I am still amazed by the way he managed to maintain his composure while being pushed by legendary adversaries such as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. Not only did he keep doing his thing but he also kept smiling and motivating his fellow team members.

What few people might know is that, during those years, this great player suffered from terrible migraines. Yet he kept playing until the age of 42, despite the pounding he received from both his adversaries and his health.

Jabbar also has a great sense of humour. He played in movies such as Airplane!, Fletch, Troop Beverly Hills and Forget Paris, as well as several television series. Who can forget his film debut in Bruce Lee’s 1972 movie Game of Death?

At the same time he is also a best-selling author and cultural critic, as well as a regular contributor to discussions about issues of race and religion and a cultural ambassador for the United States.

The most important thing I have learned from Jabbar’s game is the issue of space. I mean that he was magnificent when dominating the space in defence and also creating space for himself in offence. In a way I used this in the siege scenes in The Forbidden City, illustrating that when defenders hold their ground they can deal with only one enemy at a time.

The next Basketball Diaries post will be about Tarly the cat, who features in The Forbidden City.