Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) is an American retired basketball player, coach, actor, and author. During his career with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers from 1969 to 1989, Abdul-Jabbar scored more points than any player in league history and won a record six MVP Awards and six NBA championships. In college at UCLA, he played on three championship teams, and his high school team won 71 consecutive games.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar - Lew Alcindor
Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr on April 16, 1947, and grew up in Manhattan in New York City, the son of Cora Lillian, a department store price checker, and Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Sr, a transit police officer and jazz musician. He was their only child. At birth, he weighed 12 pounds, 10 ounces (5.73 kg), and was twenty-two and a half inches (57.2 cm) long. He was raised as a Catholic and attended St. Jude School in the Inwood section of Manhattan. From an early age he began his record-breaking basketball accomplishments. In high school, he led Power Memorial Academy to three straight New York City Catholic championships, a 71-game winning streak, and a 79–2 overall record. He scored 2067 points in his high school career.
He played for the UCLA Bruins from 1966 to 1969 under coach John Wooden, contributing to the team's three-year record of 88 wins and only two losses, one to Houston (see below) and the other to crosstown rival USC who played a "stall game" (i.e., there was no shot clock, so a team could exploit the rules by, basically, holding the ball as long as it wanted before attempting to score). During his college career he was twice named Player of the Year (1967, 1969), was a three-time First Team All-American (1967-69), played on three NCAA Basketball champion teams (1967, 1968, 1969), was honored as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament (1967, 1968, 1969), and became the first-ever Naismith College Player of the Year in 1969. In 1967, 1968 he also won USBWA College Player of the Year which later became the Oscar Robertson Trophy. Alcindor became the only player to win the Helms Foundation Player of the Year award 3 times. Note: Freshmen were not eligible to play, so Alcindor only had 3 years to play, not four. The 1965-1966 UCLA Bruin team was the preseason #1. But on November 27, 1965, the freshmen team led by Alcindor defeated the varsity team 75-60 in the first game in the new Pauley Pavilion. This defeat had no effect on the varsity's national ranking. It was still number one the following week. Alcindor scored 51 points in that game.
UCLA became the first school to have a top winner in both basketball and football in the same year with Gary Beban winning the Heisman Trophy and Abdul-Jabbar winning the U.S. Basketball Writers Association player of the year award in 1968.
The dunk was banned in college basketball after the 1967 season, primarily because of Lew Alcindor's dominant use of the shot. It was not allowed again until 1976.
While playing for UCLA, he suffered a scratched left cornea on January 12, 1968 at the Cal game when he was struck by Tom Henderson of Cal in a rebound battle. He would miss the next two games against Stanford and Portland. This happened right before the momentous game against Houston. His cornea later would be scratched again during his pro career, causing him to subsequently wear goggles for protection.
Main article: Game of the Century (college basketball)
On January 20, 1968, Alcindor and the UCLA Bruins faced the Houston Cougars in the first-ever nationally televised regular season college basketball game. In front of 52,693 fans at the Houston Astrodome, Elvin Hayes scored 39 points and had 15 rebounds—while Alcindor, who suffered from a scratch on his left cornea, was held to just 15 points—as Houston managed to beat UCLA 71-69. The Bruins' 47-game winning streak ended in what has been called the "Game of the Century". Hayes and Alcindor would have a rematch in the 1968 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament where UCLA with a healthy Alcindor, would defeat Houston in the semi-finals 101-69, and go on to win the National Championship.
Alcindor had an outstanding career at UCLA. As of the 2008-2009 season, he still holds or shares a number of individual records at UCLA:
Highest career scoring average: 26.4
Most career field goals: 943 (tied with Don MacLean)
Most points in a season: 870 (1967)
Highest season scoring average: 29.0 (1967)
Most field goals in a season: 346 (1967)
Most free throw attempts in a season: 274 (1967)
Most points in a single game: 61
Most field goals in a single game: 26 (vs. Washington State, 2/25/67)
The Harlem Globetrotters offered him $1 million to play for them, but he declined, and was picked first in the 1969 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, only in their second season, who won the coin-toss for first pick over the Phoenix Suns. He was also chosen first overall in the 1969 American Basketball Association draft by the New York Nets. The Nets believed that they had the upper hand in receiving Alcindor's services because he was from New York; however, when Alcindor told both the Bucks and the Nets that he would accept one offer only from each team, the Nets bid too low. Thus, he chose the National Basketball Association over the struggling American Basketball Association.
