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NBA 75 Series: #3 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Coming in at #3 of my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time is the greatest center of all time and the NBA’s all-time leading scorer (until LeBron passes him this season) for over 35 years with 38,387 points. He has the most career MVPs of any individual player (six), along with six NBA titles. He is considered by most to have the most remarkable overall basketball career (high school, college, and professional) of any player in the sport's illustrious history. His name is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! Jabbar, formerly known as “Lew Alcindor” was born on April 16th, 1947, in Harlem, NY.

He is the only child of his mother Cora and father Lewis Alcindor Sr. Jabbar grew up on Dyckman street in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan at the age of 3 in 1950. Jabbar was always very tall, being measured at 22 ½ inches long at birth. He was already 5 ft 8 by the time he was 9. Jabbar struggled with depression as a teenager due to kids bullying him due to his height. By eighth grade, he had already grown to 6 ft 8 and could dunk a basketball at just 13 years old.

Jabbar’s groundbreaking career started to take off when he was at Power Memorial Academy where he played for coach Jack Donohue. While at Power Memorial Jabbar helped lead them to three consecutive New York City Catholic championships, a virtually impossible 71-game win streak, and a 79-2 overall record. When he graduated from Power Memorial, he finished with a then New York City high school record of 2,067 career points.

He also helped lead the team to back-to-back national titles in his sophomore and junior seasons and came up just short in his senior year. When it came time to make a college decision, Jabbar was one of the most hyped prospects in basketball and sports history! Think LeBron James level hype when he was in high school but with not as much media coverage, that’s the kind of transcendent prospect he was and everyone was salivating over the 7’2 giant.

Jabbar could have potentially gone to the NBA straight out of high school if they allowed it, but at the time the NBA only accepted players after their hypothetical graduating year. He also had offers to play for the Harlem Globetrotters or overseas before turning pro but he wanted to attend college and he chose to play for the UCLA Bruins under the iconic coach John Wooden.

Despite towering over pretty much everyone at the collegiate level, Jabbar was still relegated to the freshman team his first year because freshmen were ineligible until 1972. He made his inaugural debut against the varsity team with over 12,000 fans to witness the spectacle of the 7’2 behemoth. The freshman team won 75-60 behind a display of utter dominance from Jabbar who finished with an eye-opening 31 points and 21 rebounds.

That was just the beginning, as the freshmen team would go 21-0 against junior colleges and other freshmen teams that season to finish with an undefeated record Jabbar would make his varsity debut as a sophomore in the fall of 1966 as he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated being anointed as “The New Superstar” after scoring 56 points in his first game, breaking a single-game record formerly held by NBA and Bruin legend Gail Goodrich.

Kareem on the Sports Illustrated Cover being labeled "The New Superstar"

The virtuoso that was Jabbar averaged 29 points and 15.5 rebounds per game while shooting 66% from the field! He was already labeled as the “Next Big Thing” in high school, but now his brilliance on the collegiate level was taking the hype to astronomical levels of how good Jabbar could be. During that same season in which he averaged 29 points per game, he also led the Bruins to an undefeated 30-0 record and the first of his three consecutive national championships.

Jabbar’s presiding play led to the NCAA banishing the dunk out of the league for a decade until 1976 to try to diminish Jabbar’s unprecedented dominance in the game. He helped lead the Bruins to 88 wins and two losses in three seasons as a varsity member and in those two games he lost were to the University of Houston in which Jabbar had an eye injury, and the other to hometown rival USC in what was called the “stall game” due to there being no shot clock in that era, which allowed the Trojans to extend offensive possessions.

Jabbar won National Player of the Year a whopping three times (1967-1969), was a unanimous first-team All-American, a three-time National Champion, and won the inaugural Naismith College Player of the Year Award. He also participated in the “Game of the Century” on January 20, 1968, against future NBA legend and contemporary Elvin Hayes and the Houston Cougars. He suffered a scratched left cornea eight days earlier after Tom Henderson from Cal struck him in a rebound battle, which would be a constant that would cause him to wear goggles later on in his NBA career.

