Warren Jabali Biography Provides Insight About a Unique Athlete/PhilosopherWarren Jabali is one of the most interesting people I have ever interviewed. I had the privilege of both meeting him at the 2005 ABA Reunion and also speaking with him at length on the phone. Those conversations formed the basis for two articles: Warren Jabali in his own Words and Remembering Warren Jabali. I was honored and pleased when Mary Alice Beasley, Warren Jabali's widow, asked for my permission to reprint both of those pieces in Thanks to You: Memories of Warren Edward Armstrong Jabali, her 415 page tribute to not just Warren Jabali the basketball player but--much more importantly--Warren Jabali the human being.
Here is a quote from the book's preface, written by David Thomas: "The men who gathered at Warren’s funeral felt one thing in common: Warren’s story should be known. It is the story of the fearless young man with extraordinary gifts who discovers that life is unfair, that the world is out of balance, that there are monsters--both inner and outer--that must be slain. It is the story of coming to terms with life as it is, facing facts squarely, and then turning your gifts, whatever they are, to the benefit of those you care about most. It is a love story, perhaps above all, a love story."
Thomas recalls a conversation in which Jabali expressed his support for Booker T. Washington's philosophy--"Put down your bucket where you are"--as opposed to W.E.B. DuBois' approach of "We have to get equal rights and participate in the system." Jabali elaborated, "(Since black people) don't have the power and influence that equals our abilities, then you would say that the Booker T. model is the model that we should have been following." One could call it the art of the possible; instead of waiting or hoping for the ideal world situation to develop, create the best opportunities for yourself and your people by using whatever resources are available to you right now.
In the Introduction, Beasley notes, "Although Warren Edward Armstrong Jabali was known for his
basketball skills and accomplishments in high school, college and in the American Basketball Association (ABA) 1968-1976, little is written of his personal life or career as an educator. The purpose of this book is: to inform readers of his many positive attributes; to reveal multiple aspects of his personality; to describe his commitment to a cause he deemed worthy; to familiarize readers with his passion for music; to make known his talents as a writer and speaker; to demonstrate his intellectual depth and keen perception; to convey his love and to express his devotion for his children; to unveil his spiritual growth; and to chronicle his social evolution."
Warren Jabali completed 22 typewritten, single-spaced pages of his autobiography before he passed away on July 13, 2012. Thanks to You includes those pages but the bulk of the book consists of the memories and observations of those who knew Jabali best, supplemented by various speeches and articles composed by Jabali. Beasley declares, "His writing style, as was his speech, is direct and very powerful," an opinion with which any reader of this book will readily concur.
Jabali studied a wide variety of religions and philosophical doctrines. Beasley writes (italics are used in the original text), "It was his goal to reach a state of 'Holy Indifference" (having a balanced understanding of life while being unaffected by events and circumstances) as described in the Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scriptures. In other words, as Jabali would often say: 'It is what it is.'" It is important, but not easy, to accept the concept that Only Thoughts and Actions Can be Controlled, Not Outcomes.
In the autobiographical section of the book, Jabali humbly declares, "I do not consider myself to have been a great player and therefore did not generate enough notoriety as to deserve to be written about in a book. Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are the type of players who deserve basketball books. From my era, players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who was dominant in high school, college and professionally, Julius Erving, who was the star of the American Basketball Association, and George Gervin, who was a master of scoring and of the 'finger roll,' would be deserving of literary attention. These men were transcendent and actually have legendary accomplishments. If one is not of that ilk, his basketball story must then be ordinary. I will make mention of my basketball experiences here and there but I will write primarily about the opportunity and perspective gained from the exposure gained by working as an above average athlete."
Keep in mind that Jabali made the ABA's All-Time Team, earned four All-Star selections, won the 1973 ABA All-Star MVP award and is the only player in ABA/NBA history other than Magic Johnson to win the Rookie of the Year and the Finals MVP in the same season; he was hardly an "ordinary" player but he possessed the extraordinary awareness that he could and should make a larger contribution to society than just putting the ball in the basket with great aplomb.
After describing his family's background, history and struggles, Jabali comments on how he feels like the black community has fallen short compared to other minority groups:
We have failed to take lessons from other immigrant groups. Nor do we seem to take the biblical examples to heart. How was it that the Jews could be enslaved by the Egyptians for four hundred years and maintained their religion, their language and their national identity? When the Jews were emancipated and were free to leave the plantation, they sought to go straight back to Israel. African Americans, when freed, sought only to go to northern cities.
When Marcus Garvey talked of going back to Africa, the response was in reality tepid. I submit that the African American 'Moses,' Booker T. Washington, was cast in the wrong light and dismissed to the shame and detriment to us as a people. Booker T. Washington admonished black people to be productive. The Jews, if nothing else, have been productive...Did our ministers try to teach us why the Jews were successful wherever they went?
Later in the book, Beasley (who Jabali nicknamed "Bibi") comments about Jabali's fascination with Jewish history:
The history of the Jews intrigued him most. He would often state, "Bibi, the Jews are so successful because they are one universally. Their religion binds them no matter where they are. Neither regionalism, nationalism, political affiliation nor anything else trumps their religion. We should follow their example. Religion divides us, education divides us, skin color divides us, etc...we need to unite."
Beasley notes that Jabali's favorite poems included "Desiderata," "Invictus," "Myself," "The Raven" and "Annabel Lee." The concluding stanza of "Invictus" challenges the reader to not succumb to fate but rather to rise above any challenge/obstacle:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
The concluding lines of "Desiderata" are also uplifting:
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
Those two poems convey much of the essence of Jabali's world view; he was a strong man who controlled his own fate but he also learned to appreciate the beauty in our flawed world and he strove to be happy while never abandoning his goal to improve his life and the lives of his people.
Jabali loved a wide variety of musical genres. On July 15, 1996, he wrote a note to Beasley containing the lyrics from a song called "Thanks to You":
You changed my life and my way of doing things
And all of my life Baby, I will be giving
Thanks to you for being true
And loving me as I love you
You took my heart and you possessed my soul
In you I find warmth when so called friends turn cold.
Forevermore when things get tough
Then we'll have each other. I believe...
I really do believe that that's enough.
You changed my life...You changed my life...
That was the last song that Jabali and Beasley listened to together and that message so profoundly touched Beasley that she used the song title in the title of her book.
David Thomas is right on two counts: Jabali's story should be known and, at its core, it is a love story, a story about how love influenced Jabali's personal evolution and about how Jabali's love for his people directed his actions so that he could make a significant positive impact in the lives of many individuals who were fortunate to cross paths with him.
Thanks to You: Memories of Warren Edward Armstrong Jabali can be ordered here.
posted by David Friedman @ 4:28 AM