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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar talks about his experience with cancer and his new documentary

February 22, 2011 |  8:00 am

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has long commanded respect from current and former players for his brilliant basketball skills and keen mind.

But there are aspects of his personality that are not as public.

Abdul-Jabbar's former teammate Norm Nixon points out that he was a prankster, constantly pulling practical jokes. James Worthy calls the six-time NBA MVP a historian and a jazz connoisseur.

At the downtown Los Angeles premier last Thursday of Abdul-Jabbar's documentary about the Harlem Rens basketball team, "On the Shoulders of Giants," his friends and fans, spanning from the Lakers' Pau Gasol to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, eagerly heaped praise on the 7-foot-2 jock turned author and documentarian.

Gasol called him the best Lakers center ever, modestly smiling and saying he would rank far below him on a list of the Lakers all-time greats at that position.

Abdul-Jabbar, who was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia in December of 2008, recently tweeted that he was cancer free, but later said that was a "misstatement," telling reporters, "You're never really cancer free and I should have known that. My cancer right now is at an absolute minimum."

Abdul-Jabbar said the ordeal was "scary," and acknowledged wondering,"Why me, why now?" 

"My becoming knowledgeable about it," he said, "it really helps you overcome the things that you think are going to pull you down."

In between handshakes and hugs, Abdul-Jabbar said he's now in "great" health and plans to devote himself to his current passion, filmmaking.

As for his prediction for the Lakers?

"I don't have any predictions for the Lakers," he said, smiling. "I learned a long time ago not to do that."

--Melissa Rohlin