Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar May 2014.jpg
Abdul-Jabbar in 2014
Personal information
Born (1947-04-16) April 16, 1947 (age 74)
New York City, New York
Listed height7 ft 2 in (2.18 m)
Listed weight225 lb (102 kg)
Career information
High schoolPower Memorial
(Manhattan, New York)
CollegeUCLA (1966-1969)
NBA draft1969 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st overall
Selected by the Milwaukee Bucks
Playing career1969-1989
Coaching career1998-2011
Career history
As player:
1969-1975Milwaukee Bucks
1975-1989Los Angeles Lakers
As coach:
1998-1999Alchesay HS (assistant)
2000Los Angeles Clippers (assistant)
2002Oklahoma Storm
2005-2011Los Angeles Lakers (assistant)
Career highlights and awards

As head coach:

  • USBL champion (2002)

As assistant coach:

Career NBA statistics
Points38,387 (24.6 ppg)
Rebounds17,440 (11.2 rpg)
Assists5,660 (3.6 apg)
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at NBA.com
Stats Edit this at Wikidata at Basketball-Reference.com
Basketball Hall of Fame as player
College Basketball Hall of Fame
Inducted in 2006

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.; April 16, 1947) is an American former professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. During his career as a center, Abdul-Jabbar was a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP), a record 19-time NBA All-Star, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member. 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. NBA coach Pat Riley and players Isiah Thomas and Julius Erving called him the greatest basketball player of all time.[1][2][3][4][5]

With him on the team, parochial high school Power Memorial, in New York City, won 71 consecutive basketball games. He was recruited by Jerry Norman, the assistant coach at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),[6] where he played for coach John Wooden[7] on three consecutive national championship teams. He was a record three-time MVP of the NCAA Tournament. Drafted with the first overall pick by the one-season-old Bucks franchise in the 1969 NBA draft, Alcindor spent six seasons in Milwaukee. After leading the Bucks to its first NBA championship at age 24 in 1971, he took the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Using his trademark "skyhook" shot, he established himself as one of the league's top scorers. In 1975, he was traded to the Lakers, with whom he played the final 14 seasons of his career in which they won five additional NBA championships. Abdul-Jabbar's contributions were a key component in the "Showtime" era of Lakers basketball. Over his 20-year NBA career, his teams succeeded in making the playoffs 18 times and got past the first round 14 times; his teams reached the NBA Finals on 10 occasions.

At the time of his retirement at age 42 in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA's all-time leader in points scored (38,387), games played (1,560), minutes played (57,446), field goals made (15,837), field goal attempts (28,307), blocked shots (3,189), defensive rebounds (9,394), career wins (1,074), and personal fouls (4,657). He remains the all-time leader in points scored, field goals made, and career wins. He is ranked third all-time in both rebounds and blocked shots. ESPN named him the greatest center of all time in 2007,[8] the greatest player in college basketball history in 2008,[9] and the second best player in NBA history (behind Michael Jordan) in 2016.[10] Abdul-Jabbar has also been an actor, a basketball coach, a best-selling author,[11][12] and a martial artist, having trained in Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee and appeared in his film Game of Death (1972). In 2012, Abdul-Jabbar was selected by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be a U.S. global cultural ambassador.[13] In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[14]

Early life

Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. was born in New York City, the only child of Cora Lillian, a department store price checker, and Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., a transit police officer and jazz musician.[15][16] He grew up in the Dyckman Street projects in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan.[17] At birth, Alcindor weighed 12 lb 11 oz (5.75 kg) and was 22+12 inches (57 cm) long.[18][19] He was always very tall for his age.[18] By age nine, he was already 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) tall.[20] Alcindor was often depressed as a teenager because of the stares and comments about his height.[18] By the eighth grade (age 13-14), he had grown to 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) and could already slam dunk a basketball.[20][21]

Alcindor began his record-breaking basketball accomplishments when he was in high school, where he led coach Jack Donohue's Power Memorial Academy team to three straight New York City Catholic championships, a 71-game winning streak, and a 79-2 overall record.[22] This earned him "The Tower from Power" nickname.[23] His 2,067 total points were a New York City high school record.[24] 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.[23] He had a strained relationship in his final year with Donohue after the coach called him a nigger.[25]

College career

Alcindor with the reverse two-hand dunk against Stanford

Now 7-foot-1-inch (2.16 m) tall, Alcindor was relegated to the freshman team in his first year at UCLA,[26][27] as freshman were ineligible to play varsity until 1972.[28] The freshman squad included fellow high school All-Americans Lucius Allen, Kenny Heitz and Lynn Shackelford.[29] On November 27, 1965, Alcindor made his first public performance in UCLA's annual varsity-freshman exhibition game, attended by 12,051 fans in the inaugural game at the Bruins' new Pauley Pavilion.[27][30][31] The 1965-66 varsity team was the two-time defending national champions and the top-ranked team in preseason polls.[27][32] The freshman team won 75-60 behind Alcindor's 31 points and 21 rebounds.[30][18] It was the first time a freshman team had beaten the UCLA varsity squad.[18] The varsity had lost Gail Goodrich and Keith Erickson from the championship squad to graduation, and starting guard Freddie Goss was out sick.[30][33] After the game, UPI wrote: "UCLA's Bruins open defense of their national basketball title this week, but right now they're only the second best team on campus."[33][34] The freshman team was 21-0 that year, dominating against junior college and other freshman teams.[32]

