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Will Court Hear Kareem v. Karim?

November 07, 1997| From Staff and Wire Reports

So much for school spirit.

Former Laker and UCLA basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is suing Miami Dolphin running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar--also a former Bruin standout--for using the same name.

The retired basketball star has asked a federal judge to award him damages and stop the sale of merchandise with the Dolphin's name on it, records showed.

A complaint filed in Los Angeles on Wednesday says there are too many similarities between the two. Besides being fellow Bruins, both are Muslim and the football player wears No. 33 as the former NBA star did for so many years with the Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Lawyers for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar contacted the former Sharmon Shah in 1995 after he decided to change his name to Karim Abdul-Jabbar. In an Oct. 24, 1995, letter, "before the defendant ever had an opportunity to commercially exploit that name, plaintiffs suggested that defendant reconsider his adoption of the Karim Abdul-Jabbar name and instead select another name," the suit states.

The former basketball player said at the time Shah changed his name: "It's a shame he can't forge his own identity. There are a lot of names out there, a lot of attributes. It's too bad he could not have gotten a name suited to his personality."

In a response to the letter, the younger Abdul-Jabbar's attorney said his client, then a junior, intended to stay at UCLA another year, according to the lawsuit. But he left school early and was drafted by the Dolphins.

The running back, born a Muslim, "could have adopted a wide range of names other than Karim Abdul-Jabbar to replace his then-current name," the suit states. "From all of the numerals available to him," Shah "selected '33' to appear on his football jersey, both in college, at UCLA and for the Miami Dolphins team, with the name 'Abdul-Jabbar' appearing above it on the back of the jersey."

But the younger Abdul-Jabbar told The Times in 1995 that he did not choose the name himself. It was given to him by a member of his faith called the imam.

"Abdul means the servant of the most most generous [Karim]," said the football player, who is from Los Angeles and attended Dorsey High. "No one can be the Karim. No one can be the Jabbar. That's the Creator. We can only be Abdul, a servant."

Neither Abdul-Jabbar could be reached for comment Thursday.


Staff writer Greg Sandoval contributed to this story.

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