Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: My 50-Year Friendship With Big Bird and ‘Sesame Street’

pringdesign Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The (very tall) Hollywood Reporter contributor first met the yellow character in 1969 — “It’s nice to have someone I can look straight in the eyes” — and sees the show’s influence on everything from his own kids’ behavior to ‘The Great British Bake Off.’

Big Bird has been my feathered friend for 50 years. Sure, we don’t see each other as much as I’d like, but when we do get together, it’s nice to have someone I can look straight in the eyes without bending my neck.

We first met when I visited the set in 1969, Sesame Street‘s inaugural year, when I was 22, and I dropped by a few more times over the years. Once, Big Bird and I did a segment on subtraction. Another time I got to sing the theme song with Big Bird, Elmo and the Count. So, yeah, I do know how to get to Sesame Street. [Watch one of his appearances here.] More important than my personal friendship with Big Bird, Sesame Street has played an even bigger role in educating my children and in shaping the moral character of American culture. Thank goodness.

For 50 years, the cozy little neighborhood has taught us much more than numbers and words. While we can count on Count von Count to give us the good word on numbers, the other characters preach the gospel of compassion, kindness and fairness. They want us to be not only good counters and good spellers, but also good neighbors. I always knew that when my children watched the interactions of the humans and Muppets — my oldest daughter, Habiba, was able to turn on the television and change the channels to Sesame Street before she could even talk — whatever conflicts they had would be resolved from a place of respect and appreciation rather than arrogance or self-righteousness. The street and its residents are a brightly colored community that embodies the best teachings of most religions, but without the hard seats and guilt. And with a lot more laughter and silliness.

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pringdesignKareem Abdul-Jabbar: My 50-Year Friendship With Big Bird and ‘Sesame Street’