NEW YORK -- In a move to engage young people worldwide, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a global cultural ambassador.
The Hall of Famer and NBA career scoring leader will promote the importance of education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding and using sports as a means of empowerment.
His appointment was announced Wednesday by the State Department.
"It's a great honor and I'm thrilled that they see me as the person that could get this done," he said in a phone interview.
The 64-year-old said he remembers a similar program under President John F. Kennedy where speakers came to his school in Harlem.
"So now I get to follow in the footsteps of one my heroes," he said.
Ann Stock, assistant secretary of state for education and cultural affairs, said Abdul-Jabbar will travel the world to engage a generation of young people to help promote diplomacy.
Stock said Tuesday the appointment is part of Clinton's vision of "Smart Power" that combines diplomacy, defense and development to "bridge the gap in a tense world through young people."
Abdul-Jabbar said he will share his take on life in America, adding: "I'll be doing a few basketball clinics, too."
He will make his first official trip Sunday when he travels to Brazil for a number of events centering on education.
"I look forward to meeting with young people all over the world and discussing ways in which we can strengthen our understanding of one another through education, through sports and through greater cultural tolerance," he said.
Since his retirement in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar has been involved in projects focused on African-American history and socio-economic justice. His 2011 documentary, "On the Shoulders of Giants," sought to highlight these issues. He has also launched the Skyhook Foundation, which works to improve children's lives through education and sports.
Last year, he received the Lincoln Medal for his commitment to education, understanding and equality and his contributions that exemplify President Abraham Lincoln's legacy.
His latest book, "What Color Is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors," was released earlier this month.
He says Clinton told him: "In Brazil, they would be shocked to find out black Americans were so much involved inventing so many useful items that we use today."