Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem 1947–
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 1947–
Professional basketball player, author, actor
Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the premier basketball center of the 1970s and 1980s and one of the National Basketball Association’s preeminent “big men.” The seven-foot-one-inch center won three collegiate championships with the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Bruins and six professional championships with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. When Jabbar left the league after the 1989-90 season, he was the NBA’s all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points and had blocked 3,189 shots—also a league high. Abdul-Jabbar was named the league’s most valuable player a record six times.
Until quite late in his career, Abdul-Jabbar played with an intensity that made him seem distant and sometimes angry. That intensity came first from his desire not to appear awkward, then from his commitment to racial justice, which he symbolized by changing his name from Lew Alcindor. Even more dramatic Abdul-Jabbar boycotted the Olympics to protest the treatment of blacks.
Throughout his long professional career, beginning in 1969, Abdul-Jabbar was driven to succeed; he became known in the league for his self-discipline and hard work. He spent six difficult years in Milwaukee, winning one championship, before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975. In Los Angeles Abdul-Jabbar achieved superstar status and, along with Earvin “Magic” Johnson, led the team to five championships in the 1980s. Abdul-Jabbar finally appeared to enjoy his success during his farewell season in 1989-90, laughing and joking as he was greeted with accolades around the league. Eventually he chronicled his life in two autobiographies, Giant Steps and Kareem.
Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor in Harlem on April 16, 1947. The baby of Cora and Ferdinand Lewis “AT” Alcindor, who were both over six-feet tall, weighed 13 pounds. Cora was outspoken and over-protective, and Al was a strong and silent transit police officer whose entertaining personality emerged when he played the trombone. When Lew, as the baby was known, turned three, his family moved to the new Dyckman Street projects in the middle-class Inwood section of Manhattan.
At a Glance…
Born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, April 16, 1947, in New York, NY; name legally changed to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971; son of Ferdinand Lewis (a transit police officer) and Cora Alcindor; married Janice (name changed to Habiba) Brown, 1971 (divorced, 1973); children: Habiba, Sultana, Kareem, Amir. Education: University of California, B.A., 1969. Religion: Islam.
Professional basketball player, 1969-89; member of Milwaukee Bucks basketball team, 1969-75; member of Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, 1975-89. Founder of Cranberry Records, a jazz label. Author, with Peter Knobler, of Giant Steps: An Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-labbar, Bantam Books, 1983, and, with Mignon McCarthy, of Kareem, Random House, 1990.
Selected awards: NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player, 1967, 1968, 1969; NBA Rookie of the Year, 1970; NBA Most Valuable Player 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980; NBA All-Star Team 19 times; NBA Play-off Most Valuable Player, 1971, 1985.
Addresses: Home —Bel Aire, California; Hawaii. Office— c/o ESPN, ESPN Plaza, Bristol, CT O6010.
Lew was known as a sweet boy, and he was hardly aware of differences in race and nationality as he attended St. Jude’s, a neighborhood Catholic school. “As a kid, I played with anyone who was around,” he wrote in Giant Steps. “We had English neighbors, and Scandinavians, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, gypsies.” He knew he was taller than all the other kids, but he didn’t notice the color of his classmates’ skin until someone took a class picture in the third grade. “I looked at the grainy black and white photo in my hand,” he wrote in Giant Steps, “[and] I thought, ‘Damn I’m dark and everybody else is light!’”
In the fourth grade, Lew got his first taste of brutality. His parents sent him to an all-black boarding school in Pennsylvania, where his classmates taunted him for his good marks and beat him repeatedly. Lew returned to St. Jude’s for the fifth grade, where Coach Hopkins chose Lew, then clumsy but already six-feet tall, for the basketball team. Hopkins made basketball fun when it could have been embarrassing. “My awkwardness could have become a trademark,” he later wrote in Giant Steps. “He gave me a confidence well beyond my abilities just by letting me know that, no matter if I could dribble a ball or read one work, he was going to care about me.”
