Why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Loves Sherlock Holmes—and Frank Kaminsky
He co-wrote a novel about Holmes' brother Mycroft. He has yet to write a novel about Kaminsky's brother—but we wouldn't put it past him
There's no stopping Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Not only is he one of the greatest basketball players of all time, he's also an actor, a cultural ambassador, a critic, and an author. Whether he's penning critical op-eds of Donald Trump or reviewing Lena Dunham's Girls, Abdul-Jabbar is an interesting, thoughtful guy with a lot to say. I set out to speak to him about his newest book, a novel he wrote with Anna Waterhouse called Mycroft Holmes about Sherlock Holmes' older brother (available September 25). But as is often the case with Kareem, he had a lot of interesting thoughts on many different topics.
What attracted you to Mycroft's story, as opposed to that of his more famous younger brother Sherlock?
Well, I think Mycroft has a different approach to life. And it has to do with what has happened to him personally, because he's so different from Sherlock in the way he lives. He's an overweight, sedentary recluse in the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. He doesn't go anyplace but his club, his offices at the British Foreign Office, and his apartments. But he does amazing things, to the point that Sherlock says, "He is the British Government." He doesn't get around much, but he still can help and support Sherlock when Sherlock needs another keen mind on something. And that's fascinating to me. Who is this guy? I felt there was a huge opportunity to find him and learn what he's about and why he is the way he is.
Where do you rank the different portrayals of Sherlock and Watson? Who's your Sherlock? Who's your Watson?
Sherlock is Jeremy Brett. If you haven't seen [his performances], you have to. Brett really gets Sherlock in his prime. Those shows really captured the time visually and he was a perfect Late Victorian, Early Edwardian gentleman. He really nailed it.
As for Watson, the ones with Basil Rathbone made him into a buffoon. But really he's more like he is in the Cumberbatch series. He's a combat doctor who served in the Army in Afghanistan and is very capable. He's more or less Holmes' forensics guy and when necessary, he's a little bit of muscle too. The way Jude Law portrays Watson in the Robert Downey movies is like that as well. He's a keen intellect and Sherlock's friend and partner. That's what I think Arthur Conan Doyle wanted Watson to be.
There are so many adaptations of this material happening at the moment. What do you think it is about our modern world that the Holmes mythology seems to be tapping into?
You know, look at all that's happened with The Innocence Project. They're finding all these people innocent due to DNA evidence. People who have had eye witnesses swear they saw them committing crimes, have been found to have been innocent because of DNA years later. And so someone like Holmes who knows how to get it right, and understands the balance between justice and revenge and really differentiates between the two. That's an ideal that we all want our legal system to live up to. To punish those who need to be punished and exonerate those who need to be exonerated.
"The way Jude Law portrays Watson in the Robert Downey movies—that's what I think Arthur Conan Doyle wanted Watson to be."
Your role as cultural critic is one you've taken to well, so I have to ask—are there TV shows or movies that get the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seal of approval?
I enjoyed Mr. Holmes with Ian McKellen a lot. I thought it was extraordinary to deal with Sherlock Holmes so late in his life.
I'm obsessed with Ray Donovan right now. I just keep wondering where it's going. It's all over the place, but I've enjoyed it.
I didn't think this year's True Detectivewas as good as last year's, but I didn't think it was that bad at all. The first year was just a hard act to follow.
I, of course, have to ask a couple basketball questions. There have been so many eulogies for the Big Man in today's NBA. Do you buy that small ball spells doom for centers as we once knew them?
Well, I really enjoyed Golden State this year. The New York Times referred to them as the Count Basie Band. I thought that was a great analogy. I got a kick out of that. But guys that can shoot that well... It's pretty amazing. I mean, I saw that Stephen Curry shot 100 three pointers and he made 94 including 77 in a row at practice. That's extraordinary. When you have that type of skill, it changes the game.
But there will always be a place for somebody who can play in the pivot and score with his back to the basket. That's a very valuable skill because you're getting a high percentage shot. If you can play the game so that you're consistently getting looks six to eight feet from the basket, and you can make that shot like I was able to make my hook shot, then you will be a very valuable asset to a team, because it will put a different type of pressure on the defense.
Are there any young big guys whose games you like?
I really like Frank Kaminsky. I think he's going to do well. I liked his commitment to his college team and his ability to be versatile. He can play with his back to the basket and he can go out to the three-point line and be a problem there too. That type of versatility is nice to see.
Okay and finally, I just have to ask. How many times a week do people quoteAirplane to you?
Jeez. Really only a couple of times a year. You know, I still work a lot. I travel through airports, and so it happens every now and then. It's usually pilots. It seems like they've all watched that film.