Alcindor versus USC

He made his varsity debut 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 broke the UCLA single-game record held by Gail Goodrich.[18][24][35] He averaged 29 points per game during the season and led UCLA to an undefeated 30-0 record and a national championship.[36] After the season, the dunk was banned in college basketball in an attempt to curtail his dominance.[22][36] The rule was not rescinded until the 1976-77 season.[37] Alcindor was the main contributor to the team's three-year record of 88 wins and only two losses: one to the University of Houston in which Alcindor had an eye injury, and the other to crosstown rival USC who played a "stall game";[27][38] there was no shot clock in that era, allowing the Trojans to hold the ball as long as it wanted before attempting to score. They limited Alcindor to only four shots and 10 points.[39]

During his college career, Alcindor was a three-time national player of the year (1967-1969); was a three-time unanimous first-team All-American (1967-1969); played on three NCAA basketball champion teams (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.[40][41] He was the only player to win the Helms Foundation Player of the Year award three times.[42]

Alcindor had considered transferring to Michigan because of unfulfilled recruiting promises. UCLA player Willie Naulls introduced Alcindor and teammate Lucius Allen to athletic booster Sam Gilbert, who convinced the pair to remain at UCLA.[43]

During his junior year, Alcindor suffered a scratched left cornea on January 12, 1968, in a game against Cal when he was struck by Tom Henderson in a rebound battle.[44] He would miss the next two games against Stanford and Portland.[22] This happened right before the showdown game against Houston.[45] His cornea would again be scratched during his pro career, which subsequently caused him to wear goggles for eye protection.[46]

At the time, the NBA did not allow college underclassmen to declare early for the draft. He completed his studies and earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in history in 1969. In his free time, he practiced martial arts. He studied aikido in New York between his sophomore and junior year, before learning Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee in Los Angeles.[47][48]

Game of the Century

Alcindor performs ceremonial net cutting at Freedom Hall in Louisville in 1969 after a 20-point win over Purdue and Rick Mount in unprecedented third-straight national title en route to seven consecutive national championships for UCLA.

On January 20, 1968, Alcindor and the UCLA Bruins faced coach Guy Lewis's Houston Cougars in the first-ever nationally televised regular-season college basketball game, with 52,693 in attendance at the Astrodome. Cougar forward 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 won 71-69. The Bruins' 47-game winning streak ended in what has been called the "Game of the Century".[49] Hayes and Alcindor had a rematch in the semi-finals of the NCAA Tournament, where UCLA, with a healthy Alcindor, defeated Houston 101-69 en route to the national championship. UCLA limited Hayes, who was averaging 37.7 points per game, to only ten points. Wooden credited his assistant, Jerry Norman, for devising the diamond-and-one defense that contained Hayes.[50][51] Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on the game and used the headline: "Lew's Revenge: The Rout of Houston."[52]

Conversion to Islam and 1968 Olympic boycott

During the summer of 1968, Alcindor took the shahada twice and converted to Sunni Islam from Catholicism. He adopted the Arabic name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, though he did not begin using it publicly until 1971.[53] He boycotted the 1968 Summer Olympics by deciding not to try out for the United States Men's Olympic Basketball team, who went on to easily win the gold medal. Alcindor's decision to stay home during the 1968 Games was in protest of the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the United States.

An episode of Black Journal produced by WNET and broadcast on May 2, 1972, features Kareem Abdul Jabbar discussing his boycott of the 1968 Olympics to his practice of the Islamic religion.[54]

Though he denied any connection with the radical Nation of Islam, Jabbar was linked to them in a story that appeared in Sports Illustrated dated February 19, 1973, specifically to members of the group in Washington D.C..

School records

As of the 2019-2020 season, he still holds or shares a number of individual records at UCLA:[55][56]

  • 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) (also, the second most: 303 (1969), and third: 294 (1968))
  • 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, February 25, 1967)

He is represented in the top ten in a number of other school records, including season and career rebounds, second only to Bill Walton.

Professional career

Milwaukee Bucks (1969-1975)

Alcindor displaying the sky-hook over Wes Unseld of the Baltimore Bullets. The shot was almost impossible to block.

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. The Bucks won a coin-toss with the Phoenix Suns for first pick. He was also chosen first overall in the 1969 American Basketball Association draft by the New York Nets.[57] The Nets believed that they had the upper hand in securing Alcindor's services because he was from New York; however, when Alcindor told both the Bucks and the Nets that he would accept only one offer from each team, the Nets bid too low. Sam Gilbert negotiated the contract along with Los Angeles businessman Ralph Shapiro at no charge.[43][58] After Alcindor chose the Milwaukee Bucks' offer of $1.4 million, the Nets offered a guaranteed $3.25 million. Alcindor declined the offer, saying, "A bidding war degrades the people involved. It would make me feel like a flesh peddler, and I don't want to think like that."[59]