Able to dunk the ball by the eighth grade, Lew had become a sensation in local basketball circles. He led St. Jude’s to second place amongst the Catholic schools league and was offered scholarships to numerous prep schools. He selected Power Memorial Academy, an all-boys Catholic school whose coach, Jack Donohue, talked to his players and took them to professional games. Donohue motivated his players by appealing to their pride and exploiting their fear of humiliation, tactics that worked well with Alcindor. He put Lew on the varsity during his freshman year and encouraged him to emulate Bill Russell, the great Boston Celtics center.
In Lew’s first year at Power, the team won all but six games. In his sophomore, junior, and senior years, Power lost just one game and won three straight Catholic league championships. Lew was named a high school All-American for three straight years and was the most publicized high school basketball player in the United States. But Lew’s life wasn’t just basketball. He shyly began to discover girls, found new friends, and became the “good kid” in an adventurous crowd. Expanding his horizons, he hung out with pro-basketball star Wilt Chamberlain, discovered jazz, and found that jazz heros like Thelonius Monk had jammed with his father.
As a black growing up in the early 1960s, Alcindor could not help but be aware of racism. Irish kids yelled “nigger” at him when he rode past their school. He saw “Whites Only” signs as he traveled to North Carolina for a friend’s graduation. He remembered in Giant Steps that even Coach Donohue told him he was “acting just like a nigger,” when he failed to hustle. Prejudice against blacks made Lew Alcindor both proud and angry. He began exploring black literature and writing articles on black history. When Harlem erupted in riots after a white policeman shot a black student, he felt the anger. That event occurred during the summer before his senior year. “Right then and there I knew who I was and who I had to be,” he wrote in Kareem. “I was going to be black rage personified, black power in the flesh.”
Alcindor accepted a scholarship from UCLA and began school in autumn of 1965. He studied English literature, played on the freshman basketball team, and read black literature. During that first season, Alcindor worked on his conditioning and his rebounding. At one point he led the freshman team to a 75-60 win over the varsity, which had won the national championship in two of the last three years. Alcindor’s freshman team finished the season undefeated, and he set school records for scoring and rebounding.
In his second year, Alcindor joined the varsity and began working with coaching legend John Wooden. Wooden emphasized the importance of conditioning and impressed Alcindor with his integrity, his honesty, his concern for academics, and his absolute command of basketball strategy. As a result, Alcindor dominated college ball his sophomore year, averaging 29 points a game, leading the Bruins to an undefeated season. UCLA waltzed through the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament and won the championship against the University of Dayton. Dayton coach Don Donaher acknowledged in the New York World Journal Tribune that Alcindor’s mere “presence is a great psychological hazard. The whole team has to worry about whether they’re near him or not.” In fact, Alcindor’s dunk was so potent that the NCAA outlawed the shot.
As a junior, Alcindor worked at developing a hook shot and a jumper while still averaging 26.2 points per game. He got scratched in the eye at mid-season, however, and played poorly in the Bruins’ only regular season loss, suffered against the University of Houston. At the two teams’ next match-up, this one during tournament play, Alcindor silenced University of Houston star Elvin Hayes in the semifinals before taking the championship against North Carolina. Senior year was much the same with Alcindor delivering the Bruins to a third straight title; he was honored as the NCAA Tournament’s most outstanding player for the third year in a row. Though Alcindor persistently protested that UCLA was not a one-man team, Sports Illustrated s Frank Deford wrote that “Alcindor’s influence is so pervasive that it is difficult to determine how good his teammates really are.” St. John’s University coach Lou Carnesecca commented that “Alcindor has completely changed the aspect of the game. I saw great players actually afraid to shoot.”
Alcindor was the first draft pick of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, and his presence quickly turned professional basketball’s doormat into a contender. Averaging 28.8 points a game his rookie season, he led the Bucks to a 56-26 record, a startling reversal from the previous year’s dismal 27-55 record. The Bucks lost to the Knicks in the playoffs, but the fans cheered Alcindor, and Bucks announcer Eddie Doucette dubbed his potent hook shot “the skyhook.” 15 years later Sports Illustrated wrote that no shot had, “ever been more dependable or unstoppable, [or] less vulnerable to time.”
