The Most Unforgettable Moments of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Career
With the news of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's battle with a rare form of leukemia now public, I think it is fitting to reflect on some of the more memorable moments of his illustrious career.
We should all take this opportunity to not only celebrate the fact that his instance of the disease seems to be manageable and in remission, but also to celebrate the sheer greatness he displayed on the court.
Abdul-Jabbar was truly a pioneer for the game of basketball as we know it today, and he continues to be a stalwart member of the NBA community.
Power Memorial Academy
From 1963-1965, Lew Alcindor led Power Memorial Catholic High School to three consecutive New York City Catholic High School championships, and to an unheard of 71-game winning streak.
During his prep career, he racked up 2,067 points and pulled down 2,002 rebounds, both of which were New York City records at the time.
He was named to the Parade high school All-American team, becoming the first sophomore ever to receive this honor.
The UCLA Freshman Team
At the start of the 1965-1966 season, the UCLA Bruins were two-time defending national champions, and were ranked as the preseason No. 1 team in the nation.
At the time, freshmen were not allowed to play on the varsity squad, and so Lew Alcindor was relegated to the freshman team.
During an inter-squad scrimmage at the beginning of the season, Alcindor's Freshman team beat the varsity 75-60, and he scored 31 points, pulled down 21 rebounds, and blocked eight shots in the process.
Alcindor’s first varsity game at UCLA
As a sophomore, during his first start as a college athlete, Lew Alcindor scored 56 points against California, which still stands as a record for most points scored in a player's first varsity game.
He would go on to average 29 points per game, led his Bruins team to a 26-0 record, and easily handled a good Dayton team in the national championship game.
He led his Bruins to a total of three consecutive NCAA championships, winning the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four all three appearances.
The NCAA outlawed the dunk as a direct result of Alcindor's impact in an attempt to limit his scoring.
Harlem Globetrotter or NBA Draft Pick?
After graduating from UCLA in 1969, Lew Alcindor was offered a $1 million contract to play with the Harlem Globetrotters. Alcindor declined and declared himself eligible for the NBA draft.
A coin flip between the Phoenix Suns and the Milwaukee Bucks decided who would win the rights to the first pick in the draft. The Bucks won the toss and with the first pick, they selected Lew Alcindor.
Alcindor was also selected first overall in the ABA draft by the New York Nets. However, the Nets ultimately bid too low on his services and Alcindor chose the NBA over the struggling ABA.
In his first season with the Bucks, Lew Alcindor became an instant star, finishing second in the league in scoring with 28.8 points per game and third in rebounding with 14.5 rebounds per game. He was awarded the NBA Rookie of the Year award in a landslide.
In his first playoff appearance, Alcindor would score 36 points, which still stands as the record for most points by a rookie in his first playoff appearance (The Chicago Bulls' Derrick Rose tied this record in last year's playoffs against the Boston Celtics).
In his second season (1970-1971), the Bucks added Oscar Robertson to their lineup, and they would go on to win 66 games.
Alcindor won his first scoring title averaging 31.7 points per game, and he led his Bucks to their first and only NBA championship title.
The Bucks became the fastest expansion team ever to win a championship and Alcindor was declared the NBA Finals MVP.
Changing his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar
On May 1, 1977, Lew Alcindor declared his membership to the Hanafi Muslim sect of the Islam religion, and legally changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
This is roughly translated to mean "generous servant of the mighty."
Trade to the Los Angeles Lakers
Abdul-Jabbar would remain the Bucks leader until 1974, and led the Bucks to another finals appearance and was awarded with a total of three MVP awards.
After the 1974 season, Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade to either Los Angeles or New York in order to better meet his cultural needs.
Bucks General Manager Wayne Embry complied and sent Abdul-Jabbar to the Lakers in exchange for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Elmore Smith, and Brian Winters.
Abdul-Jabbar had an immediate impact on the Lakers franchise and helped them achieve a 10-game turnaround in his first season with the team, and he would be rewarded with his fourth NBA MVP Award.
Appearing in Bruce Lee’s film Game of Death
Being in Tinsel Town allowed Abdul-Jabbar to expand his horizons into other ventures, and in 1978, he would make his film debut in Bruce Lee's posthumous film Game of Death.
His character, Hakim, was the final and most dangerous villain that Bruce Lee faced in this film.
The agile seven-footer and Bruce Lee engaged in a battle royale of sorts (extended footage lasts about a half hour), which remains a hallmark of martial arts cinema to this day.
Becoming the league’s all time scoring leader
On April 5, 1984, the Los Angeles Lakers played against the Utah Jazz in Las Vegas, Nev. Abdul-Jabbar needed 22 points in order to break the all-time NBA scoring record of 31,419 points held by Wilt Chamberlain.
There was hardly any doubt that Abdul-Jabbar would break the record that evening, and the crowd was buzzing with anticipation.
Fittingly, with 8:53 remaining in the fourth quarter, Abdul-Jabbar broke Chamberlain's scoring record on a sky hook from 12 feet.
He would end his 20-year career having scored 38,387 points, grabbed 17,440 rebounds, blocked 3,189 shots, and recorded a career .559 field-goal percentage.
1985 NBA Finals
During his career with the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar would lead his team to the NBA Finals eight times, winning five championships.
But, it was perhaps the last of these titles against the Boston Celtics that was the sweetest of them all.
At age 38, most people considered Abdul-Jabbar to be in the twilight of his career and perhaps holding on to what is no longer there.
Based on his performance in game one of that series, the critics looked as though they might be correct. Robert Parish held Abdul-Jabbar to 12 points and 3 rebounds in a complete Celtics blowout.
In game two, Abdul-Jabbar would bounce back to record 30 points, 17 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocked shots in a Lakers victory.
The Lakers would go on to win this series in six games, and Abdul-Jabbar was named Finals MVP, averaging 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, and 2 blocks.
This victory has been said by many to have finally conquered the demons of the Boston Garden that haunted the Lakers franchise for so long.