Alcindor's presence enabled the 1969-70 Bucks to claim second place in the NBA's Eastern Division with a 56-26 record (improved from 27-55 the previous year). On February 21, 1970, he scored 51 points in a 140-127 win over the SuperSonics.[60] 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.[22] In the series-clinching game against the 76ers, he recorded 46 points and 25 rebounds.[61] With that, he joins Wilt Chamberlain as the only rookies to record at least 40 points and 25 rebounds in a playoff game in their rookie season.[] He also set an NBA rookie record with 10 or more games of 20+ points scored during the playoffs, tied by Jayson Tatum in 2018.[62]

The next season, the Bucks acquired All-Star guard Oscar Robertson. Milwaukee went on to record the best record in the league with 66 victories in the 1970-71 season,[22] including a then-record 20 straight wins.[63] Alcindor was awarded his first of six NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, along with his first scoring title (31.7 ppg).[22] He also led the league in total points, with 2,596.[24] The Bucks won the NBA title, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets 4-0 in the 1971 NBA Finals. Alcindor posted 27 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in Game 4,[64] and he was named the Finals MVP after averaging 27 points per game on 60.5% shooting in the series.[65] During the offseason, Alcindor and Robertson joined Bucks head coach Larry Costello on a three-week basketball tour of Africa on behalf of the State Department. In a press conference at the State Department on June 3, 1971, he stated that going forward, he wanted to be called by his Muslim name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Arabic: ? ‎, Kar?m Abd al-Jabb?r), its translation roughly "noble one, servant of the Almighty [i.e., servant of Allah]".[66][67] He had converted to Islam while at UCLA.[24]

Abdul-Jabbar lines up a free-throw. He started wearing goggles in order to avoid damage to his corneas.

Abdul-Jabbar remained a dominant force for the Bucks. The following year, he repeated as scoring champion (34.8 ppg and 2,822 total points)[24] and became the first player to be named the NBA Most Valuable Player twice in his first three years.[68] In 1974, Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to their fourth consecutive Midwest Division title,[69] and he won his third MVP Award in four years.[70] He 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).[69]

Robertson, who became a free agent in the offseason, retired in September 1974 after he was unable to agree on a contract with the Bucks.[71][72] On October 3, Abdul-Jabbar privately requested a trade to the New York Knicks, with his second choice being the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) and his third, the Los Angeles Lakers.[73] He had never spoken negatively of the city of Milwaukee or its fans, but he said that being in the Midwest did not fit his cultural needs.[73][74][75] Two days later in a pre-season game before the 1974-75 season against the Boston Celtics in Buffalo, New York, Abdul-Jabbar caught a fingernail in his left eye from Don Nelson and suffered a corneal abrasion; this angered him enough to punch the backboard stanchion, breaking two bones his right hand.[73][76][77] He missed the first 16 games of the season, during which the Bucks were 3-13, and returned in late November wearing protective goggles.[77] On March 13, 1975, sportscaster Marv Albert reported that Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade to either New York or Los Angeles, preferably to the Knicks.[73][78] The following day after a loss in Milwaukee to the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar confirmed to reporters his desire to play in another city.[79] He averaged 30.0 points during the season, but Milwaukee finished in last place in the division at 38-44.[80]

Los Angeles Lakers (1975-1989)

In 1975, the Lakers acquired Abdul-Jabbar and reserve center Walt Wesley from the Bucks for center Elmore Smith, guard Brian Winters, blue-chip rookies Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman, and cash.[73][80] In the 1975-76 season, his first with the Lakers, he had a dominating season, averaging 27.7 points per game and leading the league in rebounding (16.9), blocked shots (4.12), and total minutes played (3,379).[81][82] His 1,111 defensive rebounds remains the NBA single-season record (defensive rebounds were not recorded prior to the 1973-74 season).[83] He earned his fourth MVP award, becoming the first winner in Lakers' franchise history,[84] but missed the post-season for the second straight year as the Lakers finished 40-42.[85]

Abdul-Jabbar (33) receiving a pass from Magic Johnson during the 1985 NBA Finals.

Afer acquiring a cast of no-name free agents, the Lakers were projected to finished near the bottom of the Pacific Division in 1976-77. However, Abdul-Jabbar helped lead the team to the best record (53-29) in the NBA. He won his fifth MVP award, tying Bill Russell's record. Abdul-Jabbar led the league in field goal percentage (.579), was third in scoring (26.2), and was second in rebounds (13.3) and blocked shots (3.18).[86] 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 timely plays.[87][88]

Two minutes into the opening game of the 1977-78 season, Abdul-Jabbar broke his right hand punching Milwaukee's Kent Benson in retaliation to the rookie's elbow to his stomach. Benson suffered a black right eye and required two stitches.[89][90][91] According to Benson, Abdul-Jabbar initiated the elbowing, but there were no witnesses and it was not captured on replays.[89][91] Abdul-Jabbar, who broke the same bone in 1975 after he punched the backboard support,[90] was out for almost two months and missed 20 games.[91][92] He was fined a then-league record $5,000 but was not suspended.[90][92] Benson missed one game but was not punished by the league.[91][93] The Lakers were 8-13 when Abdul-Jabbar returned.[94] He was not named to the 1978 NBA All-Star Game, the only time in his 20-year career he was not selected to an All-Star Game.[95] Chicago's Artis Gilmore and Detroit's Bob Lanier were chosen as reserves for the West, with Walton starting at center.[96] Amid criticism from the media over his performance, Abdul-Jabbar had 39 points, 20 rebounds, six assists and four blocks in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers the day the All-Star rosters were announced.[97] He added 37 points and 30 rebounds in a victory over the New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn) in the final game before the All-Star break.[98]

