Carmelo Anthony of the Portland Trail Blazers was named the first winner of the NBA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award. The list of other finalists for the distinction included Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris, Milwaukee Bucks guard Jrue Holiday, Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes, and Golden State Warriors forward Juan Toscano-Anderson.
“I’m lucky to be part of a league full of players who are equally as passionate about making a difference. So, I’m truly humbled to be recognized by Kareem and the selection committee,” Anthony said to ESPN’s The Undefeated in an email. “It’s my hope that this award encourages others to help uplift those who have been historically marginalized or systematically disadvantaged, and do their part in making equality and justice for all.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s video announcement to Anthony was uploaded to IG, and Anthony could not hide his appreciation. “It’s just a testament to what everybody is doing, what the whole community is doing, for people that [are] really paying attention and stepping up to the forefront and delivering those messages,” Anthony told the retired NBA great and all-time leading scorer. “[A]nd for me to be that first guy, to receive that award from you, I’m lost for words right now.”
“It’s nice to see the NBA try to promote social justice awareness, and I am very flattered they would see fit to name the award after me,” Abdul-Jabbar said to The Undefeated last month. “I know I have some history with [civil rights], so I’m happy the way it’s worked out.”
As this year’s recipient of the award, Melo directed that a $100,000 donation be made to Portland Art Museum’s Black Arts and Experiences Initiative in his name. The other four finalists also received $25,000 each to put towards the charities of their choosing.
In a statement from the NBA, Anthony was chosen by the league “for his dedication over the past year to pursuing social justice and advancing Abdul-Jabbar’s life mission to engage, empower and drive equality for individuals and groups who have been historically marginalized or systemically disadvantaged.”
The pursuit of social justice is not a new venture for 37-year-old Anthony. Last year, he teamed up with NBPA President Chris Paul and retired 3x NBA champ Dwyane Wade to create The Social Change Fund. Anthony also invited hip-hop legend LL Cool J to his podcast, What’s in Your Glass?, and discussed topics such as the controversies surrounding voting rights and the value of education beyond traditional schooling.
“This conversation doesn’t just start and stop with me being a basketball player,” Anthony told the New York Times last August when talking about The Social Change Fund and social justice overall. “This is a lifelong journey, a lifelong fight, a lifelong conversation I will continue to have. It’s not that I’ll be ‘focusing’ on that. I am that.”