Before the 1970-71 season, Milwaukee obtained point guard Oscar Robertson, a perennial all-star and the man Abdul-Jabbar later called “the best all-around player in the history of basketball.” With Robertson, Milwaukee defeated the Baltimore Bullets for the 1971 NBA championship, and their star center was named the NBA’s most valuable player and the playoff MVP.
Meanwhile Alcindor was coming to a turning point in his faith, prompted by his experiences with racial discrimination and bigotry. Lew had refused to join the 1968 Olympic team because he felt blacks should not represent a country that denies them their full rights. Instead, he returned to New York City and studied Islam with Hamaas Abdul-Khaalis, a man who would have a profound influence on his life. “Hamaas taught me how to look at the world,” he wrote in Giant Steps. “He taught me to deal with people not as parts of some blanket abstraction like Jews or Blacks or crackers [a derogatory term for poor Southern whites], but as individuals with their own ideas.” Under Abdul-Khaalis’s direction, Alcindor converted to Islam, and in 1971, took the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means “generous powerful servant of Allah.” He had never developed a rapport with the press, which portrayed him as a brooding big man; Abdul-Jabbar’s conversion widened an already strained distance between him and the public.
In the early 1970s, Abdul-Jabbar was master of the basketball court, but he had ceded control of his personal life to his Muslim teacher. He studied under Abdul-Khaalis, allowed Abdul-Khaalis to choose his wife, Habiba—a woman Abdul-Jabbar knew but did not love—and financed Abdul-Khaalis’s Muslim community in Washington, D.C. Abdul-Jabbar’s relationship with Abdul-Khaalis brought conflict and, ultimately, grief. After Abdul-Jabbar studied Arabic at Harvard in 1971, he questioned his teacher’s pronouncements. Bad feelings arose when Abdul-Khaalis excluded Abdul-Jabbar’s non-Muslim parents from his marriage ceremony, and the marriage itself became a sore spot when Abdul-Jabbar and Habiba separated after the birth of their first daughter.
Abdul-Jabbar’s relationship with Abdul-Khaalis led to what was perhaps the shock of his life. Abdul-Khaalis had been trying to convert black Muslims to traditional Islam. In retaliation, on January 18, 1973, black Muslim extremists invaded Abdul-Khaalis’s townhouse and killed his wife and children. As Abdul-Khaalis’s student and the owner of the building where Abdul-Khaalis lived, Abdul-Jabbar needed added security for the remainder of that year.
With so much personal turmoil, basketball became a kind of refuge. The Bucks returned to the finals in the 1973-74 season, but lost to the Boston Celtics in a hard-fought seven-game series. After a disastrous 1974-75 season—Robertson retired and Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand on a backboard support after being scratched in the eye—Abdul-Jabbar, who had long felt out of place in conservative Milwaukee, asked to be traded. That June he was sent to the Lakers for Junior Bridgeman, Dave Meyers, Brian Winters, and Elmore Smith.
In college, Abdul-Jabbar had found Los Angeles shallow and conservative. Now he liked it. He mixed with celebrities, made television commercials, and acted in movies such as Airplane and Enter the Dragon, with Bruce Lee. He began seeing Cheryl Pistino—a woman who reminded him how much he had to offer. He reestablished relations with his parents; whenever he appeared on television he exclaimed, “Hi to Moms and Pops in New York!” He even began appreciating his fans.
Throughout the late 1970s, the Lakers were one of the premier 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. Abdul-Jabbar was mired in several controversies during these years. On the court, Abdul-Jabbar’s long simmering resentment against bullying boiled into a rage, and he decked Milwaukee center Kent Benson after Benson elbowed him in the stomach. Abdul-Jabbar broke his own hand in the incident and the league later fined him $5,000. Off the court, his dealings with Abdul-Khaalis remained a problem, too. On March 9, 1977, Abdul-Khaalis and several associates invaded Washington’s city hall to protest the film Muhammad Messenger of God. During the occupation, a reporter was killed. Abdul-Khaalis was tried and sentenced to 40 years in prison. Abdul-Jabbar paid the legal bills.
