Five Miles Up: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the search for tape

Bekah Wright
CompassOctober 22, 2013
five miles up
(Photo: Iconomy LLC)

Recently, a reunion occurred when several cast and crew members behind the 1980 film Airplane! convened to shoot a commercial for Travel Wisconsin. Among them -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The former NBA star, who played for both the Milwaukee Bucks and L.A. Lakers, has been a coach, actor and author, and in 2012 he was appointed United States Cultural Ambassador by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. What FMU learned about the 7-foot-2 world traveler’s ultimate destination wish – it’s to a location 7,970 feet above sea level, with views from beyond the clouds.

What’s something you never fail to pack in your suitcase?
My shaving kit. Being able to shave and groom are very important for any business traveler. Without it, I look like a yeti and scare the other passengers.

Carry-on or check-in?
Carry-on, when I can. I like the convenience of just grabbing my bag and hustling through the airport. Makes me feel like James Bond.

Window or aisle?
I like the window seat because it lets me extend my legs without having them in the main aisle. No one wants these legs in the way of the food cart.

What’s your idea of the perfect vacation?
An interesting location where I can see some sights I haven’t seen before. I’ve been traveling extensively around the world all my life, so I’m always on the lookout for something new: from majestic mountains to virgin beaches to the world’s largest ball of tape. However, I’m not one for roughing it anymore. I like to stay in a comfortable hotel with a quiet ambiance, nice sheets and towels, and great food service.

Tell us about a vacation you’ve taken that’s come close thus far.
A great trip to Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. The beaches are powdery, white sand and, because there’s a reef, there’s no ocean swell. You’re not stuck in one location – you travel around to historical sites, great restaurants and shopping. Unfortunately, no giant ball of tape.

What’s the worst vacation you’ve taken?
One time I went to Jamaica and the hotel wasn’t very comfortable. In addition, the beach was narrow and rocky. After a day and a half, I went home. Obviously, I could have changed hotels and found better beaches, because I know Jamaica has them, but my initial experience put me off. Which goes to show you how important it is to do some research before traveling.

Where’s your favorite destination for professional travel?
New York has so many business destinations in a contained area, you can get a lot done in a little amount of time. And the crowds don’t bother me because my head sticks out above everyone else’s like a periscope, so I can always see where I’m going.

What's the silliest souvenir you’ve ever brought back from a trip?
I was given a number of stuffed animal toys to take home from Europe. The only thing I like to stuff is a basketball, so I didn’t really have much use for them. However, I did make a lot of children happy when I gave them away.

Ever try a food you wished you hadn't?
I tried durian one time, which in Asia is known as “the king of fruits.” It looks like a napping porcupine on the outside and, when you cut it open, like someone’s heart on the inside. It’s a foul-tasting fruit.

Favorite restaurant you’ve discovered while traveling.
Aga’s Grill, in Karachi, Pakistan. Not only was the food delicious, but it’s a great conversation starter to say, “Have you ever eaten at Aga’s Grill in Pakistan?”

Favorite Wisconsin locale?
Lake Geneva. It’s such a quaint city on the shores of the magnificent Geneva Lake.

Biggest regret you've ever had while on vacation.
I’m not a cold weather fan and I visited Oslo at Christmastime. I had to count my fingers and toes on the plane when I was leaving.

The one thing you're willing to splurge on when traveling above all else.
Good meals!

Three artists on your travel playlist?
Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, and Miles Davis. Jazz always makes traveling seem more exciting and adventurous.

Where would you take someone visiting your hometown for the first time?
The Cloisters Museum in Manhattan – which is both educational and tranquil. It’s not what people think of when they envision Manhattan. The museum’s art and architecture are unique in the city in that they try to capture the spirit of Medieval Europe from the 12th through the 15th centuries. The gardens are amazing.

You only get one more trip in your lifetime. Where will it be?
Machu Picchu, Peru. It’s sometimes called the “Lost City of the Incas” because of an Incan pyramid there. I’d love to learn more about the Incan civilization, plus, the view from there is stunning.