Kareem Abdul-Jabbar “Lew”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s basketball legacy extends across decades, from his time as a high school hoops phenom in New York City, all the way to the NBA with stops at UCLA along the way. Kareem played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. He not only dominated at every level, but he was victorious as well. A member of six NBA championship teams as a player and two more as an assistant coach, Abdul-Jabbar twice was voted NBA Finals MVP. In 1996, he was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.
During his career as a center, Abdul-Jabbar was a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player, a record 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member. To say he wasn’t one of the main contributors to spread the popularity of basketball not only in the United States, but globally would be a lie. It is important to backtrack to understand the life and career of one of the greatest basketball players to ever step on the hardwoods.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: High School Years
Born with the name Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, he began his record-breaking basketball accomplishments when he was in high school. Alcindor led one of the top high school programs in New York City, Memorial Academy, to three straight New York City Catholic championships, along with a 71-game winning streak. Word traveled fast around the country of this basketball phenom nicknamed “The tower from Power”.
His 2,067 total points were a New York City high school record. The team won the national high school boys basketball championship when Alcindor was in 10th and 11th grade and was runner-up his senior year.
Alcindor chose to leave the bright lights of New York City, bypassing on local powerhouse St. Johns, and instead flew out West to join John Wooden and company at UCLA. During his college career, Alcindor was twice named Player of the Year (1967, 1969); was a three-time First Team All-American (1967–1969). Alcindor was a huge reason UCLA dominated the late 60s where the university won three NCAA basketball championships (1967, 1968 and 1969); was honored as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament three times and became the first-ever Naismith College Player of the Year in 1969.
The legend of Alcindor continued when he made his debut for the Bruins as a sophomore in 1966 and received national coverage: Sports Illustrated described him as “The New Superstar” after he scored 56 points in his first game, which set a UCLA single-game record. He was the main contributor to the team’s three-year record of 88 wins and only two losses.
Alcindor left UCLA in 1969 to pursue his professional basketball career. Initially, the Harlem Globetrotters offered Alcindor $1 million to play for them, but he declined and was picked first in the 1969 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, who were in only their second season of existence. Alcindor 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.
Following his rookie season, the Bucks acquired All-Star guard Oscar Robertson. The Bucks went on to secure the best record in the league with 66 victories in the 1970–71 season. 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 in the playoffs, which included a sweep of the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals in which Alcindor captured his first finals MVP.
On May 1, 1971, the day after the Bucks won the NBA championship, he adopted the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar He had converted to Islam while at UCLA.
Although Abdul-Jabbar always spoke well of Milwaukee and its fans, he said that being in the Midwest did not fit his cultural needs. In October 1974, he requested a trade to either the New York Knicks or Los Angeles. The Lakers became the ultimate suitor, landing Alcindor in one of the biggest free agent signings in NBA history at the time.
In 1979, the Lakers acquired first overall draft pick Magic Johnson, teaming him up with Alcindor to create one of the most dominating rosters in the early 80s. The trade and draft paved the way for a Laker dynasty as they 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 had been 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 most career points.
Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, and he won a league-record six MVP awards. He earned six championship rings, two Finals MVP awards, 15 NBA First or Second Teams, a record 19 NBA All-Star call-ups and averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 blocks per game. He is ranked as the NBA’s third leading all-time rebounder (17,440). His resume speaks of itself and is why he is considered one of the all time greats in the game of basketball.