In 1979, the Lakers drafted Earvin “Magic” Johnson out of Michigan State University. “After my first day in practice with him,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in Giant Steps, “I was sure that with Earvin at point guard we could go a long way, maybe all the way.” Abdul-Jabbar was right: with Magic’s help, the Lakers finished first in their division, waltzed through the playoffs, and faced Philadelphia in the finals. Abdul-Jabbar played brilliantly in the series, but in the fifth game, he fractured his foot while coming down for a rebound. Wanting the title badly, he got taped, returned to the floor in pain, and scored an incredible 40 points. In the sixth game, the Lakers won the 1980 NBA title, but Abdul-Jabbar had to watch it on television. The Lakers swept to the title again in 1982.
On January 31, 1983, Abdul-Jabbar’s Bel Aire house caught fire and burned to the ground, consuming a collection of valuable oriental rugs, 3,000 jazz albums, and several priceless Korans, or Islamic holy books. Fortunately Abdul-Jabbar, Cheryl Pistino, and their son Amir escaped unhurt. The blow was tremendous, but he found solace in Islam, in his family, and in the fans and friends who sent jazz albums to replace the ones he lost.
Both Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers continued meeting with success in the 1980s. Abdul-Jabbar published his best-selling autobiography, Giant Steps, in 1983, and a year later he broke Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time scoring record of 31,419 points. The Lakers went to the NBA finals in 1983 and 1984, losing first to the Philadelphia 76ers and later to the Boston Celtics. The Lakers and the Celtics met again in 1985, and this time the Lakers found a way to beat the Celtics. Abdul-Jabbar was magnificent. “He shocked the Boston Celtics and the cynics by playing five of the most intense games of his life, capturing his fourth championship trophy and his second playoff MVP award,” a Sports Illustrated writer reported.
In Kareem, his 1990 record of his final year in basketball, Abdul-Jabbar wrote that the victory over Boston made the Lakers “great,” and indeed they were. They won the finals again in 1987 and 1988, beating Boston and then the Detroit Pistons to become the first team to repeat since Bill Russell retired from the Celtics in 1969. The Lakers truly were the team of the 1980s, having won the championship five times in the decade.
Abdul-Jabbar finished his NBA career during the 1988-89 season. As he traveled around the league, in what one newspaper described as “the magical history tour,” fans cheered and teams gave him presents. Though his own play was sub par, the Lakers swept through the playoffs before losing 4-0 to Detroit in the finals. When he retired at 42, Abdul-Jabbar was the oldest player ever to play in the league and the record-holder in points (38,387), seasons (20), games (1,560), minutes played (57,446), field goals made (15,837), field goals attempted (28,307), and blocked shots (3,189). Though he is considered one of the best players to ever play the game, Abdul-Jabbar told Playboy in 1986: “I’ve played professional basketball longer than anyone else…. I just hope that in remembering me, people will acknowledge my professionalism and consistency.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s has been an active retirement. His second autobiographical work, Kareem, which uses his final season as a springboard for memories and insights about the game, was very well received. Washington Post reviewer Jonathan Yardley deemed Kareem “the best book by a sports figure in many years,” and Sports Illustrated contributor Steve Rushin noted that “Abdul-Jabbar is offering that rarity among sports autobiographies—an unvarnished opinion.” Abdul-Jabbar did not leave basketball behind entirely upon retirement, spearheading an exhibition team on a tour of Saudi Arabia in 1991, and playing in a pay-per-view, one-on-one basketball match in 1992 against fellow former NBA great Julius “Dr. J” Erving. There may be another Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing professional basketball in the future, however; the star center’s namesake son stars on the Brentwood, California, high school basketball team and dreams of one day making it to the NBA.