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.[99] The Lakers, however, continued to be stymied in the playoffs, being eliminated by the Seattle SuperSonics in both 1978 (first round) and 1979 (semifinals).[100]

In 1979, the Lakers selected Magic Johnson with the first overall pick of the draft. They had acquired the pick from the New Orleans Jazz (later Utah) in 1976, when league rules required that they compensate Los Angeles for their signing of free agent Gail Goodrich.[101] The addition of Johnson paved the way for a Laker dynasty of the 1980s, appearing in the finals eight times and winning five NBA championships.[102] While less dominant than in his younger years, Abdul-Jabbar reinforced his status as one of the greatest basketball players ever,[102] adding an additional four All-NBA First Team selections and two All-Defense First Team honors.[99] He won his record sixth MVP award in 1980 and continued to average 20 or more points per game in the following six seasons. At age 38, he won his second Finals MVP in 1985.[102] On April 5, 1984, Abdul-Jabbar broke Chamberlain's record for most career points.[103] Later in his career, he bulked up to about 265 pounds (120 kg), to be able to withstand the strain of playing the highly physical center position into his early 40s.[]

Abdul-Jabbar against the Boston Celtics in the 1980s

While in Los Angeles, Abdul-Jabbar started doing yoga in 1976 to improve his flexibility, and was notable for his physical fitness regimen.[104] He says, "There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga."[105]

In 1983, Abdul-Jabbar's house burned down. Many of his belongings, including his beloved jazz LP collection of about 3,000 albums, were destroyed.[106] Many Lakers fans sent and brought him albums, which he found uplifting.[107]

The Lakers made the NBA Finals in each of Abdul-Jabbar's final three seasons, defeating Boston in 1987, and Detroit in 1988.[1] The Lakers lost to the Pistons in a four-game sweep in his final season.[108] After winning Game 7 of the 1988 finals, the 41-year-old Abdul-Jabbar announced in the locker room that he would return for one more season before retiring.[109][110] His points, rebounds, and minutes had dropped in his 19th season,[110][111][112] and there were reports prior to the game that he was retiring after the contest.[109][113] On his "retirement tour" he received standing ovations at games, both home and away, and gifts ranging from a yacht that said "Captain Skyhook" to framed jerseys from his career to a Persian rug.[114] At the Forum against Seattle in his final regular season game,[114] every Laker came onto the court wearing Abdul-Jabbar's trademark goggles.[115]

At the time of his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar held the record for most games played by a single player in the NBA;[116] this would later be broken by Robert Parish. He also was the all-time record holder for most points (38,387), most field goals made (15,837), and most minutes played (57,446).[24]

Post-NBA career

In 1995, Abdul-Jabbar began expressing an interest in coaching and imparting knowledge from his playing days.[117][118] His opportunities were limited despite the success he enjoyed during his playing days.[117] However, during his playing years, Abdul-Jabbar had developed a reputation for being introverted and sullen. He was often unfriendly with the media.[117][118][119] His sensitivity and shyness created a perception of him being aloof and surly.[117][120] At the time, his mentality was that he either did not have the time or did not owe anything to anyone.[121] Magic Johnson recalled as a kid being brushed off after asking him for an autograph. Abdul-Jabbar might freeze out a reporter if they touched him, and he once refused to stop reading the newspaper while giving an interview.[119]

Abdul-Jabbar believes that his reputation as a difficult person might have impacted his chances of being a head coach in the NBA or NCAA.[122] In his words, he said he had a mindset he could not overcome, and proceeded through his career oblivious to the effect his reticence might have on his future coaching prospects.[] Abdul-Jabbar 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."[107]

Abdul-Jabbar 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.[123] 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.[124] He then worked as a scout for the New York Knicks.[125] He returned to the Lakers as a special assistant coach to Phil Jackson for six seasons (2005-2011). Early on, he mentored their young center, Andrew Bynum.[126][127] Abdul-Jabbar also served as a volunteer coach at Alchesay High School on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona, in 1998.[128] He moved on from coaching in 2013 after unsuccessfully lobbying for open head coach positions with UCLA and the Milwaukee Bucks.[129]

In 2016, he performed a tribute to friend Muhammad Ali along with Chance the Rapper.[130]

Player profile

On offense, Abdul-Jabbar was a dominant low-post threat. In contrast to other low-post specialists like Wilt Chamberlain, Artis Gilmore or Shaquille O'Neal, Abdul-Jabbar was a relatively slender player, standing 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) tall but weighing only 225 lb (102 kg) (though in his latter years the Lakers listed Abdul-Jabbar's weight as 265 pounds (120 kg)).[131][failed verification] However, he made up for his relative lack of bulk by showing textbook finesse,[] and was famous for his ambidextrous skyhook shot. It contributed to his high .559 field goal accuracy, making him the eighth-most accurate scorer of all time[132] 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.

