The basketball legend talks candidly about the long road to his atrial fibrillation diagnosis — the symptoms he dismissed and the denial that almost killed him.
“I went to a baseball game.”
That’s how NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 76, found out he had atrial fibrillation (AFib). Two years ago he attended a Los Angeles Dodgers game, and “every time I tried to move from one place to another, I’d get extra tingly fatigue and out of breath. And I didn’t understand it.”
This wasn’t the first time. Abdul-Jabbar had been dealing with similar symptoms for a while and downplayed them because they’d been subtle and came and went. But now he admits they’d been getting worse over time and the ballgame was the worst yet.
His business manager was with him and insisted Abdul-Jabbar go to the hospital. He refused, of course – this was just a passing thing. He finally relented, however, and once at the hospital he received a quick diagnosis: AFib.
In an interview with WebMD CEO Bob Brisco, Abdul-Jabbar said, “We can’t defeat something if we can’t even acknowledge that it exists. The denial aspect of it is a killer. It’s no big deal, it’s going to go away, and then it doesn’t go away. You’re the one that might go away.”
This transcript has been edited for clarity.
Bob Brisco: It’s our privilege to have as our guest this morning Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. You may know him as an athlete. He’s also an author, a screenwriter and activist, and a health advocate.
Kareem, we have you with us today to talk about atrial fibrillation (AFib). Why are we talking to you about AFib?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Well, I’m someone who has had to deal with AFib. Just a couple years ago, I was dealing with it and it was not fun, especially because I didn’t know what was happening to me.
Brisco: Can you take us through that? How did you discover that you have it?
Abdul-Jabbar: I started to notice that I was having shortness of breath, and at various times, I felt lightheaded and tired though I hadn’t been doing anything. I went to a baseball game. I got to the Dodgers game. And every time I tried to do something, to move from one place to another, I got extra tingly fatigue and out of breath. I didn’t understand it. My business manager saw what I was dealing with and told me I was going to the hospital and I was like, No, I don’t want to do that.