PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL PLAYER
In a sport where notable performers are often judged by the standards of the era in which they played, the skills and the achievements of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are transcendent, both as an American college player and as a professional. Most basketball experts place Abdul-Jabbar at the same exalted level as the legendary Michael Jordan, Ervin (Magic) Johnson, Larry Bird, and Wilt Chamberlain, as the five players who occupy the pinnacle of all time basketball supremacy.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a renowned basketball player from the first day he attended Power Memorial High School in New York City, until the end of his final NBA game. In the intervening period of 30 years, Abdul-Jabbar achieved every single badge of greatness that the basketball world could bestow—highly recruited high school All-Star, All-American and national collegiate basketball champion, and the best and most dominant player of his professional era.
In many respects, the biography of Abdul-Jabbar begins with a measurement, 7 ft 2 in (2.15 m), Abdul-Jabbar's height when he enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) in the fall of 1965. Prior to his conversion to the Muslim faith in the late 1960s, Abdul-Jabbar legal name was Lew Alcindor, and as Alcindor he was the most hotly pursued and the most highly coveted high school basketball player in the history of American sports to that time. Alcindor had dominated the tough New York high school leagues in a manner never before seen, leading Cardinal Power High School to a New York schools championship, while setting records for both most points scored and most rebounds. His coach at Power, Jack Donahue, parlayed his success at Power, as well as his success coaching Alcindor to become a well-respected international coach with the Canadian men's national basketball program.
Upon his graduation from Power, Abdul-Jabbar had his pick of virtually every American college program. He selected UCLA, led by coach John Wooden, and a team that had won a national championship the previous season. In 1965, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) had a three-year player eligibility rule in place, meaning that freshmen such as Abdul-Jabbar were not permitted to play on varsity teams. It is an interesting footnote to Abdul-Jabbar's personal history that his 7 ft 2 in (2.5 m) height caused him to be exempt from the national draft and any potential involvement in the Viet Nam war, as he was deemed to be too tall for military service.
Once he was eligible for the UCLA varsity as a sophomore in 1966, Abdul-Jabbar was a significant force in leading UCLA to three consecutive national championships, from 1967 until he graduated in 1969. Abdul-Jabbar was named NCAA Player of the Year in 1967 and again in 1969.
His stunning combination of unusual height and lithe athleticism was a key factor in the NCAA decision to institute a ten-year ban on the dunk shot in college basketball, a ban that was instituted in 1967, the commencement of Abdul-Jabbar' junior year at UCLA. Abdul-Jabbar was able to turn this apparent stymie into an advantage, as he added to his already formidable offensive skills through the perfection of a particular style of hook shot. Unlike many hooks developed by previous earlier players, Abdul-Jabbar's technique involved a more straight-armed approach, with the ball delivered from well behind his head, rendering the shot almost impossible for a defender to block. The shot, dubbed the skyhook, became both Abdul-Jabbar's most formidable offensive weapon and his signature shot for the duration of his collegiate and professional careers.
Upon his graduation from UCLA in 1969, Abdul-Jabbar was as coveted a professional basketball prospect as he had been sought after when entering college four years earlier. The Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA) held the first selection of the 1969 NBA entry draft and they selected Abdul-Jabbar, whose play that season made an instant and emphatic impact upon both the NBA and the Bucks franchise. Abdul-Jabbar helped elevate the Bucks from league doormat to NBA champions in three seasons.
Abdul-Jabbar averaged almost 29 points per game in his first season and he was named NBA Rookie of the Year. The Bucks had improved on their previous season's victory totals by a remarkable 29 wins. The 1971 NBA season was even more rewarding for Abdul-Jabbar than his rookie year had been. He led the NBA in scoring and he was named the league's Most Valuable Player. Milwaukee won the league championship, a feat that he was to repeat in 1972, when Abdul-Jabbar again led the league in scoring and collected a second Most Valuable Player award. Abdul-Jabbar had established himself as the unquestioned dominating force in NBA basketball.
Abdul-Jabbar's conversion to Islam at the beginning of his NBA career was sometimes a point of contention between the national basketball media and Abdul-Jabbar. Much was made in the press of his formal change of name from Alcindor to Abdul-Jabbar.
With on-court dominance came a greater ability on the part of Abdul-Jabbar to control his professional destiny. Abdul-Jabbar, who won a third Most
Abdul-Jabbar and his dominance elevated the Lakers in precisely the same fashion it had rejuvenated the Milwaukee Bucks. Abdul-Jabbar won a fourth Most Valuable Player award with the Lakers in 1976, and he added a fifth award in 1977.
In 1979, the phenomenal Ervin (Magic) Johnson was signed by the Lakers. As a collegiate player, Johnson was almost as renowned Abdul-Jabbar had been a decade earlier. The 1980 playoffs culminated in a Lakers' championship, and Abdul-Jabbar won a record breaking sixth league Most Valuable Player award. The Lakers, powered by Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar, became the premier franchise in the NBA, winning championships in 1982, 1985, and 1987.
In 1989, after 20 seasons of professional basketball, Abdul-Jabbar retired from the NBA. The respect for his supreme talents was evidenced by the fact that his player number, 33, was retired by both the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. At his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar held nine individual NBA records, including most points scored, most seasons played, and most blocked shots. Abdul-Jabbar was named to both the NBA list of Top 50 players of all time. He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.