Earlier this week, when the Los Angeles Lakers announced their plans of honoring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with a statue (outside Staples Center), I must admit to getting a bit misty-eyed. Full disclosure, Abdul-Jabbar is one of my favorite athletes of all time. In fact, I will go as far as to say he was one of my childhood heroes.
While friends had superheroes and mythical beings, I looked up to individuals like Earvin Magic Johnson, Jabbar, and Muhammad Ali. All three great men, but each very unique in the manner by which they carried themselves. Magic would mask an inner-competitor that would rip your heart out (on the court) with a smile for the ages, and Muhammad would physically destroy his opponents only after toying with them verbally and emotionally.
Abdul-Jabbar, on the other hand, was much more of a silent assassin. Not to be mistaken as emotionless or without tremendous passion, as he displayed plenty of ferocity when the moment called for it.
Affectionately known as “Cap” by his teammates and contemporaries, Abdul-Jabbar methodically went about dismantling hapless and helpless opposing teams/defenses with a playing style and grace unparalleled by any other center in NBA history.
When discussing the greatest NBA players of all time, I’m often amazed by how many folks seem to forget about a 20-year career that spanned from 1969-1975 with the Milwaukee Bucks to 1976-1989 with the Los Angeles Lakers. One would think a man with six NBA titles, six regular season MVP awards, and two Finals MVP’s would be a constant in any such discussion. Jabbar may not have been the power-player nor had the beaming media-friendly personality of say a guy like Shaquille O’Neal, but he didn’t need to. His game spoke volumes for itself, as he ended his career as the NBA’s all-time leader in scoring (38,387 points), games played (1,560), FG makes/attempts (15,837/28,307 55.9%), and blocked shots (3,189 blocks were not officially tabulated until 1973-74 season). While some of these records have (since) been surpassed, Jabbar remains in the top-5 in points, rebounds, field goals, and blocks.
I once had a college professor define absolute power as the ability to do whatever you’d like, whenever you’d like to do it, to whomever you want to do it to, and there’s not a …*darn thing anyone can do about it to stop you. Well, the most unstoppable force I’ve ever witnessed on a basketball court had to be Abdul-Jabbar’s patented Sky-Hook.
It is a common misnomer to call Abdul-Jabbar the inventor/creator of the hook shot. While plenty of folks attempted the shot prior (and since), Kareem simply did it better, with more regularity, and with much more authority than any other NBA player in history. At 7’2″ and with a wing-span that would have likely made Kevin Durant jealous, Abdul-Jabbar unleashed his sky-hook at any given time, and most often in the most crucial of scoring situations. Defenders were all-but rendered powerless when he was permitted to get into a rhythm with his “swing left, shoot right” motion as only can be properly described by the immortal Chick Hearn (Rest in Peace):
I would be totally remiss if I failed to mention the fact that Jabbar’s dominance was far from limited to the NBA hardwood. While attending Power Memorial High School (New York City), then Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. led his team to an overall record of 79-2 (1962-65), which included a 71-game win streak and three NY City Championships. After graduating high school, Alcindor (later converted to Islam, hence the name change) went on to absolutely dominate the college ranks as a member of John Wooden’s talent-laced UCLA Bruins. The only thing that prevented Alcindor(@KAJ33) from winning four NCAA Titles was the fact that (during his time) freshmen were not permitted to play for the varsity team.
Jabbar has authored at least nine books, is a Jazz historian, a humanitarian, and was named the U.S. Cultural Ambassador by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in January of 2012. It is with tremendous honor that I proclaim Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a true case of greatness personified. While I’ve used this descriptive phrase in the past, no other person is a more fitting to be referred to as such. His statue will be a long overdue commemoration and acknowledgment of a fantastic career/life, and barring any life-altering turn of events I will do everything within my power to be present to bear witness.
In case you missed it – Kareem talks about the Lakers newest additions.