Lew Alcindor's entry into the NBA was timely, as center Bill Russell had just left the Boston Celtics, and Wilt Chamberlain, though still effective, was then 33 years old. Alcindor's presence enabled the 1969–70 Bucks to claim second place in the NBA's Eastern Division with a 56-26 record (up from 27-55 the previous year), and he was an instant star, ranking second in the league in scoring (28.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (14.5 rpg), for which he was awarded the title of NBA Rookie of the Year.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar - Milwaukee Bucks
With the addition of Oscar Robertson, known to sports fans as "the Big 'O'," Milwaukee went on to record the second-best record with 66 victories in 1970–71, including a then-record of 20 straight wins. Alcindor was awarded his first of six NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, along with his first scoring title (31.7 ppg). In the playoffs, the Bucks went 12-2 (including a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals), won the championship, and Alcindor was named Finals MVP. On May 1, 1971, the day after the Bucks won the NBA championship, he adopted the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, its Arabic translation roughly "generous (Kareem), servant of (Abdul) the mighty/stern one (Jabbar) [i.e., of Allah]."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remained a dominant force for Milwaukee, repeating as scoring champion (34.8 ppg) and NBA Most Valuable Player the following year, and helping the Bucks to repeat as division leaders for four straight years. In 1973, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won his third MVP Award in five years and was among the top five NBA players in scoring (27.0 ppg, third), rebounding (14.5 rpg, fourth), blocked shots (283, second), and field goal percentage (.539, second).
While remaining relatively injury-free throughout his NBA career, Abdul-Jabbar twice broke his hand. The first time was during a pre-season game in 1974, when he was bumped hard and got his eye scratched, which angered him enough to punch the basket support stanchion. When he returned, after missing the first 16 games of the season, he started to wear protective goggles. The second time he broke his hand was in the opening game of the 1977–78 NBA season. Two minutes into the game, Abdul-Jabbar punched Milwaukee's Kent Benson in retaliation for an overly aggressive elbow. He was out for two months.
Although Kareem Abdul-Jabbar always spoke well of Milwaukee and its fans, he said that being in the Midwest did not fit his cultural needs and requested a trade to either New York or Los Angeles in October 1974.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar - Los Angelos Lakers
In 1975, the Lakers acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and reserve center Walt Wesley from the Bucks for center Elmore Smith, guard Brian Winters, and rookie "blue chippers" Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman. In the 1975-76 season, Abdul-Jabbar's first season with Los Angeles, he had a dominating season, averaging 27.7 points per game and leading the league in rebounding, blocked shots, and minutes played. His 1,111 defensive rebounds remains the NBA single-season record (defensive rebounds were not recorded prior to the 1973-74 season). Also it marked the last time anyone had 4,000 or more PRA (Points + Rebounds + Assists) in a single NBA season. He earned his fourth MVP award, but missed the post-season for the second straight season.
Once he joined the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar began wearing his trademark goggles. Years of battling under NBA backboards, and being hit and scratched in the face in the process, had taken their toll on his eyes and he developed corneal erosion syndrome, where the eyes begin to dry out easily and cease to produce moisture. He once missed a game in the 1986-87 season due to his eyes drying out and swelling as a result.
In the 1976-77 season, Abdul-Jabbar had another strong season. He led the league in field goal percentage, finished second in rebounds and blocked shots, and third in points per game. He helped lead the Lakers to the best record in the NBA, and he won his record-tying fifth MVP award. In the playoffs, the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semi-finals, setting up a confrontation with the Portland Trail Blazers. The result was a memorable matchup, pitting Abdul-Jabbar against a young, injury-free Bill Walton. Although Abdul-Jabbar dominated the series statistically, Walton and the Trail Blazers (who were experiencing their first-ever run in the playoffs) swept the Lakers, behind Walton's skillful passing and leadership.
Abdul-Jabbar's play remained strong during the next two seasons, being named to the All-NBA Second Team twice, the All-Defense First Team once, and the All-Defense Second Team once. The Lakers, however, continued to be stymied in the playoffs, being eliminated by the Seattle SuperSonics in both 1978 and 1979.
