Kareem Abdul-Jabbar produced a documentary film, titled On the Shoulders of Giants, and it premiered in L.A. at a Ford-sponsored event. The film was directed and produced by Deborah Morales, with Abdul-Jabbar acting as executive producer.
The film tells the story of the Harlem Renaissance Big Five – more commonly known as the Harlem Rens. In 1939, the world of professional basketball was segregated and black teams could not compete against white teams, nor attempt to win league championships.
The Harlem Rens were the best of the black teams, yearning for a shot at the national championship. The players defeated tremendous odds – from pervasive racism to the Great Depression – but became the first world champions of professional basketball when they defeated every other team, including the best white teams, for the coveted title. The Harlem Rens evolved into role models for black America during their time, and until now, their story has remained relatively unknown.
The film features appearances by Spike Lee, Dr. Maya Angelou, Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Richard Lapchick, Samuel L. Jackson, Jerry West, Bill Russell, Charles Barkley, Carmelo Anthony, Dr. J, and other NBA legends. The film includes music by will.i.am of Black Eyed Peas, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Herbie Hancock, and an original score by Grammy-winning composer Bill Cunliffe.
The Ford Motor Company Fund and Community Services sponsored the film’s premiere. Ford works with community partners to advance driving safety, education and American heritage and community life.
The Los Angeles premiere of the documentary featured a discussion panel moderated by Los Angeles Lakers legend Norm Nixon. Panelists included James Worthy, an NBA Hall of Fame honoree; Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics’ captain and 11-time NBA champion; Quincy Jones, Grammy Award-winning producer, arranger and composer; Etan Thomas, Atlanta Hawks player and poet; and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBA all-time leading scorer and New York Times best-selling author.