ABC’s 13th Bachelorette shares the “pressure” of factoring in race and getting romantic advice from NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whose cameo on the reality dating series airs May 29.
Rachel Lindsay is kicking off her turn as ABC’s 13th Bachelorette with historic moments: She’s the first African-American lead in the 33 combined seasons of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette, leads the most diverse cast in its 15-year history, and has made Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a Bachelor believer.
Jabbar wrote an op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter in January ahead of Nick Viall’s Bachelor season about why the franchise kills romance in America. To prove the critic wrong, ABC invited the former NBA superstar on set for a group date that will be featured on Lindsay’s season where he was convinced otherwise.
THR spoke with the ABC reality star (who revealed she’s happily engaged) about having the legend on set, the pressure she feels from the African-American community, and why men of color last longer on her season than in years past.
Kareem was brought on the show as a Bachelor skeptic in hopes of proving that love on the show is possible. What was it like having him on set and how do you think your date changed his mind?
I wouldn’t necessarily say my date changed his mind, but maybe my conversations with him did. I really enjoyed talking to him and hearing him compare basketball to relationships. How the same lessons that you learn in basketball, like being a team player, are important for relationships. The interaction we had with each other was invaluable.
One of Kareem’s arguments is that the franchise kills romance, promoting “unrealistic romantic love.” As someone whose season ends with an engagement, why is that theory wrong?
It’s no secret that even I’m a huge skeptic. But going through it with Nick and then having my own season has turned the biggest skeptic into the biggest believer. As long as you stay true to yourself, follow your gut, use good judgment and, with a little bit of luck — you never know who’s coming out of that limo — you can really find what it is that you want. Timing has to do with it, too. I just happen to be very fortunate to have a great group of men and happened to find one that I feel like I can spend my forever with.
After that date, Kareem told THR that you are able to call out the “showboats” and the “slackers.” How do you think you won him over that day?
He did? I love that he said that. Oh my gosh — I’m flattered. I was just myself. At 32, I don’t know how to be anything else but that. And I played basketball, I was able to talk with him about that. We were able to have an open and real conversation. I did tell him what my concerns were: I don’t like cocky guys. I could point out some people that were showboating a little bit, and I told him that if I saw it that I was going to call it out. That’s not something that I want to be a part of my journey. He was just receptive to that.
To quote from Kareem’s column, he was frustrated that African-American contestants before your season were “predictably cut loose after an appropriately polite we-don’t-see-color period of time.” How does your season combat that notion?
I think that everyone, and I could be guilty of it, too, doesn’t really know how this show goes until you’re actually in it. You just assume that it’s a typical reality TV show, but once you’re in it, it’s real. I can’t say that my time on the show combats that. It’s just who I was developing connections with, and I wasn’t paying attention to a race, career or an age. It was just what I was feeling with them.
Do men of color make it past the first couple weeks?
Yes! I am fortunate, if you see the first episode, to have a very diverse cast. So you will see more diversity go a longer way through my journey, but that’s just because of the group of men that was coming out of the limo.
When we last spoke, ahead of filming, you said you felt pressure from the African-American community to pick a black man. How did you grapple with that while filming and are you ready to face Bachelor Nation, and specifically the African-American community, if your final pick is a white contestant?
I remember having that conversation with you and talking about the pressures that I feel from America, or black America. It was something that I wanted to get over before I entered my own season. I was just like, “You know what? This is for me.” I’m not choosing a man for anyone else. I have to be selfish. I have to do what’s best for me. I’m the one who has to love and spend the rest of my life with this person, if I’m lucky to find that one. I couldn’t get caught up in picking a certain man to please a certain community. Race didn’t play in as a factor when it came to choosing men along the way. In my final decision, I just went with my heart and the person I found my forever with.
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A version of this story first appeared in the May 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.