Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is widely recognised as the greatest player ever to grace the courts of the NBA. Standing 7 feet 2 inches, he played center for UCLA before being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks and later moving to the LA Lakers. He achieved unparalleled success during his glittering 20 year career; no NBA player ever won more MVP awards, blocked more shots or scored more points than Abdul-Jabbar. After 20 seasons in the NBA, he retired in 1989 and became a renowned basketball coach, author and actor.
Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. in April 1947, he was raised as a Roman Catholic and brought up in New York. Basketball seemed to be his true calling from an early age and he later helped Power Memorial High School to three straight New York City Catholic championships, scoring 2067 points in the process.
After high school, he made his way to college at UCLA. It was here that Alcindor (as he was still called then) really made a name for himself. In 1968, he played in the first ever nationally televised regular season college basketball game for the UCLA Bruins against the Houston Cougars. It was not to be a successful game though as Houston beat UCLA 71-69 in front of more than 50,000 fans. This brought an end to the Bruins 47-game winning streak. It was at UCLA that Alcindor played under revered coach John Wooden. He still holds numerous all-time UCLA records – over three seasons he averaged 26.4 points per game.
In 1969, Alcindor was the first overall pick in the NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, who were playing their second season in the NBA. In his first season he was named NBA Rookie of the Year, averaging over 28 points per game. It proved to be a good season for him as a player, which it needed to be as he had turned down a $1 million offer from the Harlem Globetrotters to play for them.
In 1970-71 the Bucks chalked up an impressive tally of 66 victories including a record 20 consecutive wins on their way to the NBA championship, with Alcindor named ‘Finals MVP’. At the end of this season, Alcindor converted to Islam, adopting the Arabic name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (“noble, servant of the powerful one”). The change of religion did not affect his playing though and he remained a pivotal figure in the Milwaukee team, guiding them to four straight title wins. He took his third MVP award in five years in 1973. Despite good times with Milwaukee, Abdul-Jabbar took the decision in 1974 to leave the team and move to Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, Abdul-Jabbar was signed by the Lakers where he took another two MVP awards in two years and helped the Lakers to an NBA record. For the next two seasons, Abdul-Jabbar remained a key player for the Lakers and was named in the All-NBA Second Team twice and the All Defense First Team and Second Team once each.
In 1979, the Lakers drafted another legendary player Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson and the Lakers became a dominant team in the NBA for a decade. Abdul-Jabbar was no longer the force he was in the ‘70s but he still managed, in his final professional years, to win his sixth MVP award and four more All-NBA First Team picks. In 1984 he also set a new record for career points. In all of Abdul-Jabbar’s final three seasons, the Lakers made the NBA finals, winning in ’87 and ’88 but losing in his final year to the Detroit Pistons. Abdul-Jabbar announced his retirement from the game, after a record 20 seasons as a professional, on June 28, 1989.
Abdul-Jabbar has had several coaching roles since quitting the sport. He has been an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Seattle Supersonics. He also took a position as Head Coach of Oklahoma Storm in the USBL in 2002, reaching the championship finals. Despite this he has never been able to obtain a position higher than assistant with an NBA team, although he was briefly appointed by the New York Knicks as a scout. Since 2005, he has worked as assistant to Phil Jackson with LA Lakers. He is also a volunteer coach at an Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona.
Abdul-Jabbar has had several roles in film and TV, possibly as a result of playing in Los Angeles. He made his acting debut in the 1978 Bruce Lee movie ‘Game of Death’ and has since made appearances in ‘Airplane’, ‘Fletch’, ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and ‘Scrubs’ to name but a few. Mostly he has featured in these productions playing himself.
- Jersey number – 33
- Games played – 1560 (2nd most in NBA history)
- Field goal % – 55.9 (8th highest in NBA history)
- Free throw % – 72.1
- Three-point % – .056
- Rebounds – 17,440 (3rd most in NBA history)
- Rebounds per game – 11.2 (tied for 24th highest in NBA history)
- Assists – 5,660 (31st in NBA history)
- Assist per game – 3.6
- Steals – 1,160
- Steals per game – 0.74
- Blocks – 3,189 (3rd most in NBA history) (Note: blocks were not officially tabulated until the 1973-74 season)
- Blocks per game – 2.57
- Points per game – 24.6 (12th highest)
Holds NBA career record for
- Most points – 38,387
- Most minutes played (57,446)
- Most field goals made (15,837)
- Most field goals attempted (28,307)
- Most All-Star selections (19)
- Most All-Star games played (18)
- Most playoff games played (237)
- Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (May 15, 1995)
- Three-time First Team All-American (1967-69)
- Three-time NCAA champion (1967, 1968, 1969)
- Most Outstanding Player in NCAA Tournament (1967, 1968, 1969)
- Naismith College Player of the Year (1969)
- NBA Rookie of the Year (1970)
- Six-time NBA champion (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
- NBA Most Valuable Player (1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980)
- Sporting News NBA MVP (1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980)
- NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (1971, 1985)
- Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Sportsman of the Year” (1985)
- One of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996)
- First player in NBA history to play 20 seasons
- No.7 in SLAM Magazine’s Top 75 NBA Players of all time in 2003.
I can do something else besides stuff a ball through a hoop. My biggest resource is my mind.
I didn’t really seek attention. I just wanted to play the game well and go home.