Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Interview on Mycroft Holmes
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I’ve been a writer longer than I’ve been a basketball player, so there really wasn’t any transition. In high school, I studied journalism and even got to interview Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After I stopped playing professional basketball, I was still coaching. Yet, even then I was writing books. At first, I wrote about history, which has always been a great passion of mine. Then, as I got more confidence, I expanded to fiction. My children’s book, What Color Is My World, is a hybrid of a fictional story and facts about forgotten African-American inventors. Because the reception for that book was so overwhelmingly positive, including winning an NAACP Image Award, I decided to write a series of novels for middle schoolers. Finally, I indulged my lifelong interest in mysteries and Sherlock Holmes by writing Mycroft. I will say that writing is as physically and mentally demanding as basketball. Fortunately, my discipline in playing professional ball translated into discipline for writing, which is why I don’t think I’ll be slowing down any time soon.
ERN: How did you come to be such a fan of the Sherlock Holmes canon? How have the stories and the great detective influenced you?
KAJ: I became a fan during my rookie year with the Milwaukee Bucks. I was given a compilation of Holmes stories to read on the bus, and I got hooked. I also realized that I could use Holmes’s ‘power of observation’ for my game. In one instance, I overheard the ball boys gossiping about a player on the opposing team. They said he and his coach went into the locker room at half time to smoke. So at the second half I just ran him off his feet. Sure enough, he got too winded to play well, and we ended up winning the game.
ERN: Taking on Mycroft Holmes as a protagonist is an interesting choice—why did you chose to write about Mycroft instead of his more famous brother Sherlock?
KAJ: Because Sherlock is already everywhere, whereas Mycroft is much less well known. And even though he crops up in movies and series about Sherlock, he’s not really the Mycroft Holmes that Doyle wrote about. The challenge, then, was to be faithful to ACD but still have a very active protagonist. So we decided that we would introduce him at 23, when he was still young and viable and idealistic, and go from there.
ERN: The story is set during an interesting period in British history—they had many protectorates and territories across the world. Where did you get the idea to set the bulk of the story in TRINIDAD and during this time period?
KAJ: We chose Trinidad because that’s where my family is from originally, and I have an emotional tie to the place. We also wanted Mycroft to have a black best friend, which made Trinidad a likely place of origin for him. We set it in 1870 because, as I said, we wanted a younger Mycroft. But we also wanted to remain faithful to what we know (from reading ACD) of the brothers’ respective ages. Plus, in 1870 there was a lot going on, including an imminent war between France and Germany. That gave us the launching point for our story.
ERN: I really enjoyed the inclusion of the TRINIDADIAN folklore into the plot, and the political intrigue and unrest in that part of the world made for a great backdrop. How much historical research did you have to do? How much historical fact did you draw on for the plot?
KAJ: We had to do a lot of research, and we had to double- and triple-check it with the fact checkers at Titan Publishing, who were excellent at their jobs. Then we had to take all that research and make it look effortless—make it disappear into the story. That may have been even harder to pull off.
ERN: Do you have plans to write more about Mycroft Holmes? Turn this into a series?
KAJ: We would love to. We’re waiting to be asked.
ERN: Is there a question you wish I had asked but didn’t?
KAJ: I’m fond of Cyrus Douglas, Mycroft’s friend and sidekick. Though he’s got no shortage of smarts, he’s the heart and the ethics of the story. He needs to be up to the task of keeping up with the brilliant Mycroft, while correcting him when he’s wrong. I think he turned out rather well, and I hope the readers agree.
ERN: You are actually the author of several history books, an autobiography and a few children’s books. What is the next literary project you are working on?
KAJ: I’m working on a book of essays called The Fire This Time that addresses the most controversial, socially relevant and political topics facing America. After 50 years as an athlete, activist, and author, I wanted to offer my perspective on how we can work together to overcome some of these issues. In a lot of ways, this is my most substantive book yet.
(Editor’s note: Special thanks to Titan Books)