Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn’t mention tax and education measures on the Nov. 6 ballot at a San Diego appearance Monday but left no doubt which side deserved an assist.
“We have to pay more taxes,” he told the California STEM Learning Network Summit at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel—with STEM standing for science, technology, engineering and math.
The NBA legend and sometimes actor noted he didn’t want to get “political.” But he wasn’t shy about the question of education funding for arts vs. sciences.
Science, math and engineering should be favored, the 7-foot-2 former star center told the event, which featured the work of 40 California students and aimed to bring together business, government, education, nonprofit, and philanthropic leaders to drive education.
The former Lakers star, who turned 65 in April, will begin serving as an ambassador for the organization and told reporters it was important to give education the funding it deserves.
“Education needs to be well-rounded, but we have to pick and choose,” Abdul-Jabbar said, noting a “need” to fill science-related jobs.
Abdul-Jabbar—who also founded the Skyhook Foundation, a group that’s focused on educating students about historical figures—gave a keynote address to a group of students, professionals and local leaders.
“It’s time we get our kids to start thinking about this and do the math,” he said. “Education is the key to success in life. We’re wasting a lot of minds that could be making our communities better.”
Abdul-Jabbar toured student projects and said that while he understands athletes are often seen as role models, children need to understand that those in the science, technology, engineering and math fields could also make an impact.
He said only 1,400 jobs exist in the NFL, 470 in Major League Baseball and 450 in the NBA—but many more are available in the STEM fields.
“I just want [students] to know there are so many jobs in the science field where they could do meaningful things,” he said.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who also attended the STEM event, said the organization is key to his Blueprint for Great Schools and praised Abdul-Jabbar’s work.
“Few things are more important to children’s educations and to California’s economy than the STEM subjects, and few people have more vision and commitment to making an impact in kids’ lives than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,” he said.
STEM CEO Chris Roe said he hoped Abdul-Jabbar’s involvement would fill the “inspiration gap” in California, a state that lags behind others in filling STEM-related jobs.
“We’re building a network of partners to talk about the problems on the table,” Roe said. “We have a mismatched education system.”
Roe said 1.4 STEM-related jobs exist for every California job-seeker, but only 21,000 Californians graduate with a bachelor’s degree in those fields.
Abdul-Jabbar said statistics show a nation that is lagging but STEM could help change those figures.
“We are competing with nations many times our size, and STEM learning represents the engines of innovation,” he said. “With these engines, we can lead the world, because knowledge is real power.”
As the new STEM ambassador, Abdul-Jabbar will begin a national tour in support of the organization and attend after-school events.
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