Hayes would score 39 points and grab 15 rebounds that game to hand Jbaar and the Bruins a 71-69 loss, ending UCLA’s 47-game winning streak. However, Jabbar and the Bruins would get revenge in the semifinal round of the NCAA tournament where a healthy Jabbar helped the Bruins dominate Houston in a 101-69 win en route to their second national title. He changed his name officially to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971 when he converted to Sunni Islam from Catholicism.

He boycotted the 1968 Olympic Games to protest the unequal treatment of African Americans in the United States, stating how he was "trying to point out to the world the futility of winning the gold medal for this country and then coming back to live under oppression."

In 1969, Jabbar completed his Bachelor of Arts in history while also leading the Bruins to a third straight title and sweeping away the Player of the Year award for a third consecutive season with an average of 24 points and 14.7 rebounds per game while shooting 63% from the field. He has the highest career scoring average amongst Bruins with 26.4 per game, second in total points (2,325), the most points in a single game (61), and the most points in a single season (870).

He was the consensus favorite to go No.1 in the NBA Draft in 1969 after a mythical collegiate career. Jabbar got selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in just their second season as a franchise after winning a coin toss to get the first pick. Jabbar’s presence as an interior force was immediate as he helped improve the Bucks record to 56-26, good for second in the Eastern Conference (improving from 27-55 the previous season).

He made an immediate impact with averages of 28.8 points and 14.5 rebounds per game, which ranked him second and third respectively in those categories that season. In just his rookie season he was named an All-Star, an All-Defensive second team selection, All-NBA second team, and ran away with the 1969-70 NBA Rookie of the Year award with astounding performances and numbers that few in NBA history have ever been able to achieve.

Jabbar is one of two rookies (the other being Wilt Chamberlain) to ever score at least 40 points and grab 25 rebounds in a playoff game, doing it against the Philadelphia 76ers where he scored 46 points and grabbed 25 rebounds in the clinching game. He however would take his game and his team to another level in just his sophomore season in 1970-1971, a year that saw him and his newly acquired teammate, Oscar Robertson lead the Bucks to the best record in the entire NBA with a league-best 66 wins, including a then league record 20 consecutive wins.

In just his second season, Jabbar led the league in scoring (31.7) to win his first scoring title to help him finish with a total of 2,596 points that season. He was awarded the first of his six NBA Most Valuable Player awards in 1971 while being named to the All-NBA first team, as well as the All-Defensive second team for a second straight season.

The enormous success didn’t stop there though for the transcendent talent that was Kareem, as he helped lead the Bucks to their first ever championship in franchise history in just his second season by sweeping the formerly known Baltimore Bullets (now Washington Wizards) 4-0 in the 1971 NBA Finals. Jabbar would win the Finals MVP with staggering averages of 27 points, 18.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists across four games.

Across two seasons Jabbar was already an NBA Champion, Finals MVP, multiple All-NBA, and All-Defensive teams, and a scoring title all in two seasons! It was just the beginning for the great Jabbar who ultimately, in my opinion, became the absolute greatest center of all time in a position that is loaded historically with giants such as Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and many others.

Pairing with the greatest point guard to ever play, Magic Johnson and another top five point guard to ever live in Robertson helped Jabbar have an incredible lead guard to get him the ball in the paint to dominate and win championships throughout his career with the Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, whom he won five more titles within the 1980s alongside Johnson, James Worthy, Jamaal Wilkes, and others.

Kareem (pictured in #33) with the Showtime Lakers team that won five titles in the 1980s.

Kareem has the winning of Russell with six NBA titles, and the dominance of Wilt with a record six NBA MVPs, two Finals MVPs, and the all-time scoring leader, for now. Kareem was also a dominant defender, being an 11-time all-defensive team member. He is the greatest basketball player ever when you combine high school, college, and pro, winning three national titles at UCLA as the Most Outstanding Player and a 79-2 record in high school! His longevity was something to behold, with an NBA record 19 all-star appearances in 20 NBA seasons.

He is arguably to ever play the game and is “The Captain!”

Is Kareem the greatest player of all time?

  • Yes he's my GOAT

  • No, but he's top 3

  • I have him top 5

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