Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Will Smith Oscars Slap: Jada Should Be ‘Given Consideration’ (Exclusive)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is giving a second opinion on the now-infamous slap during the 94th Academy Awards.
The former basketball star spoke with ET on the red carpet for the premiere of NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s four-part documentary, They Call Me Magic, where Abdul-Jabbar elaborated on his feelings about Will Smith slapping Chris Rock in the face after he made a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head.
The day after the Oscars telecast, Abdul-Jabbar wrote an op-ed, where he called the physical confrontation “a blow to men, women, the entertainment industry, and the Black community.” The former NBA player likened the thought process that Smith was defending his wife’s honor to the “justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.”
On Thursday night’s red carpet, the 75-year-old told ET that he believed Pinkett Smith “should have been given some consideration” from the public after the incident. Most of the immediate and long-standing reactions to the eventful Oscars night focused on the actress’ husband and the comedian.
“I just felt that Will’s wife really should have been given some consideration as to, you know, how she felt about it and what she wanted to do about it,” he explained. “I mean [people] just ignored her altogether and I didn’t think that made much sense. You know, she’s the one that would’ve been offended if it was offensive. It wasn’t like somebody like riding her… You never know what people are thinking. That’s how I see it.”
Abdul-Jabbar didn’t leave much room for Pinkett Smith’s emotional process in his op-ed, only referring to the award-winning Red Table Talk host to make the point that she’s “a very capable, tough, smart woman who can single-handedly take on a lame joke at the Academy Awards show.”
He dismissed those who “romanticized Smith’s actions as that of a loving husband defending his wife.”
“This patronizing, paternal attitude infantilizes women and reduces them to helpless damsels needing a Big Strong Man to defend their honor lest they swoon from the vapors,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “If he was really doing it for his wife, and not his own need to prove himself, he might have thought about the negative attention this brought on them, much harsher than the benign joke. That would have been truly defending and respecting her. This ‘women need men to defend them’ is the same justification currently being proclaimed by conservatives passing laws to restrict abortion and the LGBTQ+ community.”
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Abdul-Jabbar went on to add, “The Black community also takes a direct hit from Smith. One of the main talking points from those supporting the systemic racism in America is characterizing Blacks as more prone to violence and less able to control their emotions. Smith just gave comfort to the enemy by providing them with the perfect optics they were dreaming of. Fox News host Jeanine Pirro wasted no time going full-metal jacket racist by declaring the Oscars are ‘not the hood.’ What would she have said if Brad Pitt slapped Ricky Gervais? This isn’t Rodeo Drive? Many will be reinvigorated to continue their campaign to marginalize African Americans and others through voter suppression campaign.”
The NBA Hall of Famer faced a wave of criticism for his piece — while he accused Smith of perpetuating “the Toxic Bro ideal,” many accused Abdul-Jabbar of perpetuating outdated respectability politics that are more harmful to the Black community. His critics pointed out how the former athlete’s assertion that Smith’s actions “gave comfort to the enemy” supports the idea that one Black person is somehow responsible for all Black people under the white gaze. And when Black people don’t uphold a higher standard of behavior, the (often) racist backlash is justified.
“Anybody who thinks ‘Black people look bad’ after the #Oscars already thought Black people look bad. Respectability doesn’t cure racism,” Rev. Bernice King tweeted in response. “Be Love, but please don’t think that a person who uses one moment to malign a whole group of people did not do so before that moment.”
Last Week Tonight writer Ryan Ken illustrated the fallacy of this concept in a TikTok video that was reposted after Abdul-Jabbar released his op-ed.
Smith, who shortly after the incident would earn his first Oscar win for his role in King Richard, apologized to the Academy and its nominees for the tense confrontation. Denzel Washington and Tyler Perry also spoke with Smith following the incident. He has since apologized to Rock. The comedian would later decline to file a police report with the LAPD and briefly addressed the controversy during his first of two sold-out comedy shows in Boston.
On April 8, in a letter addressed to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences family, and obtained by ET, Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson announced that the Board of Governors concluded that “for a period of 10 years from April 8, 2022, Mr. Smith shall not be permitted to attend any Academy events” including the Academy Awards.
The letter also expressed “deep gratitude to [Chris Rock] for maintaining his composure under extraordinary circumstances.”
In a brief statement to ET, Smith responded to the board’s conclusion, saying, “I accept and respect the Academy’s decision.”
The four-part documentary event, They Call Me Magic, premieres April 22 on Apple TV+. Watch the video below for more on the series, which goes deep on one of the world’s most iconic sports figures.
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