In 1979, the Lakers acquired 1st overall draft pick Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The trade and draft paved the way for a second Abdul-Jabbar dynasty as the Lakers went on to become the most dominant team of the 1980s, appearing in the finals eight times and winning five NBA championships. Individually, while Abdul-Jabbar was not the dominant center he was in the 1970s, he experienced a number of highlight moments. Among them were his record sixth MVP award in 1980, four more All-NBA First Team designations, two more All-Defense First Team designations, the 1985 Finals MVP, and on April 5, 1984 breaking Wilt Chamberlain's record for career points. Later in his career, he bulked up to about 265 pounds, to be able to withstand the strain of playing the highly physical center position into his early 40s.
While in L.A., Abdul-Jabbar started doing yoga in 1976 to improve his flexibility, and was notable for his physical fitness regimen.
In 1983, Abdul-Jabbar's house burnt down, incinerating many of his belongings including his beloved jazz LP collection. Many Lakers fans sent and brought him albums, which he found uplifting.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar - Retirement
On June 28, 1989, after twenty professional seasons, Abdul-Jabbar announced his retirement. On his "retirement tour" he received standing ovations at all the games, home and away. In his biography My Life, Magic Johnson recalls that in Abdul-Jabbar's farewell game, many Lakers and Celtics legends participated. Every player wore Abdul-Jabbar's trademark goggles and had to try a sky hook at least once, which led to comic results. The Lakers made the NBA Finals in each of Abdul-Jabbar's final three seasons, defeating Boston in 1987, and Detroit in 1988. The Lakers lost, however, to the Pistons in a four-game sweep in his final season. In his final season every NBA team gave him presents ranging from a yacht that said "Captain Skyhook" to framed jerseys from his basketball career to an Afghan rug.
Since 2005, Abdul-Jabbar has served as special assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar had been interested in coaching since his retirement, and given the influence he had on the league, he thought that the opportunity would present itself. However, during his playing years, Abdul-Jabbar had developed a reputation of being introverted and sullen. He did not speak to the press, leading to the impression that he disliked them. In his biography My Life, Magic Johnson recalls instances when Abdul-Jabbar brushed him off when Magic (as a ball boy) asked for his autograph, Abdul-Jabbar froze out reporters who gave him a too enthusiastic handshake or even hugged him, or refused to stop reading the newspaper while giving an interview. Many basketball observers, in addition to Abdul-Jabbar, believe that Kareem's reticence, whether through disdain for the press corps or simply because of introversion, contributed to the dearth of coaching opportunities offered to Kareem by the NBA. In his words, he said he had a mindset he could not overcome, and proceeded through his career oblivious to the effect his reticence may have had on his coaching prospects in the future. Kareem said: "I didn't understand that I also had affected people that way and that's what it was all about. I always saw it like they were trying to pry. I was way too suspicious and I paid a price for it." Since he began lobbying for a coaching position in 1995, he has managed to obtain only low-level assistant and scouting jobs in the NBA, and a head coaching position only in a minor professional league.
Abdul-Jabbar has worked as an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Seattle SuperSonics, helping mentor, among others, their young centers, Michael Olowokandi and Jerome James. Abdul-Jabbar was the head coach of the Oklahoma Storm of the United States Basketball League in 2002, leading the team to the league's championship that season, but he failed to land the head coaching position at Columbia University a year later. He then worked as a scout for the New York Knicks. Finally, on September 2, 2005, he returned to the Lakers as a special assistant to Phil Jackson to help the Lakers' centers, and in particular their young draftee Andrew Bynum. Abdul-Jabbar's influence has been credited with Bynum's emergence as a more talented NBA center. Abdul-Jabbar has also served as a volunteer coach at Alchesay High School on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona in 1998.
Playing in Los Angeles facilitated Abdul-Jabbar's trying his hand at acting. Abdul-Jabbar made his movie debut in Bruce Lee's posthumous 1978 film Game of Death, in which his character Hakim fought Billy Lo (played by Lee). His character was the last and most dangerous guardian that Bruce Lee's character had to face. In the extended footage of the final fight scenes of the film (which was shot in 1973), which last about half an hour, Abdul-Jabbar and Lee fight on the highest level of a pagoda in which Lee's character had to fight his way up. Kareem was a student of his Jeet Kune Do fighting style.
