Kareem Abdul-Jabbar commits to improving health care within marginalized communities

Bruins and Lakers legend joins the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Board of Advisors.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been named to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Board of Advisors. (Photo courtesy of BMS/Pfizer Alliance)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been named to the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Board of Advisors. (Photo courtesy of BMS/Pfizer Alliance)

It’s impossible to consider the history of UCLA without dedicating time to the contributions of NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

From starring on the three-time NCAA champion Bruins Men’s Basketball team under coach John Wooden, to being named Alum of the Year in 1990, to serving as commencement speaker in 2007, to his continued presence as a leader in the discussion of social and health issues, Abdul-Jabbar has been linked to the university for more than 50 years.

Going forward, he will have an even greater role, as the newest member of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Board of Advisors. He will be joined by his business partner and manager of 30 years, Deborah Morales, CEO of Iconomy Multi-Media & Entertainment.

Morales is a co-founder of Abdul-Jabbar’s Skyhook Foundation, which brings STEM education opportunities to underserved communities, and built his post-basketball career path to become a social justice champion. She also was instrumental in the creation of the NBA’s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award.

Abdul-Jabbar, a six-time NBA champion and six-time MVP, said he’s looking forward to helping the hospital in its effort to reach out to members of marginalized populations in the Los Angeles area.

“The Medical Center takes its role as a member of the community seriously and makes every effort to raise awareness in the community about ways to both treat and prevent health issues,” said Abdul-Jabbar.

“I intend to advise on ways to eliminate the hesitancy minority groups have toward the health care industry,” he said. “Recent studies show that the skepticism Black people have isn’t based on historical exploitation, as was previously thought, but on how they have been treated by medical professionals in their normal interactions. UCLA is committed to turning that around and I want to help them be successful.”

“Kareem is a legendary UCLA Bruin, NBA Icon and a long-time collaborator and friend of UCLA Health. We greatly value his experience in social justice issues and his strong connections to the communities we serve,” said Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health, CEO of UCLA Hospital System and associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences. “We look forward to this new partnership where UCLA Health stands to greatly benefit from his ideas and insight so that we can continue to excel in providing quality health care and equitable access for the community we serve.”

The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Board of Directors advises and assists the hospital in creating and providing leading-edge health care, while supporting the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and in collaboration with the university and community partners.

The Board of Advisors currently has 39 members, representing the corporate and philanthropic communities, with expertise in a variety of fields including real estate, legal, entertainment and information technology. Terms run for three fiscal years, with a maximum of five consecutive terms.

Abdul-Jabbar brings to the Board a longtime association with the Los Angeles community.

“The Los Angeles area has been my home for most of the past 50 years,” he said. “I’ve helped bring NBA championships here. My Skyhook Foundation promotes STEM education here. Now I get the chance to help make people healthier and maybe break an unfortunate cycle that has plagued the Black community.

“One of the things I love about Los Angeles is its constant striving to make the lives of everyone better, happier, more fulfilled,” he said. “Yes, there are places where we still struggle, but at least we don’t shirk from accepting that struggle.”

Morales shares Abdul-Jabbar’s desire to reach underserved communities.

“Because of my work with the Skyhook Foundation, I understand the challenges of reaching and helping those most in need,” she said. “Being well-meaning isn’t enough. We have to use the tools that will educate underserved communities about the services and also make them comfortable using them.”

The pandemic has served to magnify the importance of reaching the larger population.

“COVID has highlighted the need for a robust yet nimble health care system,” Morales said, “and serving on the board will afford me the opportunity to use my business and marketing skills to promote UCLA’s health care system to a broader community.”