Abdul-Jabbar maintained a dominant presence on defense. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Team eleven times. He frustrated opponents with his superior shot-blocking ability and denied an average of 2.6 shots a game. After the pounding he endured early in his career, his rebounding average fell to between six or eight a game in his latter years.[1]

As a teammate, Abdul-Jabbar exuded natural leadership and was affectionately called "Cap"[133] or "Captain" by his colleagues. He had an even temperament, which Riley said made him coachable.[134] A strict fitness regime 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 former Celtics center Robert Parish.[135]

Abdul-Jabbar began wearing his trademark goggles after getting poked in the eye during preseason in 1975. He continued wearing them for years until abandoning them in the 1979 playoffs. He resumed wearing goggles in October 1980 after being accidentally poked in the right eye by Houston's Rudy Tomjanovich.[136] After years of being jabbed in the eyes, Abdul-Jabbar developed corneal erosion syndrome, occasionally experiencing pain when his eyes dry up. He missed three games in December 1986 due to the condition.[137]


Abdul-Jabbar was well known for his trademark "skyhook", 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. With his long arms and great height, the skyhook was difficult for a defender to block without committing a goaltending violation. As a right-handed player, he was stronger shooting the skyhook with his right hand than he was with his left, although he was adept at shooting it with either hand, making it a reliable and feared offensive weapon. According to Abdul-Jabbar, he learned the move in fifth grade after practicing with the Mikan Drill and soon learned to value it, as it was "the only shot I could use that didn't get smashed back in my face".[121]


Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, and he won a league-record six MVP awards.[1][138] He earned six championship rings, two Finals MVP awards, 15 NBA First or Second Teams, a record 19 NBA All-Star call-ups and averaging 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.6 blocks per game.[22][139] He is ranked as the NBA's third leading all-time rebounder (17,440).[140] He is also the third all-time in registered blocks (3,189),[141] which is especially impressive because this stat was not recorded until the fourth year of his career (1974).[142]

Abdul-Jabbar combined dominance during his career peak with the longevity and sustained excellence of his later years.[138] He credited Bruce Lee with teaching him "the discipline and spirituality of martial arts, which was greatly responsible for me being able to play competitively in the NBA for 20 years with very few injuries."[143] After claiming his sixth and final MVP in 1980, Abdul-Jabbar continued to average above 20 points in the following six seasons,[1] including 23 points per game in his 17th season at age 38.[144] He made the NBA's 35th Anniversary Team, and was named one of its 50 greatest players of all time in 1996.[22] Abdul-Jabbar is regarded as one of the best centers ever,[8] and league experts and basketball legends frequently mentioned him when considering the greatest player of all time.[144] Former Lakers coach Pat Riley once said, "Why judge anymore? When a man has broken records, won championships, endured tremendous criticism and responsibility, why judge? Let's toast him as the greatest player ever."[1] Isiah Thomas remarked, "If they say the numbers don't lie, then Kareem is the greatest ever to play the game."[2] Julius Erving in 2013 said, "In terms of players all-time, Kareem is still the number one guy. He's the guy you gotta start your franchise with."[5] In 2015, ESPN named Abdul-Jabbar the best center in NBA history,[144] and ranked him No. 2 behind Michael Jordan among the greatest NBA players ever.[138] While Jordan's shots were enthralling and considered unfathomable, Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook appeared automatic, and he himself called the shot "unsexy".[1][138] Abdul-Jabbar's only recognized rookie card became the most expensive basketball card ever sold when it went for $501,900 at auction in 2016. That record has since been surpassed.[145]

NBA career statistics

Regular season

1969-70 Milwaukee 82* -- 43.1 .518 -- .653 14.5 4.1 -- -- 28.8
1970-71+ Milwaukee 82 -- 40.1 .577 -- .690 16.0 3.3 -- -- 31.7*
1971-72 Milwaukee 81 -- 44.2 .574 -- .689 16.6 4.6 -- -- 34.8*
1972-73 Milwaukee 76 -- 42.8 .554 -- .713 16.1 5.0 -- -- 30.2
1973-74 Milwaukee 81 -- 43.8 .539 -- .702 14.5 4.8 1.4 3.5 27.0
1974-75 Milwaukee 65 -- 42.3 .513 -- .763 14.0 4.1 1.0 3.3* 30.0
1975-76 L.A. Lakers 82 -- 41.2 .529 -- .703 16.9* 5.0 1.5 4.1* 27.7
1976-77 L.A. Lakers 82 -- 36.8 .579* -- .701 13.3 3.9 1.2 3.2 26.2
1977-78 L.A. Lakers 62 -- 36.5 .550 -- .783 12.9 4.3 1.7 3.0 25.8
1978-79 L.A. Lakers 80 -- 39.5 .577 -- .736 12.8 5.4 1.0 4.0* 23.8
1979-80+ L.A. Lakers 82 -- 38.3 .604 .000 .765 10.8 4.5 1.0 3.4* 24.8
1980-81 L.A. Lakers 80 -- 37.2 .574 .000 .766 10.3 3.4 .7 2.9 26.2
1981-82+ L.A. Lakers 76 76 35.2 .579 .000 .706 8.7 3.0 .8 2.7 23.9
1982-83 L.A. Lakers 79 79 32.3 .588 .000 .749 7.5 2.5 .8 2.2 21.8
1983-84 L.A. Lakers 80 80 32.8 .578 .000 .723 7.3 2.6 .7 1.8 21.5
1984-85+ L.A. Lakers 79 79 33.3 .599 .000 .732 7.9 3.2 .8 2.1 22.0
1985-86 L.A. Lakers 79 79 33.3 .564 .000 .765 6.1 3.5 .8 1.6 23.4
1986-87+ L.A. Lakers 78 78 31.3 .564 .333 .714 6.7 2.6 .6 1.2 17.5
1987-88+ L.A. Lakers 80 80 28.9 .532 .000 .762 6.0 1.7 .6 1.2 14.6
1988-89 L.A. Lakers 74 74 22.9 .475 .000 .739 4.5 1.0 .5 1.1 10.1
Career 1,560 625 36.8 .559 .056 .721 11.2 3.6 .9 2.6 24.6
All-Star 18double-dagger 13 24.9 .493 .000 .820 8.3 2.8 .4 2.1double-dagger 13.9



