Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is battling leukemia, and says his prognosis is "very good."

The retired Los Angeles Lakers center — the National Basketball Association's greatest all-time scorer — was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, a rare blood and bone marrow cancer, last December.

"I heard the word 'leukemia,' and I thought this was definitely a death sentence," Abdul-Jabbar said Tuesday on Good Morning America, adding that his first thought was of his friend Bruno Kirby, who died of a different form of leukemia in 2006.

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Abdul-Jabbar's long-term prognosis is positive and he said his condition can be managed by seeing a specialist, taking his medication and getting his blood analyzed on a regular basis."If I can do this as I'm told to do it, I can manage this disease. This does not have to be a death sentence," said Abdul-Jabber, who has dabbled in acting, most memorably as the co-pilot in the 1980 screwball comedy Airplane!

The 62-year-old, who retired in 1989 and now serves as the Lakers' special assistant coach, said he decided to come forward to show fellow cancer patients that "they can prevail, they can leave a meaningful life and life doesn't have to stop all of the sudden."