Kareem Abdul-Jabbar speaks at local event 50 years after win over UD

NBA legend will serve as keynote speaker for Premier Health cancer symposium

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not too familiar with Dayton, but there is one fact he hasn’t forgotten: the night his UCLA team beat the college team that bears the city’s name in the NCAA championship game nearly 50 years ago.

Abdul-Jabbar, who went on to become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and six-time champion, spoke with the Dayton Daily News as he prepares to head to town for a Premier Health cancer symposium.

“I mean, stranger things have happened,” joked Abdul-Jabbar about heading to Dayton five decades after his UCLA Bruins beat the UD Flyers 79-64 to win the championship. “It was a long time ago. I couldn’t tell you much about it.”

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Abdul-Jabbar will serve as the keynote speaker at Premier Health’s “Collaborating Against Cancer” symposium. The free event will take place from 7:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. Saturday, at the Dayton Convention Center, 22 E. Fifth St.

Abdul-Jabbar is expected to sign copies of his newest book, “Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court,” at the event. Premier said that only books purchased at the event will be eligible for signing.

Books will be sold on a first-come, first-served basis, the company said. No other books or memorabilia will be able to be signed at the event.

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Physicians and other health care providers will discuss advances in cancer care to patients, families and the general public, Premier announced in June. The conference will also include separate sessions on recent cancer findings for doctors and clinicians.

The 70-year-old former NBA star was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, lost his grandfather and uncle to colorectal cancer, and cancer nearly took the life of his father, the hospital system said.

Abdul-Jabbar said he never expected he’d have to battle cancer but now that he’s a survivor, he feels like he needs to help others going through what he and his family have endured.

“I think it’s done a lot of good, just having the opportunity to talk with somebody,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “For me, it’s a way of giving back.”

As a cancer awareness advocate, Abdul-Jabbar said he’s focused on trying to help African-American men. He’s tried to encourage them to get checked for cancer because typically “African-American males don’t go to the doctor” he said.

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While it’s hard to gauge the impact of his advocacy, Abdul-Jabbar said it’s worth the effort.

Cancer patients face an “overwhelming” process when it comes to getting diagnosed and treated, he said. Just being there for someone who has to “sit in weird machines and get poked and prodded” really helps, Abdul-Jabbar said.

“Do anything you can do to help that person,” he said. “Give them a ride, get them some information, accompany them. A lot of people don’t get it. You need other people around.”

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