“I’m not competing against Tonya in a way where she needs to break my legs,” the 71-year-old NBA legend said of the former Olympic skater on Access Live on Wednesday. “Tonya tries to get along with everybody. I found most of the people that I met in connection with this have been great. They’re friendly, and we’re gonna go out there and have some fun with it.”
Abdul-Jabbar was of course referencing the infamous 1994 attack on Olympic skater Nancy Kerrigan (who competed on season 24 of Dancing With the Stars), where she was clubbed on the knee by an attacker during practice for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
It was soon determined that the attack was arranged by Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, along with Shawn Eckardt and his friend Derrick Smith, who drove the getaway car. Gillooly and Eckhart pleaded guilty to racketeering for their involvement in the attack.
Harding, 47, denied having any involvement or knowledge of the attack, but pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder prosecution. She was required to pay a $160,000 fine and was sentenced to three years’ probation and 500 hours community service. She was banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
But when asked if he believes in second chances, Abdul-Jabbar replied, “Absolutely.”
“You know, people make mistakes, and when you understand [Harding’s] circumstances, it will affect how you deal with judging her,” he said. “I don’t feel I try to judge anybody. I wish her success and hope she feels good about what she does, you know?”
On Dancing With the Stars, Abdul-Jabbar will be competing alongside pro Lindsay Arnold, who won last season with Jordan Fisher. The athlete told PEOPLE recently that the rehearsal process has been “very humbling” for him but he’s “making progress.”
“It looks so simple and easily done, but when you’re trying to coordinate two people, it takes a while for both of them to learn each other’s coordinating moves and how to proceed through the sequence of things,” he said. “All of the dances [I’ve seen] throughout my life make it look so thoughtless and easy, and I can see how much work it is to pull it off — wow.”
Among the athletes joining Abdul-Jabbar and Harding on Dancing With the Stars are former Olympic skaters Adam Rippon and Mirai Nagasu; Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson and luger Chris Mazdzer; Notre Dame’s national championship hero Arike Ogunbowale; former pro softball player Jennie Finch Daigle; retired professional baseball outfielder Johnny Damon; and Washington Redskins’ cornerback Josh Norman.
Season 26 of Dancing with the Stars premieres April 30 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Photo credit: YouTube/Access Live