NBA great Abdul-Jabbar has rare form of leukemia
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer was diagnosed last December with chronic myeloid leukemia, he told The Associated Press on Monday.
The 62-year-old Abdul-Jabbar said his doctor didn’t give any guarantees, but informed him: “You have a very good chance to live your life out and not have to make any drastic changes to your lifestyle.”
Abdul-Jabbar is taking an oral medication for the disease. He is a paid spokesman for the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, which makes a drug that treats the illness.
Citing the way Los Angeles Lakers teammate Magic Johnson brought awareness to HIV, Abdul-Jabbar said he wants to do the same for his form of blood cancer, which can be fatal if left untreated.
“I’ve never been a person to share my private life. But I can help save lives,” he said at a midtown Manhattan conference room. “It’s incumbent on someone like me to talk about this.”
Abdul-Jabbar became concerned last year after feeling odd sensations. He went for tests at UCLA, where he dominated college basketball in the late 1960s, winning three straight NCAA championships from 1967-69.
“I was getting hot flashes and sweats on a regular basis,” he said. “That’s not normal, even for my age.”
An exam showed his white blood cell count was “sky high” and a doctor quickly diagnosed his condition. At first, all Abdul-Jabbar heard was the word “leukemia.”
“I was scared,” he said. “I thought it was all the same. I thought it could mean I have a month to live.”
“That was my first question,” he said. “Was I going to make it?”
A longtime student in martial arts, Abdul-Jabbar said he took the approach of a samurai, to face death without fear.
“I had my face on,” he said.
Instead, doctors told him CML was treatable with proper medication and monitoring.
Abdul-Jabbar is a special assistant with the Lakers and said he hasn’t had to cut back his level of activity of coaching, change his regimen or adjust his diet. “I’m able to sneak out for Thai food,” he said.
“There is hope. This condition can be treated. You can still live a productive, full life,” he said. “I’m living proof I can make it.”
Abdul-Jabbar recently returned from an academic conference in Abu Dhabi and has several speaking engagements planned. Among the people he regularly talks to about his condition is his son, a third-year medical student at the University of California, San Francisco.
The six-time NBA MVP intends to post updates to his Facebook and Twitter accounts and stay connected through www.CMLearth.com, a Web site for those afflicted by the disease.
About 5,000 cases of CML are expected to be diagnosed in the United States this year, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society said. More than 22,000 people are living in the US with the disease.
The disease tends to initially be diagnosed by people in their mid-to-late 60s, and usually affects men more than women.
“I want to spread the word,” Abdul-Jabbar said.