Why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's joining the CCAC
- Published: Feb 10, 2017, 3 AM
NBA Hall of Famer, author and coin collector Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s quest to become the first African-American member of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee began nearly two years before U.S. Mint officials announced his appointment Jan. 19 to the coin and medal design review panel.
Deborah Morales, Abdul-Jabbar’s publicist with Iconomy, said Abdul-Jabbar believed then, and continues to believe, he can make a significant contribution to how the nation’s coin and medal designs are conceived and executed.
“As the first African-American to sit on this committee, I will be able to add my voice, as well as the voices of the people of color whom I represent,” Abdul-Jabbar said via email. “I will add an element of diversity in suggesting how America is remembered, as well as how those overlooked people of color who helped build America are remembered.”
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After breaking the story of Abdul-Jabbar’s appointment in January, Coin World conducted an extensive interview by email with Abdul-Jabbar on his collecting habits and CCAC appointment.
Abdul-Jabbar said he learned of the CCAC and its mission two years ago from numismatic friend John Albanese, founder of Numismatic Guaranty Corp. and Certified Acceptance Corp.
“He explained the kind of work they [CCAC] do in advising the Treasury on commemorative coins and I realized how much of a role they played in celebrating important people in history,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I’ve spent the last twenty years writing books and articles that celebrate overlooked people of color who have had an extraordinary impact on American culture. So, it seemed like a perfect fit.”
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Abdul-Jabbar’s application and eventual appointment to the CCAC was somewhat serendipitous. He met with U.S. Mint officials in October of 2016 in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with a speaking engagement he had at the National Press Club. As luck would have it, there was a new vacancy on the CCAC, awaiting an appointee who would serve the interests of the general public.
Appointment wasn’t immediate or automatic. Abdul-Jabbar would have to make a formal application for appointment to the Treasury secretary, which he did, and be successfully vetted, which he was.
He’s looking forward to making his contributions to the CCAC count.
“I’m interested in the art of collecting coins as well as in the way our economic system works,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “There is not enough awareness among the general public in our economic and monetary policies and coin collecting creates more interest because those policies affect the value of gold collections.
“Also, I’m interested in the process of selecting those who will be commemorated on those coins, because it reflects not just the value of the metal in the coin, but the value we place on the people whose faces appear on the coins.”
What concerns does Abdul-Jabbar have about the coins and medals being produced by the United States Mint?
“Not enough people are aware of political and social nuances that affect the designing coins and that these designs represent how we view American history,” he said. “My concern is that there is a lack of diversity in how monochromatic our view of history has been. I can see that the U.S. Mint is starting to make changes that acknowledge the diversity in our history and I’m excited to be a part of that.”
For the first time in history — through the 1792–2017-W American Liberty gold $100 coin — Liberty is depicted as an African-American woman.
“This is a bold and refreshing course for the Mint,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Created by Justin Kunz and sculpted by Phebe Hemphill, the coin is a fitting symbol for the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Mint. I love how they replaced the wreath across her head with large stars to represent a hopeful future as we strive to fulfill the promise of the U.S. Constitution.”
Not just round ball
Best known for his basketball prowess, Abdul-Jabbar played as a center in college at UCLA on a team coached by the legendary John Wooden, followed by two decades on NBA courts with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.
“I got interested in basketball when I was 8 or 9 years old after seeing the movie Go Man Go,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I am writing a book about my 50-year relationship with Coach Wooden entitled Coach Wooden & Me (Grand Central Publishing ) which comes out May 16, 2017.”
The opponents he came up against during his professional playing days were consistently hard players — Nate Thurman, Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Lanier and Bill Walton. He also admires the skills of Hakeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, Larry Bird and Karl Malone.
Abdul-Jabbar puts many of life’s lessons he has learned to work in his Skyhook Foundation, which bears the name of his signature shot.
“CampSkyhook.org advocates for STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] in an outdoor setting. We put through thousands of kids per year but we still have a four-year waiting list. I would like to call attention to anyone who thinks our youth are worth investing in to help me put them through this camp, which is run by Los Angeles Unified School District.”
Many collectors may not know that, in addition to his basketball, the more than a dozen books he has authored and his dedication to assisting children in need, Abdul-Jabbar is a dedicated coin collector. He’d like to see more people, especially youth, get interested in coins and the history behind them, as he has in his adult life.
Abdul-Jabbar received his first introduction to numismatics more than four decades ago.
“I bought some gold in the 1970s when I was traveling through the Middle East and came across some Ottoman coins,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I was a history major at UCLA and this was my way of getting some hands-on experience with history. Just holding the coins allowed me to better imagine what life back then would have been like.
