Like Johnny Damon, “Dancing with the Stars: Athletes” isn’t Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s first reality rodeo. But while Damon just used his business acumen to fit whatever fancy of Donald Trump’s on “Celebrity Apprentice,” Abdul-Jabbar did something far more daring on a far better, but sadly short-lived, show: “Splash.”
“Splash,” ABC’s version of the Dutch hit, aired only one season in 2013 and was just “Diving with the Stars.” It was ridiculous, awesome, fun as hell, and my former TV Guide colleague Sadie Gennis and I miss it very, very much. Everyone had personalized walkout songs for God’s sake! (Abdul-Jabbar’s song was appropriately named “Skyhook.”)
The NBA legend was one of 11 celebrities who tried their hand at diving and finished in fifth place. He charmed fans with his unlikely friendship with Louie Anderson and his gung-ho attitude to master a new sport at 66 years old — Abdul-Jabbar turned 71 on Monday (fun fact: fellow “Dancing” athlete Mirai Nagasu turned 25 the same day) — despite, or because of, his 7-foot-2 frame.
“Diving is a small person’s sport,” he said on the show. He belly-flopped on his first dive, but later mustered the courage to leap off the 33-foot platform.
There was also the time he did a synchro dive with a pint-sized 12-year-old junior diver.
Abdul-Jabbar was eliminated after that dive, but he did wind up with the sixth best average score of the 11 stars on the show, which was won by freestyle skier Rory Bushfield. Not bad at all.
There will be another comical height disparity between Abdul-Jabbar and his “Dancing” partner Lindsay Arnold, who stands at 5-foot-6, which obviously poses more of a challenge in dancing than diving side-by-side simultaneously. But if the six-time NBA champ’s run on “Splash” is any indication, you can’t count him out no matter the odds stacked against him (no pun intended).
But really, what I’m saying is, bring back “Splash.”
“Dancing with the Stars: Athletes” premieres Monday, April 30 at 8/7c on ABC.
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