1970 Milwaukee 10 -- 43.5 .567 -- .733 16.8 4.1 -- -- 35.2
1971+ Milwaukee 14 -- 41.2 .515 -- .673 17.0 2.5 -- -- 26.6
1972 Milwaukee 11 -- 46.4 .437 -- .704 18.2 5.1 -- -- 28.7
1973 Milwaukee 6 -- 46.0 .428 -- .543 16.2 2.8 -- -- 22.8
1974 Milwaukee 16 -- 47.4 .557 -- .736 15.8 4.9 1.3 2.4 32.2
1977 L.A. Lakers 11 -- 42.5 .607 -- .725 17.7 4.1 1.7 3.5 34.6
1978 L.A. Lakers 3 -- 44.7 .521 -- .556 13.7 3.7 .7 4.0 27.0
1979 L.A. Lakers 8 -- 45.9 .579 -- .839 12.6 4.8 1.0 4.1 28.5
1980+ L.A. Lakers 15 -- 41.2 .572 -- .790 12.1 3.1 1.1 3.9 31.9
1981 L.A. Lakers 3 -- 44.7 .462 -- .714 16.7 4.0 1.0 2.7 26.7
1982+ L.A. Lakers 14 -- 35.2 .520 -- .632 8.5 3.6 1.0 3.2 20.4
1983 L.A. Lakers 15 -- 39.2 .568 .000 .755 7.7 2.8 1.1 3.7 27.1
1984 L.A. Lakers 21 -- 36.5 .555 -- .750 8.2 3.8 1.1 2.1 23.9
1985+ L.A. Lakers 19 19 32.1 .560 -- .777 8.1 4.0 1.2 1.9 21.9
1986 L.A. Lakers 14 14 34.9 .557 -- .787 5.9 3.5 1.1 1.7 25.9
1987+ L.A. Lakers 18 18 31.1 .530 .000 .795 6.8 2.0 .4 1.9 19.2
1988+ L.A. Lakers 24 24 29.9 .464 .000 .789 5.5 1.5 .6 1.5 14.1
1989 L.A. Lakers 15 15 23.4 .463 -- .721 3.9 1.3 .3 .7 11.1
Career 237 90 37.3 .533 .000 .740 10.5 3.2 1.0 2.4 24.3


Athletic honors

Film and television

Actor Shavar Ross and Abdul-Jabbar on the set of Diff'rent Strokes, circa 1982

Playing in Los Angeles facilitated Abdul-Jabbar's trying his hand at acting. He made his film debut in Bruce Lee's 1972 film Game of Death, in which his character Hakim fights Billy Lo (played by Lee).

In 1980, he played co-pilot Roger Murdock in Airplane!.[22] Abdul-Jabbar has a scene in which a little boy looks at him and remarks that he is in fact Abdul-Jabbar,[149] spoofing the appearance of football star Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch as an airplane pilot in the 1957 drama that served as the inspiration for Airplane!, Zero Hour!.[150] Staying in character, Abdul-Jabbar states that he is merely Roger Murdock, an airline co-pilot, but the boy continues to insist that Abdul-Jabbar is "the greatest", but that, according to his father, he doesn't "work hard on defense" and that he does not "really try, except during the playoffs".[149] This causes Abdul-Jabbar's character to snap, "The hell I don't!", then grabs the boy and snarls that he has "been hearing that crap ever ever since I was at UCLA" and been "busting my buns every night!". He instructs the boy to "Tell your old man old man to drag [Bill] Walton and [Bob] Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes".[149][151] When Murdock loses consciousness later in the film, he collapses at the controls wearing Abdul-Jabbar's goggles and yellow Lakers' shorts.[149] In 2014, Abdul-Jabbar and Airplane! co-star Robert Hays (character Ted Striker) reprised their Airplane! roles in a parody commercial promoting Wisconsin tourism.[152]

Abdul-Jabbar has had numerous other television and film appearances, often playing himself. He has had roles in movies such as Fletch, Troop Beverly Hills and Forget Paris, and television series such as 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,[153] Emergency!, Man from Atlantis, and New Girl.[154] Abdul-Jabbar played a genie in a lamp in a 1984 episode of Tales from the Darkside. He also played himself on the February 10, 1994, episode of the sketch comedy television series In Living Color.[155]

