Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Novels Put a Twist on a Famous Fictional Detective

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar might be the leading scorer in the NBA’s history, but that doesn’t mean that he’s defined by basketball. From his work as an actor to his non-stop passion for civil rights, Abdul-Jabbar has made a career out of proving that he’s bigger than the sport that made him millions. After decades of moonlighting as a writer, however, he recently introduced his take on the most famous fictional detective in history. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar smiling in front of a black background wearing a white suit and blue bowtie
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar | Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar picks up a pen

Abdul-Jabbar has stayed in basketball on-and-off since retiring in the early 1990s, but he never had the same marriage to the sport that others have after calling it a career. While others want to stay inside the game, Abdul-Jabbar was always public with his desire to expand himself spiritually, mentally, and through everything he does. With so much to say about so many different topics, writing was a natural progression. 

Abdul-Jabbar began his writing career with a book called Giant Steps. In the book, he gave a candid look at what it was like to be one of the loudest voices of the Civil Rights movement before he stepped onto an NBA court. From his conversion to Islam to dealing with an NCAA who was gung-ho about stopping his domination on the court, Abdul-Jabbar didn’t merely have an exciting story; he had a fantastic way of putting it into words. 

Forty years onward and the Hall of Famer spends more time writing than he does on anything basketball-related. His op-eds are a mainstay in papers across the country, and he’s written several best-selling books along the way. He even got the opportunity to take his talents to television in 2019 when he wrote an episode of the hit-series Veronica Mars, according to Vanity Fair.

His most interesting work of fiction, however, might involve the legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes. 

Sherlock Holmes?!

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Sherlock Holmes was introduced to the world in 1886 when Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet. For the rest of his life, Conan-Doyle explored the character through 60 short stories and novels. Since then, the story has been told through dozens of different lenses. Several well-known writers have tried their hand at a Holmes mystery from time to time. 

Holmes’ impact goes far beyond the pages of a book at this point. There have been dozens of films, television shows, plays, even video games about the eccentric detective. Modern audiences may know the character best from either his hit film series starring Robert Downey Jr. or the BBC television series starring Benedict Cumberbatch. One place where the Holmes franchise always failed, however, was in its diversity. 

The characters’ 19th-century roots are on full display for those who look back. While the stories are remarkably entertaining, they are filled with dated depictions of non-white characters that border on the realm of racist caricatures. That penchant for dated racism stems partially from the fact that the series has been mostly written through the lens of white, male authors. Abdul-Jabbar set out to change this with his own version, which focused not on Holmes exclusively, but his brother Mycroft. 

Kareem on Sherlock

As opposed to his other writing, Abdul-Jabbar’s take on Mycroft Holmes, who has roots in Conan-Doyle’s story, is not overtly political. However, by introducing a voice like his into the writing, the character is given a unique spin as a misunderstood outsider. Abdul-Jabbar wanted to make a story in the same vein as the original stories while bringing them to a modern audience. 

Abdul-Jabbar wanted to focus on his telling of the story was the diversity of Victorian England. He spoke about this with Electric Lit

“There were many living in Victorian England, but you’d hardly know it from the writing of the time,” Abdul-Jabbar told the website. “Mycroft’s passion and search for fine cigars (especially in Mycroft Holmes) would lead naturally to his meeting people from varying backgrounds. And, because of my family origins in Trinidad, we knew this particular person ‘of varying background’ could hail from there.”

Abdul-Jabbar and his co-writer, Anna Waterhouse, have released three Mycroft novels to critical acclaim. Much like he did in basketball, the big man is now rewriting the rules on a different medium and shows no sign of slowing down. As for whether or not Abdul-Jabbar will keep on writing? That is elementary.