Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem 1947-
ABDUL-JABBAR, Kareem 1947-
(Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Lew Alcindor, Kareem Abdul Jabbar)
∗ Indicates that a listing has been compiled from secondary sources believed to be reliable, but has not been personally verified for this edition by the author sketched.
PERSONAL: Original name, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor; name legally changed in 1971; born April 16, 1947, in New York, NY; son of Ferdinand Lewis (a police officer and jazz musician) and Cora Alcindor; married Janice (name changed to Habiba) Brown, 1971 (divorced, 1973); children: Habiba, Sultana, Kareem, Amir. Ethnicity: "African American." Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.A., 1969. Religion: Hanafi Muslim. Hobbies and other interests: Wind surfing, jazz, yoga.
ADDRESSES: Home—Hawaii. Agent—c/o Broadway Books Publicity, The Random House Publishing Group, 1745 Broadway, 18th Fl., New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Professional basketball player with Milwaukee Bucks, 1969–75, and Los Angeles Lakers, 1975–1989. Actor in motion pictures, including Airplane, Enter the Dragon, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, and Fletch; actor in television productions, including Mannix and Diff'rent Strokes. Sports analyst, Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS), 2003; has worked as an assistant coach in the NBA, a head coach in the USBL, and high school coach at Alchesay High School, Whiteriver, AZ; worked as a scout for the New York Knicks. President of Cranberry Records.
AWARDS, HONORS: Most Valuable Player of Playoffs Award, National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), 1967, 1968, and 1969; named best collegiate basketball player, 1967 and 1969; National Basketball Association (NBA) Rookie of the Year Award, 1970; selected for inclusion in NBA All Star Game, 1970–87 and 1989; NBA Most Valuable Player Award, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, and 1980; NBA Playoffs Most Valuable Player Award, 1971 and 1985; named to NBA Thirty-Fifth Anniversary All Star Team, 1980; Sports- man of the Year Award, Sports Illustrated, and Jackie Robinson Award, both 1985.
(With Peter Knobler) Giant Steps: An Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bantam (New York, NY), 1983.
(With Mignon McCarthy) Kareem, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Alan Steinberg) Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African American Achievement, Morrow (New York, NY), 1996.
(With Stephen Singular) A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the Mountain Apaches, Morrow (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Anthony Walton) Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including TV Guide.
SIDELIGHTS: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the author of two autobiographies, Giant Steps: An Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kareem. Both books recount the life of the man who many rank among basketball's greatest players. Giant Steps traces Abdul-Jabbar's earliest exposure to sports, relating his experiences playing high school, college, and professional basketball. Kareem is structured primarily in diary form and recounts Abdul-Jabbar's final season in the NBA, along with anecdotes about the people and places that he encountered in his long and successful career. He is also the author of other nonfiction books, including Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African American Achievement, A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the Mountain Apaches, and Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes.
Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis ("Lew") Alcindor in New York City in 1947. An unusually tall youth—he was more than six feet tall by his early teens—he readily proved himself an extraordinary athlete. Baseball, ice skating, and swimming were merely a few of the sports in which he excelled. But by the time he reached high school and was nearing a height of seven feet, he clearly exhibited a natural gift for basketball. At Power Memorial Academy he played varsity basketball for four years, and in that time he scored more than two thousand points and led his team to more than ninety victories.
Receiving enormous publicity as a high school player, Alcindor was considered an excellent prospect for the collegiate game, and he was faced with offers from all over the United States. He settled on the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), a school whose basketball team, under coach John Wooden, consistently ranked among the nation's best. Joining the varsity squad in his sophomore year, Alcindor quickly gained national attention. His considerable speed and agility—in conjunction with his great height—rendered him a formidable scorer, even when two or three players were guarding him. In his very first game for UCLA he established a new school record by scoring fifty-six points, and in the ensuing years he continued to produce at an unparalleled pace. During his three varsity years UCLA won the national championship three times and lost only two games in total.
In 1969 Alcindor was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks, a relatively new team that had accomplished little during its term in the National Basketball Association. With Alcindor's talent, though, the team quickly emerged among the league's finest. And though the league was rife with talented centers—including Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed, and Nate Thurmond—Alcindor soon surpassed them with his balanced combination of scoring, rebounding, and shot blocking. Alcindor's achievements earned him the NBA's Rookie of the Year Award and served notice throughout the league that the Bucks would be a considerable foe in the coming seasons.