In addition to his involvement in basketball, Abdul-Jabbar remains active in television and motion pictures. Having played bit parts in several television shows—Mannix, Different Strokes, 21 Jump Street —and movies—Game of Death, Airplane, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, Fletch —during his basketball career, Abdul-Jabbar also appeared in The Stand, a 1994 miniseries based on the book by novelist Stephen King. Behind the camera, Abdul-Jabbar has worked as executive-producer for a made-for-TV movie about civil rights pioneer Vernon Johns, and has been involved in developing a motion picture about the Negro baseball leagues and a television movie about an all-black unit serving in World War II. Abdul-Jabbar also presides over Cranberry Records, a record label that encourages the work of young jazz artists. Perhaps his most gratifying and well-deserved moment following his retirement, however, came in 1994, when he was honored by President Clinton as one of “The Great Ones” in the first National Sports Awards, joining Arnold Palmer, Muhammad Ali, Wilma Rudolph, and Ted Williams.
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, and Peter Knobler, Giant Steps: An Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bantam Books, 1983.
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, with Mignon McCarthy, Kareem, Random House, 1990.
Doucette, Eddie, The Milwaukee Bucks and the Remarkable Abdul-Jabbar, Prentice-Hall, 1974.
Hano, Arnold, Kareem!: Basketball Great, Putnam, 1975.
Haskins, James, From Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lothrop, 1978.
Jackson, H. C., Jabbar: Giant of the NBA, Walck, 1972.
Margolies, Jacob, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Basketball Great, F. Watts, 1992.
May, Julian, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Cage Superstar, Crestwood, 1973.
Pepe, Phil, Stand Tall: The Lew Alcindor Story, Grosset & Dunlap, 1970.
Ebony, August 1991.
Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1994.
Playboy, June 1986, pp. 55-68.
Rolling Stone, April 10, 1986, p. 17.
Sporting News, May 1, 1989, p. 6; July 3, 1989, p. 40.
Sports Illustrated, April 3, 1967; December 23-30, 1985, p. 78; October 19, 1987, p. 89; January 23, 1989, p. 31; February 12, 1990, p. 34; March 26, 1990, p. 8; February 10, 1992, p. 42.
Washington Post, March 28, 1990; June 21, 1993.
World Journal Tribune (New York), March 27, 1967.
American basketball player
More than a decade after his retirement, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at 7-feet-2-inches tall remains one of the tallest men ever to play professional basketball. Despite his 267-pound frame, he was never awkward and was known in fact for his grace and flexibility—a rare talent among very large men. Powerful yet smooth in his playing style, he left his mark on the game with his signature shot, the skyhook. Goggle-eyed, but never gawky, he led two teams—the Bucks and later the Lakers—to a total of six championship titles, taking six most valuable player (MVP) awards in the process. With 38,387 career points, Jabbar retired as the all-time leading scorer in the history of professional basketball. Highly religious and introspective, he is remembered not only for his outstanding performance as a player but also for his politically aware persona. While many professional athletes go to great lengths to maintain their personal privacy, few have created an aura of inner depth as has been achieved by Jabbar.
Childhood of a Big Man
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. on April 16, 1947, in New York City, the only child of Lewis Sr. and Cora Alcindor. As a child and as a young man Jabbar went by the name of Lew Alcindor. Jabbar was 22" inches long at birth, and even as a very young boy he seemed to be following in the much larger footsteps of his forefathers. His grandfather, a native of Trinidad, was 6-feet-8-inches tall. Lewis Sr., at 6-feet-2-inches tall, went by the nickname "Big Al." Even Jabbar's mother, who was of Cherokee descent, was herself 5-feet-11-inches tall.
Lewis Sr., a Julliard-trained symphony conductor, supplemented the family income as a bill collector and worked also for the New York Transit Authority Police. Jabbar was born in Harlem where the family lived at 111th Street and Seventh Avenue. They later moved to Inwood, a diverse section of Manhattan. Jabbar was
raised in the Catholic Church and attended parochial schools. In grade school he was one of only two African American students enrolled at St. Jude's Elementary. Outside of school he spent his time with his friends, shooting baskets at a playground called the Battlegrounds at Amsterdam and 151st street.
