NBA Great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Diagnosed With Leukemia

Hall of Famer Abdul-Jabbar has been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia.

November 10, 2009, 7:32 AM

Nov. 10, 2009— -- Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said today he had been living with leukemia for nearly a year but no longer considered the disease a death sentence.

Abdul-Jabbar, 62, told "Good Morning America" that he'd been diagnosed in December with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, or PH+CML, a rare cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

"I heard the world 'leukemia,' and I thought this was definitely a death sentence," Abdul-Jabbar said.

But, now, his prognosis is good, he said.

"If I can do this as I'm told to do it, I can manage this," he said.

Chronic myeloid leukemia affects about 4,500 adults in the United States, with a median age of 67 at diagnosis, according to the CML Alliance.

Symptoms can include fatigue, night sweats, weight loss and pain or discomfort on the left side of the abdomen caused by an enlarged spleen.

Abdul-Jabbar, now a spokesman for Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., which partners with the CML Alliance, said he started to notice symptoms shortly before his diagnosis.

"I had noticed I was having hot flashes and sweats," he said. "I'm not going through menopause. So I really needed to know what that's about. The next day they called and said, 'You need to go see a specialist. Your white blood cell count is sky high."

Abdul-Jabbar said his first thought was of his good friend, actor Bruno Kirby, who died in 2006 at age 57 from a different form of leukemia.

NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Hopeful About Prognosis

Abdul-Jabbar said he's speaking publicly about his disease to show other patients that "they can prevail. They can continue a meaningful life."

Born and raised New York City, Abdul-Jabbar was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969 before he was traded to the L.A. Lakers in 1975. He stayed with the Lakers until his retirement in 1989, at age 42.

The NBA's greatest all-time scoring player, Abdul-Jabbar was named Rookie of the Year in 1970 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

A year later, he was named one of the 50 greatest players in NBA history.

Abdul-Jabbar told "Good Morning America" that he is keeping busy with the development of a children's book about inventors, scheduled to be published in 2011. He's also working on a basketball documentary about the Harlem Renaissance, both an era and the name of the first all-black professional team.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events