Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been privately battling a rare form of leukemia for nearly a year, but the Los Angeles Lakers legend says his long-term prognosis is very good and he expects to continue living a normal, healthy life.
The 62-year-old NBA Hall of Famer and father of five revealed Monday that he has a condition called Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia — a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that produces cancerous blood cells.
The disease was diagnosed last December.
Abdul-Jabbar said he wasn’t feeling particularly ill last year, but was having frequent hot flashes and was sweating constantly. He said his doctor told him to get some blood tests.
“By having the hot flashes, I knew something was up. But I didn’t think that it was going to be something as serious as leukemia,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
“The word ‘leukemia’ is a very frightening word,” he said in a phone interview Monday with the Los Angeles Times. “In many instances, it’s a killer and it’s something that you have to deal with in a very serious and determined way if you’re going to beat it.”
Abdul-Jabbar said his condition can be managed by taking oral medication daily, seeing his specialist every other month and getting his blood analyzed regularly.
The Laker legend says his family has a history of cancer: his grandfather and an uncle died of colon cancer. “So I have the gene for that,” he said. “Cancer is a scary thing and you have to deal with it seriously.”
Abdul-Jabbar, a special assistant coach with the Lakers, said his condition won’t affect his work with the team; he said he plans to fly back to Los Angeles on Friday.
Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He played 20 pro seasons, 14 with the Lakers, and retired after the 1988-89 season.