Richard Lapchick’s activism dates back to a basketball camp he attended with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Human rights activist Richard Lapchick is best known for his efforts leading the boycott of South Africa from international sporting events during apartheid and his long career in academia, but it was an experience at summer camp that helped shape his lifelong campaign for justice.

Lapchick, whose father Joe Lapchick was a well-known barnstorming basketball player in the ’20s, encountered racism directed at one of his fellow campers at Friendship Farm basketball camp in the Catskills. The camper, Lew Alcindor before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, would go on to be an NBA legend.

A profile in Pegasus, the magazine of the University of Central Florida, tells the story:

It was the summer of 1961 at Friendship Farm, a basketball camp in Saugerties, New York. One of the campers, Lew Alcindor, was a tall, shy and promising ball player. He was also the only black player at the camp. And as his talent became increasingly apparent on the court, so did the frequency with which one of the white campers called him the N-word. Maybe the camper was jealous or trying to get inside Alcindor’s head. Either way, Lapchick grew fed up and told him to stop. Enough was enough.

Lapchick and Alcindor shared the basketball courts and a room, but they weren’t particularly close. They were friendly but not yet friends.

“It was the first time I had lived with someone who was black,” Lapchick wrote. And he could see that Alcindor was having a difficult time.

As a result of the confrontation, the camper punched Lapchick, knocking him out cold.

Lapchick was down but not out. He had gained the admiration and lifelong friendship of Alcindor, who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The two both fought against racism and other social injustices, including apartheid in South Africa. And last year, Lapchick sat front row at the White House when President Obama presented his friend with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Lapchick also tells the story in the 2014 ESPN bio below:

via Orlando Sentinel

Matt Ralph

Matt Ralph

I'm the editor of Summer Camp Culture and also blog at and I live in the Philadelphia area and went to camps and camp meetings growing up in Ohio, Maryland and New Jersey.

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