Klosterman compares, contrasts cultural villains O.J. Simpson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


Chuck Klosterman is the author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, most commonly known for his collection of essays, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto. More recently, his work has been featured on Grantland after ESPN's Bill Simmons brought him in on the website's ground floor.

Today, Klosterman's latest offering hits the shelves (and Internet libraries) of bookstores everywhere. It's called I Wear the Black Hat and it focuses on villains and perceived villainy. Bill Clinton. Don Henley. Batman. Klosterman covers all of the cultural bases.

In Grantland's exclusive excerpt from I Wear the Black Hat, Klosterman compares and contrasts O.J. Simpson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who probably have more in common than you immediately recall). He focuses on Simpson's book If I Did It and calls back Pearl Jam's song "Sweet Lew" and Abdul-Jabbar's role in Airplane! It's more than worthy of 10 minutes of your time. [Grantland]

I had to take a lot of psychological tests. These tests asked certain questions. One of the questions was, "When you walk into a room, do you think everybody's looking at you?" Yes! "When you walk into a room, do you feel people are talking about you?" Yeah, I do. Now, if a normal person says "yes" to those questions, they have some kind of complex. They have some kind of problem. But (for me), it's true. I know when I walk into a room, people are looking at me. I know when I walk into a restaurant, people are talking about me.

— O. J. Simpson, telling the truth

I didn't really seek attention. I just wanted to play the game well and go home.

— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, being honest

It's unfair to write this, but I'm going to do it anyway: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and O. J. Simpson have a lot in common. We don't normally lump them together, because certain key contrasts are tricky  —  for example, one man is a Muslim intellectual and the other more or less decapitated his ex-wife. This is more than a significant detail. But let's think about that specific dissonance last. Before we examine what makes them different, here's what makes them similar …

  1. Both are known by names that do not reflect their original identities. Abdul-Jabbar was born Lew Alcindor, which he changed for religious reasons; Simpson was born "Orenthal James" but chose to go by his initials for simplicity and panache.
  2. Both attended college in Los Angeles during a period of massive social upheaval: Abdul-Jabbar arrived at UCLA in 1965, while Simpson showed up at USC in 1967.

Check out the rest of the similarities and the full excerpt over at Grantland.