When the greatest players in the history of the NBA are discussed, the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not brought up nearly enough. A six-time champion with an NBA-record six regular season MVP awards, as well as two Finals MVPs, his accolades stack up with the greatest ever.
Throw in his 19 All-Star game selections, and 10 All-NBA First Team distinctions and you get a man who was not only great, but outstanding over a longer period of time than anyone has ever been.
He is still the NBA’s All-Time leading scorer with 38,387 career points, but we here at Lakers Nation feel like Kareem just isn’t getting his just due. So with that, we present to you the five greatest moments in the Lakers career of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
5. Getting A Statue Outside Of Staples Center
Kareem was one of the greatest players, not only in Lakers history, but in the entire history of the NBA. His accolades rival anyone’s, and his greatness stretched over decades.
As time passed after his retirement, many wondered when Kareem would be honored with his own statue outside of Staples Center. Other Lakers greats Magic Johnson and Jerry West had their own statue, as well as LA Kings legend Wayne Gretzky. Even commentator Chick Hearn and boxer Oscar De La Hoya were honored.
Kareem finally had his day on November 16, 2012, as he was immortalized in front of Staples Center. Many came through to honor him, with Magic Johnson saying that Kareem ‘should have had the first statue.’ While it took longer than expected, Kareem finally got what he deserved and no one can take that away from him.
4. 1975-76 MVP Season
In the 1975 off-season, the Lakers acquired Kareem (and Walt Wesley) from the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, and rookie prospects Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman. It turned out to be one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history, and that was made clear immediately.
In his first season in Los Angeles, Kareem put forth one of the more underrated seasons in NBA history. Kareem averaged 27.7 points, 16.9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4.1 blocks, leading the league in rebounds, blocks, and minutes per game.
He also set a still-standing NBA record with 1,111 defensive rebounds. This is also the last season in which a player has totaled more than 4,000 points, rebounds, and assists in a season.
Needless to say, Kareem won the MVP, the fourth of his career. Unfortunately, despite his performance, the Lakers finished only 40-42 and missed the playoffs, hence why it sits only at number four.
3. 1980 MVP Season/Finals Performance
Statistically, the 1980 season wasn’t Kareem’s greatest, but it still remains one of his best showings as a whole when combining the regular and post-season. Kareem averaged 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and 3.4 blocks to win his NBA-record sixth MVP. With the addition of rookie point guard Magic Johnson, Kareem helped lead the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference.
But great players make their legacy in the postseason and Kareem really took things over when it mattered most. He upped his playoff averages to 31.9 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.9 blocks in leading the Lakers to their first Finals appearance since 1973. And things only got better from there.
The 1980 Finals is remembered for Magic Johnson’s epic 42 point, 15 rebound, 7 assist performance in Game 6 to clinch the title, but it was on the back of Kareem that the Lakers were in the position to win. Kareem averaged 33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks. To top it off, in Game 5, Kareem played through the severely sprained ankle that would keep him out of Game 6 to score 40 points and grab 15 rebounds in a crucial Lakers victory to put the team up 3-2.
All in all, the 1980 season was one in which Kareem truly shined, not only as a great player, but as one who steps up when the lights are brightest.
2. Becoming the NBA’s All-Time Leading Scorer
There are a few records in sports that are simply on a different level from all of the rest due to the fact that they are so unlikely to be matched. Cal Ripken and Brett Favre’s respective consecutive starts streaks, Joe DiMaggio’s consecutive hits record, and Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game are just a few. Kareem’s all-time scoring record is right beside them.
On April 5, 1984 Kareem hit a sky hook for career point number 31,422, becoming the NBA’s All-Time leading scorer, passing Wilt Chamberlain. The Lakers would defeat the Utah Jazz that night as Kareem totaled 22 points in the Lakers victory.
Kareem would go on to total 38,387 points in his illustrious career, a record that still stands to this day. In fact, the man who is second on that list, Karl Malone, is nearly 1,500 points behind Kareem.
This moment was a reminder that no one could score at the level that Kareem did. The fact that the record remains today is proof of his legacy, and ability to dominate for a length of time that no one has been able to match.
1. Winning the 1985 Finals MVP
By the time 1985 rolled around, Kareem was no longer the dominant force he used to be. Though he still led the team in scoring and rebounding with 22 points per game and 7.9 rebounds, years of battling down low had begun to take its toll on him.
On the backs of Kareem, Magic Johnson, and James Worthy, the Lakers finished with the best record in the Western Conference, and rolled into the NBA Finals, losing only twice along the way. Once there, they met a familiar rival, the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics had long been a thorn in the side of the Lakers dating back to the 1960s, and the Lakers had never defeated them in the Finals, even losing an epic seven game series just the year before. The Lakers came into 1985 wanting revenge and thanks to Kareem, they got it.
Kareem turned back the clock, averaging 25.7 points, 9 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. His 30-point, 17 rebound, 8 assist performance in Game 2 got the Lakers a huge win following the ‘Memorial Day Massacre’ in Game 1. In the final two games, Kareem dominated with 36 and 29 point performances to defeat the Celtics and vanquish their demons of years past.
In being named Finals MVP, Kareem became the oldest player to ever win the award, a record that remains today. Kareem has called this NBA Championship his ‘sweetest.’ His performance to make that happen was the stuff of legends, and something only he could pull off. Which is why it is our top moment.