“I didn’t really start seriously collecting until 2004 after I read Ron Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton. I became fascinated with the inner workings of the country’s monetary policies and how it affected the social policies.”
CCAC considers design themes for 2019 and 2020 Native American dollars: “American Indians in the Space Program” and “Elizabeth Peratrovich and Alaska’s Anti-Discrimination Law” are the overall design themes.
Congress should consider passing legislation authorizing a coin recognizing Hamilton, Abdul-Jabbar suggests.
“He has emerged from a very long stay in obscurity,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “The musical play on his life has really connected him to the millennial generation. Now is a good time to extend that interest beyond the stage into some of the principles Hamilton stood for.”
“Reading [in the Hamilton biography] about the intricacies and economic theories that went into creating the U.S. economic system fascinated me and I wanted to have some commemoration of it,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “The first monetary gold object I got was a gold tael from my friend, [actor] Bruce Lee. In China, gold currency was distributed in the form of taels.
“So Bruce, knowing my penchant for history, thought it would be cool to give me this tael to commemorate our working together on [the movie] Game of Death.
“The first coin I purchased was a ten dollar 1799 Eagle MS 64. I liked it because it was the largest denomination of American currency [in its day] and I still have it.”
Abdul-Jabbar says he currently collects 1850 to 1866 Coronet, No Motto gold $20 double eagles and pioneer gold coins. Prized among his collection are his 1915-S Panama-Pacific International Exposition coins.
His favorite coin is the 1861-O Coronet double eagle struck at the New Orleans Mint.
“No one knows if they were made by the U.S. government, the State of Louisiana or the Confederacy,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I find it interesting because the Federal Mint in New Orleans struck U.S. coins until Louisiana seceded from the Union.
“After Louisiana left the Union they joined the Confederacy and continued to make Type 1 double eagles. This is the kind of mysterious back-story that intrigues collectors. It could be the basis for a mystery novel or another National Treasure movie.”
Expanding the hobby
Abdul-Jabbar, who has frequented coin shows, coin shops and auctions during his extensive traveling schedule, believes the U.S. Mint is doing a good job “in making an effort to expand the kinds of people and places they recognize as contributors to American history. Their bronze medal honoring Dr. King and Coretta Scott King is beautiful. The 2017 Native American coin commemorating Sequoyah, who created a Cherokee syllabary that allowed the Cherokee people to learn to read and write is also a great addition. Because of that, the literacy rate of the Cherokee passed that of the European-Americans around them. It’s that kind of celebration of ingenuity, inventiveness, and innovation from all walks of America that we need to continue to promote until their stories become more well known among our children.”
The U.S. Mint executes the coins and medals legislated by Congress, with designs reviewed and recommended by the CCAC and Commission of Fine Arts, with final approval given by the Treasury secretary or designee.
Abdul-Jabbar says he would like to see a basketball commemorative coin issued by the U.S. Mint that would rival the concave/convex National Baseball Hall of Fame coins issued in 2014.
“It is the only major sport invented in American in that it wasn’t an adaptation of a European sport,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
Proposed legislation for a basketball commemorative coin was introduced during the 2015–2016 congressional sessions but failed to garner the necessary co-sponsors.
What does the Mint have to do to bring in new collectors?
“The Mint needs to produce coins that appreciate in value as well as coins that encourage people to want to participate in history by owning these coins,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “We have to make owning these coins as cool and fun as owning comic book collectibles.
“We’ll do this by designing coins that appeal to a broad spectrum of people and by publicizing the coins more. I’m hoping my involvement will help with the publicity aspect.”
Circulation quality 2017 Kennedy half dollars on sale: The 2017-P Kennedy half dollars are struck at the Philadelphia Mint and the 2017-D Kennedy half dollars are struck at the Denver Mint.
Is Abdul-Jabbar anticipating there will be more public attendance at CCAC meetings now that he will be a fixture on the panel for the next four years?
“It’s possible that we may get some basketball fans in there, but I also hope that average citizens will be encouraged to find out what collecting coins are all about,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I also [hope] the fans of my fiction and non-fiction writing will also be more curious about collecting.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s first meeting as a CCAC member will be by teleconference Feb. 15.
The panel is to discuss design themes for the five 2019 America the Beautiful quarter dollars and the Office of Strategic Services congressional gold medal.
The five quarter dollars to be released in 2019 will recognize the following sites:
??Lowell National Historical Park, Massachusetts
??American Memorial Park, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
??War in the Pacific National Historical Park, Guam
??San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, Texas
??Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Idaho
The OSS was America’s first effort to implement a system of strategic intelligence during World War II and provided the basis for the modern-day American intelligence and special operations contingents.
The CCAC was established in 2003 by Congress under Public Law 108-15.
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