In 1980, he played co-pilot Roger Murdock in Airplane!. Abdul-Jabbar has a memorable scene in which a little boy looks at him and remarks that he is in fact Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Staying in character, Abdul-Jabbar states that he is merely Roger Murdock, an airline co-pilot, but the boy continues to insist that he is "the greatest", but that, according to his father, he doesn't "work hard on defense" and "never really tries, except during the playoffs". This causes Abdul-Jabbar's character to get angry, grab the boy and snarl he has "heard that crap since UCLA", he "busts his buns every night" and the boy should tell his old man to "drag [Bill] Walton and [Bob] Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes". When Murdock passes out later in the film, he is carried out wearing Abdul-Jabbar's goggles and yellow Lakers' shorts.
Abdul-Jabbar has had numerous other television and film appearances, often playing himself, including appearances in the movie Fletch, the sitcoms Full House, Living Single, Amen, Everybody Loves Raymond, Martin, Diff'rent Strokes (his height humorously contrasted with that of diminutive child star Gary Coleman), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Scrubs, 21 Jump Street and Emergency!. Jabbar played a genie in lamp in a 1984 episode of Tales From The Darkside. He also appeared in the telemovie version of Stephen King's The Stand, played the Archangel of Basketball in Slam Dunk Ernest, and a brief non-speaking cameo appearance in BASEketball. Abdul-Jabbar was also the co-executive producer of the 1994 TV movie, The Vernon Johns Story. He has also made appearances on The Colbert Report, in a 2006 skit called "HipHopKetball II: The ReJazzebration Remix '06" and in 2008 as a stage manager who is sent out on a mission to find Nazi Gold. On Al Jazeera English he expressed his desire to be remembered not just as a player, but somebody who had many talents and used them.
Abdul-Jabbar played the center position and is regarded as one of the best players of all time. He is the all-time leading NBA scorer with 38,387 points, having collected six titles, six regular season MVP and two Finals MVP awards, fifteen NBA First or Second Teams, a record nineteen NBA All-Star call-ups and averaging 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. He is also the third all-time in registered blocks (3,189), which is even more impressive because this stat had not been recorded until the fourth year of his career (1974).
On offense, Abdul-Jabbar was an unstoppable low-post threat. In contrast to other low-post dominators like Wilt Chamberlain, Artis Gilmore or Shaquille O'Neal, Abdul-Jabbar was a relatively slender player, standing 7-2 but only weighing 225 lbs (though in his latter years the Lakers listed Abdul-Jabbar's weight as 265). However, he made up for his relative lack of bulk by showing textbook finesse, strength and was famous for his ambidextrous skyhook shot (see below), which defenders found impossible to block. It contributed to his high .559 field goal accuracy, making him the eighth most accurate scorer of all time and a feared clutch shooter. Abdul-Jabbar was also quick enough to run the "Showtime" fast break led by Magic Johnson and was well-conditioned, standing on the hardwood an average 36.8 minutes. In contrast to other big men, Abdul-Jabbar also could reasonably hit his free throws, finishing with a career 72% average.
On defense, Abdul-Jabbar maintained a dominant presence. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Team eleven times. He frustrated opponents with his superior shot-blocking ability, denying an average 2.6 shots a game.
As a teammate, Abdul-Jabbar exuded natural leadership and was affectionately called "Cap" or "Captain" by his colleagues. He was also known for his strict fitness regime, which made him one of the most durable players of all time. In the NBA, his 20 seasons and 1,560 games are performances surpassed only by Robert Parish.
Abdul-Jabbar made the NBA's 35th and 50th Anniversary Teams, and was named one of the 50 Greatest Players of All Time in 1996.
Abdul-Jabbar was well known for his trademark "sky hook", a hook shot in which he bent his entire body (rather than just the arm) like a straw in one fluid motion to raise the ball and then release it at the highest point of his arm's arching motion. Combined with his long arms and great height in which he stood 7 feet 2 inches tall, the sky hook was nearly impossible for a defender to block without goaltending. Only a few have blocked his legendary skyhook, including basketball greats Wilt Chamberlain and Hakeem Olajuwon. It was a reliable and feared offensive weapon and contributed to his high lifetime field goal percentage of .559. As a twist, he was adept at shooting the skyhook with either hand, which made him even more difficult to defend against. According to Abdul-Jabbar, he learned the move in fifth grade and soon learned to value it, as it was "the only shot I could use that didn't get smashed back in my face".