Although Alcindor quickly established himself as the dominant player in the NBA, he was incapable of leading the Bucks to the championship without greater support. To rectify that situation, the team traded for Oscar Robertson, who had long been one of the NBA's greatest shooters and passers. With the combination of Robertson and Alcindor—who had developed a virtually unstoppable hook shot, dubbed the "skyhook," which he could execute with either hand and from a variety of locations on the court—the Bucks turned into the league's best team. They won the 1971 championship and brought Robertson, who had long languished on poor teams, a particularly deserved triumph. And for his own considerable achievements, Alcindor was named Most Valuable Player for both the regular season and the playoffs
In 1971 Alcindor, who had become a Muslim while at UCLA, changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Many years later, when asked by a Playboy interviewer why he converted to the Muslim faith, Abdul-Jabbar noted that "black people are attracted to Islam in this country because the religion espouses egalitarianism, and the morality is basically the same that you find in Christianity."
In the next few seasons the Bucks continued to fare well in the NBA, but without Robertson, who had retired, Abdul-Jabbar was once again compelled to assume an overwhelming amount of responsibility for the team's success at both offensive and defensive ends of the court. He continued to score at an impressive rate, leading the league by averaging thirty-five points per game in 1971–72 (a season in which he again was named Most Valuable Player), but the Bucks were unable to make it to the NBA championship. Furthermore, he missed life on the West Coast, and he longed to return to the Los Angeles area. In 1975 the Bucks, complying with Abdul-Jabbar's wishes, traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Throughout the remainder of the 1970s the Lakers ranked among the better teams in the NBA, but with their nearly exclusive reliance on Abdul-Jabbar as their leading scorer and defender they failed to match up against the league's more well-rounded squads. As in Milwaukee, though, Abdul-Jabbar maintained his distinction as the league's most imposing force, and by the end of the decade he had won two more Most Valuable Player awards.
Despite his extraordinary individual success, Abdul-Jabbar longed for another NBA championship. The opportunity presented itself in the 1979–80 season when the Lakers, with rookie Earvin "Magic" Johnson, made it to the finals, where they faced the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers triumphed in six games to win the title, and Johnson—who replaced the injured Abdul-Jabbar for the decisive sixth game—was named the playoff's Most Valuable Player. But Abdul-Jabbar's great contributions as scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker were hardly ignored by the league, which accorded him still another Most Valuable Player award.
During the 1980s the Lakers maintained their position as the NBA's most consistently winning team. During that decade the team realized the championship on five occasions. Particularly memorable among the Lakers' triumphs are the team's mid-1980s skirmishes against the Boston Celtics, a team that featured Larry Bird. The Lakers emerged as the winners on two of those occasions, including a stirring 1987 series in which—during the decisive contest—Abdul-Jabbar substantially maintained the Lakers' offensive presence before the entire team united in overcoming their foes.
The year 1984 was an especially significant one for Abdul-Jabbar; it was during this time that he became both the league's oldest player and its all-time leading scorer. He would remain the league's oldest player until his retirement after the 1989 championship finals. In that memorable series, the Lakers, playing without two of their injured starters, succumbed quickly to the Detroit Pistons, but the forty-two-year-old Abdul-Jabbar gamely led his team, and in game three he once again proved the dominant player, leading the Lakers in both scoring and rebounding.
Although he retired from professional basketball in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar nonetheless remained an active force in basketball. In 1991 he led a squad on an exhibition tour of Saudi Arabia. The same year he participated against fellow legend Julius Erving in a one-on-one basketball contest designed to raise funds for AIDS research. He has also coached at several levels, including working as an Assistant Coach in the NBA, a Head Coach in the USBL, and a high school coach at Alchesay High School on an Apache reservation.
Aside from his basketball endeavors, Abdul-Jabbar has also worked as an actor, appearing as a martial-arts fighter opposite Bruce Lee in the action film Enter the Dragon and as a poisoned pilot in the comedy Airplane! He has also acted in advertisements, and he served as a sports analyst with CBS during the NCAA Tournament of 2003. In addition he has presided over Cranberry Records. A renowned jazz aficionado, Abdul-Jabbar has shown an interest in encouraging new musical talents.