In the fourth grade Jabbar transferred to Holy Providence Boarding School in Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania, where the student population numbered 40 boys, all of whom were African American. It was a motley crowd at Holy Providence, which was mainly a reform school. Jabbar, who was an honor student, hardly fit with the crowd, and when he completed the school year his parents brought him back to New York City.
The year at Holy Providence was not a total loss, however, because recess periods and free time there were spent in playing peach-basket basketball. He developed new skills during his year in Pennsylvania, and four years later when he finished eighth grade he was well-honed in the sport. What is more, he stood a most impressive 6-feet-8 inches tall by that time. Not surprisingly he was widely recruited by high school basketball coaches.
On scholarship at Power Memorial High School from 1962-66, he played with the varsity team for four years. Under the direction of coach Jack Donahue Jabbar led his team to a 78-1 record and two national championships. He lettered and made the all-city team for each of his four years of high school, and set a New York City record for the most points scored by a high school player. He set a record also for the most rebounds.
Although a war raged in Vietnam and a draft was in force for U.S. males, Jabbar received a 4-F status from the draft board because he was far too tall for the military to accommodate. With his choice of college scholarships available he accepted an offer to play for Coach John Wooden 's Bruins at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). While still on the freshman team, in 1966 Jabbar immediately attracted a great deal of attention by averaging 33 points per game and leading the team to an undefeated season with a record of 21-0. As a sophomore he was offered a lifetime contract with the Harlem Globetrotters a professional exhibition team—but turned it down.
On the UCLA varsity squad Jabbar brought the school to three consecutive national championships, from 1967 until he graduated in 1969. He was named College Player of the Year in 1967 and again in 1969. Jabbar's unusual height advantage caused the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) to institute a ten-year ban on the dunk shot in college basketball, beginning with Jabbar's junior year at UCLA. Not to be quashed, Jabbar perfected a variety of the dunk, a new straight-armed shot called the skyhook, which became his signature shot for the duration of his career.
While in college during the 1960s, Jabbar's interest in humanity and in his own spirituality matured along with his basketball skills. It was a time of social change and sometimes of civil unrest, when African Americans in the United States spoke out and demanded proper equality. In 1968 many African American athletes refused to participate in the Olympic games in Mexico City as a way of protesting for civil rights. Jabbar, searching for peace of soul, turned to the Islamic religion of the Middle East. Around that same time He took part in a ceremony called Shahada by which he adopted an Islamic name, calling himself Kareem. He spent the summer of 1968 working with a youth program in Harlem, and at the end of the season he embraced Islam one step further by adopting Jabbar as his surname.
|1947||Born in New York City on April 16|
|1966||Leads UCLA freshman team to a 21-0 record, averages 33 points per game|
|1967||Leads UCLA varsity to NCAA championship|
|1968||Leads UCLA to a back-to-back NCAA titles; converts from Catholic to Muslim|
|1969||Leads UCLA to a third straight NCAA title; drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks as the first pick in the first round of the NBA draft|
|1969-70||Leads Bucks to a 29 victory increase from previous season|
|1970-71||Leads Bucks to NBA championship; marries Janice "Habiba" Brown; makes legal name change to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar|
|1972||Studies Arabic at Harvard; a daughter, Habiba, is born|
|1973||Separates from wife Habiba in December|
|1975||Goes to the Los Angeles Lakers in a trade for four players|
|1976||A son, Kareem, is born|
|1977||Leads Lakers to a league-best 53-29 record; divorces Habiba|
|1978||Becomes the captain of the Lakers|
|1979||A daughter, Sultana, is born|
|1980||Leads Lakers to NBA championship|
|1982||Leads Lakers to NBA championship|
|1983||Averages 27 points per game for playoffs; loses Bel-Air home in a fire|
|1985||Leads Lakers to championship; publishes Giant Steps, an autobiography|
|1986||Signs one-year contract extension for unprecedented 18th season; surpasses 35,000-point milestone|
|1987||Scores 32 points in the deciding game of the NBA finals; Lakers take the championship|
|1988||Leads Lakers to a repeat championship|
|1989||Retires from professional play leaving nine NBA records: 38,387 points scored, 20 seasons played, 5,762 playoff points, 6 MVP awards, 57,446 minutes played, 1,560 games played, 15,837 field goals made, 28,307 field goal attempts, and 3,189 blocked shots|
|1990||Publishes a memoir, Kareem; Lakers retire Jabbar's jersey, Number 33.|
|1996||Publishes Black Profiles in Courage|
|2000||Works at the White Mountain Apache reservation and documents the experience in Season on the reservation : my sojourn with the White Mountain Apache|
|2000-01||Coaches for NBA|
|2002||Coaches for the USBL|
Abdul-Jabbar's personal life remained unsettled during and after his Los Angeles playing years. He was always uncomfortable with reporters, describing them as "scurrying around like cockroaches after crumbs." Fans, especially white, found it difficult to understand his conversion to Islam; his attitudes towards race; and his shy, introverted personality. Abdul-Jabbar's Islamic faith also estranged him from his parents, although they eventually reconciled.