He also appeared in the television version of Stephen King's The Stand, played the Archangel of Basketball in Slam Dunk Ernest, and had a brief non-speaking cameo appearance in BASEketball.[156] Abdul-Jabbar was also the co-executive producer of the 1994 TV film The Vernon Johns Story.[157] He has also made appearances on The Colbert Report, in a 2006 skit called "HipHopKetball II: The ReJazzebration Remix '06"[158] and in 2008 as a stage manager who is sent out on a mission to find Nazi gold.[159] Abdul-Jabbar also voiced himself in a 2011 episode of The Simpsons titled "Love Is a Many Strangled Thing".[160] He had a recurring role as himself on the NBC series Guys with Kids, which aired from 2012 to 2013.[156] On Al Jazeera English he expressed his desire to be remembered not just as a player, but also as somebody who used their mind and made other contributions.[161]

In February 2019, he appeared in season 12 episode 16 of The Big Bang Theory, "The D&D Vortex".[162]

Abdul-Jabbar made a guest appearance as himself in a season 2 episode of Dave. The episode he appeared in was also named after him.[163]


In September 2018, Abdul-Jabbar was announced as one of the writers for the July 2019 revival of Veronica Mars.[164][165][166][167]


On February 10, 2011, Abdul-Jabbar debuted his film On the Shoulders of Giants, documenting the tumultuous journey of the famed yet often-overlooked Harlem Renaissance professional basketball team, at Science Park High School in Newark, New Jersey. The event was simulcast live throughout the school, city, and state.[168]

In 2015, he appeared in an HBO documentary on his life, Kareem: Minority of One.[169]

In 2020, Abdul-Jabbar was the executive producer and narrator of the History channel special Black Patriots: Heroes of the Revolution.[170] He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his narration.[171]

Reality television

Abdul-Jabbar participated in the 2013 ABC reality series Splash, a celebrity diving competition.[172]

In April 2018, Abdul-Jabbar competed in the all-athlete season of season 26 of Dancing with the Stars and partnered with professional dancer Lindsay Arnold.[173]

Writing and activism

Abdul-Jabbar at a book signing in 2007

Abdul-Jabbar became a best-selling author and cultural critic.[164][174] He published several books, mostly on African-American history.[139] His first book, his autobiography Giant Steps, was written in 1983 with co-author Peter Knobler. The book's title is an homage to jazz great John Coltrane, referring to his album Giant Steps. Others include On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, co-written with Raymond Obstfeld, and Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, World War II's Forgotten Heroes, co-written with Anthony Walton, which is a history of an all-black armored unit that served with distinction in Europe.

Abdul-Jabbar has also been a regular contributor to discussions about issues of race and religion, among other topics, in national magazines and on television. He has written a regular column for Time, for example, and he appeared on Meet the Press on Sunday, January 25, 2015, to talk about a recent column, which pointed out that Islam should not be blamed for the actions of violent extremists, just as Christianity has not been blamed for the actions of violent extremists who profess Christianity.[175][176] When asked about being Muslim, he said: "I don't have any misgiving about my faith. I'm very concerned about the people who claim to be Muslims that are murdering people and creating all this mayhem in the world. That is not what Islam is about, and that should not be what people think of when they think about Muslims. But it's up to all of us to do something about all of it."[177]

In November 2014, Abdul-Jabbar published an essay in Jacobin magazine calling for just compensation for college athletes, writing, "in the name of fairness, we must bring an end to the indentured servitude of college athletes and start paying them what they are worth."[178]

Commenting on Donald Trump's 2017 travel ban, he strongly condemned it, saying, "The absence of reason and compassion is the very definition of pure evil because it is a rejection of our sacred values, distilled from millennia of struggle."[179]

Government appointments

Cultural ambassador

Hillary Clinton and Abdul-Jabbar, 2012

In January 2012, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Abdul-Jabbar had accepted a position as a cultural ambassador for the United States.[180] During the announcement press conference, Abdul-Jabbar commented on the historical legacy of African-Americans as representatives of U.S. culture: "I remember when Louis Armstrong first did it back for President Kennedy, one of my heroes. So it's nice to be following in his footsteps."[181] As part of this role, Abdul-Jabbar has traveled to Brazil to promote education for local youths.[182]

President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition

Former President Barack Obama announced in his last days of office that he has appointed Abdul-Jabbar along with Gabrielle Douglas and Carli Lloyd to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.[183]

Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee

In January 2017, Abdul-Jabbar was appointed to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee by United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. According to the United States Mint, Abdul-Jabbar is a keen coin collector whose interest in the life of Alexander Hamilton had led him into the hobby. He resigned in 2018 due to what the Mint described as "increasing personal obligations".[184]

Personal life

Abdul-Jabbar surrounded by children's division players during an exhibition at Club Ferro Carril Oeste of Buenos Aires, 1993
Abdul-Jabbar (below, far right) and other former NBA players visit the New York NBA Store in January 2005

