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Retired NBA champion Kareem Abdul-Jabbar praised Nike for supporting Colin Kaepernick, who he says has taken too much criticism for his decision to kneel during the national anthem.
"Colin is not unpatriotic. Colin is complaining about the fact that black Americans are treated differently in our criminal justice system, and he peacefully brought that to the attention of people who went to football games. And he's taken too much criticism for it," Abdul-Jabbar said on CNBC's "Power Lunch."
"I would like to give Nike all the kudos I possibly can for stepping up to the plate and supporting Colin," Abdul-Jabbar added.
Earlier this month, Nike revealed a new ad campaign for the 30th anniversary of its "Just Do It" slogan, featuring Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback. The football player was widely criticized after he chose not to stand for the national anthem during the 2016 season to protest racial injustice.
The Nike campaign divided American consumers, with some promising on social media to boycott the brand, initially pushing Nike shares down. The stock has since rebounded.
"I have a lot of respect for Colin; he sacrificed a lot to make a point. And I am really thankful and proud of Nike for doing what they did, because corporate America, they have a voice, and I'm glad to see this corporation using it the way that they did," Abdul-Jabbar said.
Abdul-Jabbar is known about as well for his political activism as for his trademark hook shot that led the 7-foot-2-inch athlete to become the NBA's all-time top scorer when he retired from the Los Angeles Lakers in 1989. He kicked off his career as a student athlete at the University of California at Los Angeles, where he boycotted the Olympics to protest against racial inequality in 1968, Reuters reported.
He has been a vocal supporter of NFL protests that he says peacefully and powerfully draw attention to a long-neglected issue of race, according to Reuters.
"Colin's message is extremely important, and people are trying to change the subject by attacking him. They're trying to say that he's not patriotic and it's an attack against the flag. Colin is very patriotic; he's trying to make the United States live up to its ideals that are enumerated in our Constitution. I think we should commend Colin," Abdul-Jabbar said.
Abdul-Jabbar said he thinks people will compare Kaepernick to Muhammad Ali, one of the greatest boxers of all time, who was suspended from boxing from 1967 to 1970 for refusing to fight in the Vietnam War. Ali also spoke out against racism and Islamophobia.
"I think eventually he will be like Muhammad Ali in earning peoples' respect when they finally think about what he was talking about and make some decisions based on fact," Abdul-Jabbar said.
— CNBC's Lauren Thomas contributed to reporting.