Source: "Kareem Abdul-Jabbar." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. 5 vols. St. James Press, 2000.
Jabbar's journey of personal growth followed other avenues as well after he made the acquaintance of the late actor Bruce Lee who was also a renowned marital arts experts. Jabbar met Lee through a studio called the New York Akikai. Beginning in 1967 Jabbar began to train with Lee, and the two worked together until Lee's untimely death in 1973. The two had also started shooting a movie, called Game of Death, but the shooting was suspended when Lee died. Jabbar's life was enriched in many ways by his association with Lee, both spiritually and professionally. The speed and flexibility that he developed in working with such a masterful martial artist went a long way in expanding the impact of Jabbar's game skills.
Professional Big Man
After a winning college career at UCLA with only one loss to mar his record, Jabbar signed in 1969 with the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks was a one-year-old expansion team with a losing season to its credit. Jabbar would have preferred to go to New York to play with the Knicks, but Milwaukee had first pick in the draft that year, and Milwaukee picked Jabbar. There was a another professional team in New York at that time, called the Nets. The Nets, a part of the American Basketball Association, offered Jabbar a contract, but he turned it down because the Bucks offered him much more money.
According to Jabbar, his first season with the National Basketball Association (NBA) was bittersweet. He enjoyed playing ball and excelled as a defensive player. Equally skilled on offense, he averaged about 29 points per game at center and was named Rookie of the Year. The Bucks finished second in the division and went to the playoffs that season. Overall, they realized an increase of 29 victories over the previous season.
The 1970-71 NBA season for Jabbar was more exciting than even his rookie year. He topped the list of scorers in the NBA and was named MVP of the NBA. Milwaukee went into the playoffs and then to the finals where they won the league championship.
The 1971-72 season for Jabbar was an instant replay of the previous year, as he led the league in scoring and collected a second MVP award. At the end of the 1972-73 season the Bucks made NBA history when they emerged with more than 60 wins for the third time since the 1970-71 season. It was the first time that an NBA team had won so many games for three years in a row.
Amid the newness and excitement of joining the NBA, Jabbar learned very quickly that the reporters had few good things to say about celebrities who kept to themselves. Although he liked to be a loner, Jabbar learned quickly that some reporters were pushy and rude and posed an unpleasant annoyance for professional athletes. Another new experience for Jabbar was the way the officials in the league seemed to tolerate players who poked and jabbed him just because of his great size. Some players even gouged his eyes while game officials looked the other way. In order to protect himself Jabbar began to wear goggles on the court. The glasses quickly became a part of the big man's image.
The Los Angeles Lakers
Jabbar, who won a third MVP award in 1974, asked to be traded after the 1974-75 season. The Bucks honored his request and traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in return for four players in 1975. After six seasons with the Bucks, he was entering the peak of his career as he made the move to Los Angeles. He recorded his highest statistics ever during the 1975-76 season and won a fourth MVP award with the Lakers in 1976. He made history as the first Lakers player ever to be honored as MVP, and in 1976-77 he walked away with a fifth MVP award.
|LAL: Los Angeles Lakers; MIL: Milwaukee Brewers.|
Although the Lakers had a 53-29 record that year—the best in the league—the team failed to win the conference title. The 1979-80 season brought a new team owner, Dr. Jerry Buss, to the Lakers. Jabbar re-negotiated his contract to a generous advantage. A new player, a phenomenal 20-year-old rookie named Magic Johnson , joined the Lakers that year. The Lakers won the championship, and Jabbar won a record-breaking sixth MVP award.