Besides his many accolades for basketball, Abdul-Jabbar has also received praise for his work as a memoirist. Giant Steps was described by Sports Illustrated writer Bruce Newman as "an intelligent, thoughtful autobiography." In the book Abdul-Jabbar recounts his experiences with racism and candidly discusses drug abuse. In addition, he relates his acquaintances with several memorable figures, including UCLA's legendary coach Wooden. Mary Pjerrou Huckaby, writing in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, declared that Giant Steps is a work "by a great athlete who has some important things to say about himself, his profession and life at large."
Abdul-Jabbar followed Giant Steps with Kareem. Here he provides his thoughts as he makes one last tour, one in which honors were inevitably bestowed by teammates and opponents alike. In addition, he provides more candid comments and insights on life both inside and outside the game of basketball. Washington Post contributor Jonathan Yardley deemed Kareem "the best book [by] a sports figure in many years," and George Plimpton, writing in the New York Times Book Review, ranked Abdul-Jabbar's second memoir among the few "worthy books about basketball." Another reviewer, Steve Rushin, affirmed in Sports Illustrated that in Kareem "Abdul-Jabbar is offering that rarity among sports autobiographies—an unvarnished opinion."
Despite enjoying a basketball career of unmatched longevity and substantial individual and team success, Abdul-Jabbar maintains a balanced perspective on his achievements. When asked by a Playboy interviewer how he felt about being considered the game's greatest player ever, Abdul-Jabbar responded, "It's very flattering, and it's nice to be considered in that light, but I don't get too excited about it." Elsewhere in the interview, he added: "I've played professional basketball longer than anyone else…. I just hope that in remembering me, people will acknowledge my professionalism and consistency." At the 20th anniversary celebration honoring the 1985 NBA championship victory of the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar commented, "People say that things get old. The bond that we established with you fans will never get old."
The success of Abdul-Jabbar's autobiographies encouraged him to continue writing. In A Season on the Reservation, Abdul-Jabbar writes about the time he spent as a high school basketball coach on a Native American Reservation. In 2004, Abdul-Jabbar teamed up with journalist Anthony Walton to tell a forgotten story of WWII in Brothers in Arms. The authors investigate the prejudice the members of the "761st Tank Battalion (Colored)" had to face from the Army at home, before ever fighting overseas. The book follows the battalion's time in Patton's Third Army and their position on the front lines at the Battle of the Bulge, as well as their liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, and features interviews with the surviving members of the battalion. According to a Kirkus Reviews contributor, the book is "solid and well written: the authors reveal a little-known aspect of WWII on the home front and abroad." A Publishers Weekly reviewer assured, "this is military history that will prove compelling to anyone with an interest in black men's experience during the 20th century." Roland Green, writing in Booklist, commented, "the recognition previously denied the 761st is now coming through," and in a "Critic's Choice" review in People, Neil Graves wrote, "the book gives welcome salutes to the war's black fighting men." Library Journal contributor Thomas J. Davis considered the book a "revealing and insightful story." Michael James, writing for Officer, praised, "The authors have written an in-depth book chronicling the lives and experiences of this historic tank battalion, a story that the history books have yet to include."
In an article for United Press International, Abdul-Jabbar commented that the men of the 761st "don't want any special recognition. They just want people to understand that they were there and they did a job." In the same article, Abdul-Jabbar also mentioned his interest in writing a book on the Underground Railroad. When asked by Time interviewer Sean Gregory why he began writing history books, Abdul-Jabbar replied, "Well, I've always enjoyed research. I first did it in the summer of 1964, when I worked for a youth program in Harlem. They sent me to the Schomburg [Center for Research in Black Culture] to do a little research, and that's where I got bit by the history bug. It's not really work for me."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, and Peter Knobler, Giant Steps: An Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bantam (New York, NY), 1983.
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, and Mignon McCarthy, Kareem, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.
Doucette, Eddie, The Milwaukee Bucks and the Remarkable Abdul-Jabbar, Prentice-Hall (Englewood Cliffs, NJ), 1974.
Hano, Arnold, Kareem!: Basketball Great, Putnam (New York, NY), 1975.
Haskins, James, From Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lothrop (New York, NY), 1978.
Jackson, H. C., Jabbar: Giant of the NBA, Walck (New York, NY), 1972.
Klein, Dave, Pro Basketball's Big Men, Random House (New York, NY), 1973.
Margolies, Jacob, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Basketball Great, F. Watts (New York, NY), 1992.
