Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Predicts the Future of Sherlock Holmes
The novelist and NBA legend says the detective could be "an alien" or 'transgender.'
The biggest name in Sherlock Holmes fandom is without a doubt, NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. After dazzling hardcore Sherlock fans and newcomers alike in 2015 with his novel Mycroft Holmes, Abdul-Jabbar has returned to chronicling the adventures of Sherlock’s older brother with the new steampunk graphic novel adventure; Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook.
Inverse got in touch with Abdul-Jabbar to find out how he approached his new Mycroft story but discovered a slew of other stunning facts along the way. The NBA All-Star’s insights about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective adventures are mind-blowing and sincere. Here’s which Holmesian techniques Abdul-Jabbar used to win on the basketball court, how he switched to writing for a visual medium, and why he thinks a future Sherlock could be transgender.
What was the single biggest change challenge in switching from prose to graphic novel?
The novel’s narrative—from language to setting to characterization—is an extension of Conan Doyle’s Holmesian world. But the graphic novel’s narrative is the opposite. Like the BBC’s Sherlock, I chose to embrace the spirit of Conan Doyle’s characters but be more adventurous with my approach. In the graphic novel, Mycroft is a roguish very reluctant hero more interested in gambling and womanizing than saving the world. The setting moves from Victorian England to the Wild West to Washington, D.C. There are steampunk weapons, lots of humor, and appearances by Queen Victoria and Jesse James. And Sherlock.
Why do you think Mycroft works as an action hero? Does he work BETTER as an action hero than Sherlock?
The Mycroft of my graphic novel is a dynamic action hero because he is in desperate need of redemption. He has a secret past with his younger brother Sherlock that has affected him. He also feels disconnected from the world around him because his enormous intellect makes people so painfully predictable. Going off on an Indiana Jones-type adventure is an opportunity to find meaning and surprise in life.
I’ve read that you used Sherlock Holmes stories as inspiration when you played for the NBA? Is that true? What other aspects of life do the Sherlock Holmes stories impact? In other words, is there a lot of wisdom that is applicable to other settings?
It’s true that the Holmes stories inspired me to be much more observant about opponents so I can gain an advantage over them during games. I even had my own Baker Street Irregulars. [Sherlock's secret urchin informants, first seen in 'A Study in Scarlet.']
I started paying special attention to the conversations among the ball boys and other staffers. When I overheard a couple ball boys joking about how Bob Lanierand his coach would smoke in the locker room at halftime, I decided to run Bob up and down the court as fast as I could the second half.
More important though, the Holmes stories are about the triumph of reason and logic over superstition and mob mentality, which is the basis for modern civilization. That struggle between reason and group-think is the major social issue in our country. To me, logic is the key to saving humanity from its self-destructiveness.
Would you ever consider bringing Mycroft into a more contemporary setting?
I would be interested in modernizing it for a movie or TV series.
Are you considering doing more pastiches connected to Sherlock Holmes characters?
I’m focused on Mycroft for now. But I never know when I might decide to do something different in the Holmesian universe.
What is your favorite original Sherlock Holmes story?
I have a lot of favorites. As much as I like the stories, I prefer the novels because it means spending more time with Watson and Holmes. I especially like The Hound of the Baskervilles because it appears to be horror story without rational explanation until Holmes applies his expertise. For me, the story is a metaphor for much of the irrationality that people use to explain what they don’t want to examine closely.
What is your favorite adaptation?
I loved the Basil Rathbone movies when I was a kid. His terse dialogue and fiercely intense expression made the stories so suspenseful. The BBC’s Sherlock is brilliant in every way. Innovative plots, clever characterization, witty dialogue—and still making us care deeply about Holmes and Watson’s relationship. Recently, I read a mystery novel IQ by Joe Ide that features a Sherlock-type sleuth who is a black kid from the streets of South Central Los Angeles. I loved his take on the classic story.
What do you think Sherlock Holmes will look like in the 22nd century?
The idea of a character who is the epitome of rational thinking with an insatiable hunger for knowledge, but who needs a friendship in order not to lose his humanity will always be around. It doesn’t matter what race, gender, or nationality the new Sherlocks are. Perhaps the next one will be transgender or an alien or an android. It doesn’t matter as long as we don’t lose the essence of what Holmes represents.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook, written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld with art from Joshua Cassara, Luis Guerrero, and Simon Bowland is out today from Titan Comics.Photos via Titan Books, Getty Images / Slaven Vlasic