Abdul-Jabbar met Habiba Abdul-Jabbar (born Janice Brown) at a Lakers game during his senior year at UCLA.[185] They eventually married and together had three children: daughters Habiba and Sultana and son Kareem Jr., who played basketball at Western Kentucky after attending Valparaiso.[186][187] Abdul-Jabbar and Janice divorced in 1978. He has another son, Amir, with Cheryl Pistono. Another son, Adam, made an appearance on the TV sitcom Full House with him.[188]

Religion and name

At age 24 in 1971, he converted to Islam and became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means "noble one, servant of the Almighty."[189] He was named by Hamaas Abdul Khaalis.[189] Abdul-Jabbar purchased and donated 7700 16th Street NW, a house in Washington, D.C., for Khaalis to use as the Hanafi Madh-Hab Center. Eventually, Kareem "found that [he] disagreed with some of Hamaas' teachings about the Quran, and [they] parted ways." He then studied the Quran on his own, and "emerged from this pilgrimage with my beliefs clarified and my faith renewed."[189]

Abdul-Jabbar has spoken about the thinking that was behind his name change when he converted to Islam. He stated that he was "latching on to something that was part of my heritage, because many of the slaves who were brought here were Muslims. My family was brought to America by a French planter named Alcindor, who came here from Trinidad in the 18th century. My people were Yoruba, and their culture survived slavery...  My father found out about that when I was a kid, and it gave me all I needed to know that, hey, I was somebody, even if nobody else knew about it. When I was a kid, no one would believe anything positive that you could say about black people. And that's a terrible burden on black people, because they don't have an accurate idea of their history, which has been either suppressed or distorted."[190]

In 1998, Abdul-Jabbar reached a settlement after he sued Miami Dolphins running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar[191] (now Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar, born Sharmon Shah) because he felt Karim was profiting off the name he made famous by having the Abdul-Jabbar moniker and number 33 on his Dolphins jersey. As a result, the younger Abdul-Jabbar had to change his jersey nameplate to simply "Abdul" while playing for the Dolphins. The football player had also been an athlete at UCLA.[192]

Health problems

Abdul-Jabbar suffers from migraines,[193] and his use of cannabis to reduce the symptoms has had legal ramifications.[194]

In November 2009, Abdul-Jabbar announced that he was suffering from a form of leukemia, Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The disease was diagnosed in December 2008, but Abdul-Jabbar said his condition could be managed by taking oral medication daily, seeing his specialist every other month and having his blood analyzed regularly. He expressed in a 2009 press conference that he did not believe that the illness would stop him from leading a normal life.[195][196] Abdul-Jabbar is now a spokesman for Novartis, the company that produces his cancer medication, Gleevec.[197]

In February 2011, Abdul-Jabbar announced via Twitter that his leukemia was gone and he was "100% cancer free".[198] A few days later, he clarified his misstatement. "You're never really cancer-free and I should have known that," Abdul-Jabbar said. "My cancer right now is at an absolute minimum."[197]

In April 2015, Abdul-Jabbar was admitted to hospital when he was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Later that week, on his 68th birthday, he underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery at the UCLA Medical Center.[199]

Non-athletic honors

In 2016, Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama.[200]

In 2011, Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Double Helix Medal for his work in raising awareness for cancer research.[201][202] Also in 2011, Abdul-Jabbar received an honorary degree from New York Institute of Technology.[203]

In 2020, Abdul-Jabbar was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Narrator for his work on the documentary special Black Patriots: Heroes of The Revolution.[171]



  • Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem; Knobler, Peter (1983). Giant Steps. New York: Bantam Books.
  • Kareem, with Mignon McCarthy (1990) ISBN 0-394-55927-4
  • Selected from Giant Steps (Writers' Voices) (1999) ISBN 0-7857-9912-5
  • Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement, with Alan Steinberg (1996) ISBN 0-688-13097-6
  • A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apaches, with Stephen Singular (2000) ISBN 0-688-17077-3
  • Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, World War II's Forgotten Heroes with Anthony Walton (2004) ISBN 978-0-7679-0913-6
  • On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance with Raymond Obstfeld (2007) ISBN 978-1-4165-3488-4
  • What Color Is My World? The Lost History of African American Inventors with Raymond Obstfeld (2012) ISBN 978-0-7636-4564-9
  • Streetball Crew Book One Sasquatch in the Paint with Raymond Obstfeld (2013) ISBN 978-1-4231-7870-5
  • Streetball Crew Book Two Stealing the Game with Raymond Obstfeld (2015) ISBN 978-1423178712
  • Mycroft Holmes with Anna Waterhouse (September 2015) ISBN 978-1-7832-9153-3
  • Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White with Raymond Obstfeld (2016) ISBN 978-1-6189-3171-9
  • Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court (2017) ISBN 978-1538760468
  • Becoming Kareem: Growing Up On and Off the Court (2017) ISBN 978-0316555388
  • Mycroft Holmes and The Apocalypse Handbook. Illustrated by Josh Cassara. Titan Comics. 2017. ISBN 978-1785853005.CS1 maint: others (link)
  • Mycroft and Sherlock with Anna Waterhouse (October 9, 2018) ISBN 978-1785659256
  • Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage with Anna Waterhouse (September 24, 2019) ISBN 978-1785659300

Audio book


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