May, Julian, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Cage Superstar, Crestwood (Mankato, MN), 1973.
Pepe, Phil, Stand Tall: The Lew Alcindor Story, Grosset & Dunlap (New York, NY), 1970.
America's Intelligence Wire, March 4, 2004, "Knicks Hire Abdul-Jabbar"; April 27, 2004, "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Discuss New Book, Brothers in Arms, at the National Press Club, May 4"; July 5, 2004, "Former NBA Star Writes Book on Black WWII Tank Battalion."
Basketball Digest, March-April, 2004, Chuck O'Donnell, "Closeout (Sale) of a Career: Flashback: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Bows Out," pp. 16-17.
Booklist, May 1, 2004, review of Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes, p. 1538.
Brandweek, February 7, 2005, Kenneth Hein, "Del Taco Hooks Newton, Abdul-Jabbar for Fish Tale," p. 15.
Ebony, April, 1988, "Basketball Millionaires," p. 124; August, 2004, "Topshelf," p. 30.
Entertainment Weekly, May 7, 2005, Raymond Fiore, review of Brothers in Arms, p. 92.
Essence, December, 2004, Douglas Danoff, "Books He'll Love," p. 133.
Jet, July 8, 1991, "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Stretches Out with Yoga," p. 15; August 5, 1991, "Abdul-Jabbar Leads Goodwill Squad on Saudi Arabian Tour," p. 48; March 3, 2003, "Abdul-Jabbar New CBS Analyst for NCAA Tournament," p. 49; May 2, 2005, "L.A. Lakers Honor 1985 Championship Team," pp. 46-47.
Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of Brothers in Arms, p. 253.
Kliatt, September, 2004, Nancy Chaplin, review of Brothers in Arms, pp. 67-68.
Library Bookwatch, September, 2004, review of Brothers in Arms.
Library Journal, May 15, 2004, review of Brothers in Arms, pp. 97-98.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 27, 1983, Mary Pjerrou Huckaby, review of Giant Steps, pp. 1, 6.
Maclean's, May 22, 1989, "A Fitting Farewell: NBA's All-Time Highest Scorer Retires," p. 51.
New York Times Book Review, January 29, 1984, William C. Rhoden, review of Giant Steps, p. 23; March 25, 1990, George Plimpton, review of Kareem, p. 9.
Officer, January-February, 2005, Michael James, review of Brothers in Arms, pp. 52-53.
People, May 17, 2004, Neil Graves, review of Brothers in Arms, p. 49.
Playboy, June, 1986, interview with Abdul-Jabbar, pp. 55-68.
Publishers Weekly, April 12, 2004, review of Brothers in Arms, pp. 54-55.
Rolling Stone, April 10, 1986, "Basketball Star to Head Jazz Label: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Tries His Hand at a New Game," p. 17.
Sporting News, June 29, 1987, Mike Downey, "Does Anyone Really Appreciate Kareem," p. 7; February 8, 1988, "Jabbar Selected for His 17th All-Star Appearance," p. 27; July 3, 1989, Jan Hubbard, "Kareem Leaves a Large Void," p. 40.
Sports Illustrated, December 26, 1983, Bruce Newman, review of Giant Steps, p. 6; February 12, 1990, Richard Hoffer, "Shaping a New Existence: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Relishes the Time He Has for Pursuits Like Yoga," p. 34; March 26, 1990, Steve Rushin, "Kareem," p. 6; March 10, 2003, Richard Deitsch, "Q&A Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," p. 26; May 24, 2004, Melissa Segura, "Tales of the 761st: An NBA Hall of Famer Chronicles a Groundbreaking WWII Army Unit," p. Z7; May 31, 2004, "Alltime Best: For New York's Top 50 Homegrown Sports Figures, Go to SI.com/50," p. 39.
Time, February 20, 1989, "An Ominous Giant's Farewell: The Great—Sometimes Grating—Abdul-Jabbar Nears the Finish," p. 82; May 24, 2004, Sean Gregory, "10 Questions for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar," p. 8.
United Press International, March 5, 2004, "Kareem Joins Knicks Basketball Ops Staff"; May 6, 2004, Alicia P. Stern, "Abdul-Jabbar's Brothers in Arms.
Washington Post, March 28, 1990, Jonathan Yardley, review of Kareem.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Home Page, http://kareem33.com (September 6, 2005).