As the Lakers collected more championships—in 1982, 1985, and 1987—the team in 1988 became the first in nearly 20 years to win back-to-back NBA championships. In 1989, after 20 seasons of professional play, Jabbar retired from the NBA. The Lakers retired his jersey, Number 33, in 1990. Likewise, the Bucks retired his jersey.
Soon after the Bucks won the NBA championship in 1971, Jabbar donned the white robes of a Muslim groom for his wedding to Janice Brown. In recognition of her new life with Jabbar, Brown adopted the Muslim name Habiba. Jabbar, who was known professionally as Lew Alcindor during his first two seasons with the Bucks, changed his name legally to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at that time.
The ceremony, which took place in Washington, D.C, was held at dawn, according to Muslim custom. When mosque officials refused to allow Jabbar's parents to wit ness
the ceremony because of their Catholic faith they were understandably offended. They had traveled all the way from New York to see their only child get married, and the incident caused a serious rift between the Alcindors and their son. Jabbar felt badly; he had not been told until after the ceremony that his parents were barred from entering the mosque. The rift between him and his parents was slow to heal, and nearly ten years passed before he made amends with his family. After that time Jabbar always made sure to point to the camera and say, "Hi to Moms and Pops in New York," whenever he appeared on national television. His marriage to Habiba, however, did not fare as well, and the couple was divorced in 1977.
Jabbar spent the summer of 1972 at Harvard studying the Arabic language, and that year Habiba gave birth to the couple's first child, a daughter also named Habiba. Jabbar, who was raised as an only child, had difficulty conforming his life to accommodate a significant other person and a child. The union between Jabbar and his wife had weakened early in the marriage. He and Habiba separated permanently in December of 1973.
Awards and Accomplishments
|1962-66||Sets a record for most points (2,067) and most rebounds (2,002) by a high school player in New York City|
|1966||Receives a New York State Regents' scholarship; accepts a scholarship to UCLA|
|1967-69||Named to first team, All-America; named most outstanding player, National College Athletic Association tournament|
|1967, 1969||Named college player of the year by Sporting News, United Press International, Associated Press, and U.S. Basketball Writers Association; named national player of the year|
|1969||Received Naismith Award; graduated as the leading scorer in the history of University of California at Los Angeles|
|1970||Named National Basketball Association Rookie of the Year|
|1970-77, 1979-89||Played in National Basketball Association All-Star Games|
|1971-72||Led National Basketball Association in scoring|
|1971-72, 1974, 1976-77, 1980||Named league's most valuable player|
|1971, 1985||Named most valuable player of National Basketball Association playoffs|
|1971-77, 1980-81, 1984, 1986,||Named to All-NBA First Team|
|1974-75, 1979-81||Named to All-Defensive First Team|
|1975-76, 1979-80||Led National Basketball Association in blocked shots|
|1976||Led National Basketball Association in rebounds|
|1980||Named to the National Basketball Association thirty-fifth anniversary all-time team|
|1984||Broke Wilt Chamberlain's career scoring record of 31,419 points; broke Jerry West's all-time playoff scoring record|
|1985||Named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year|
|1989||Retired with National Basketball Association career records for most minutes (57,446), most points (38,387), most field goals, and first player to play for 20 seasons|
|1996||Named to the National Basketball Association fiftieth anniversary all-time team|
|1995||Enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 15|
Separation notwithstanding, Jabbar and his wife remained close with one another. Their son, Kareem, was born in 1976. In 1977, the year of Jabbar's divorce, he met Cheryl Pistono, and she later gave birth to their son Amir. A second daughter, Sultana, was born to Jabbar and Habiba in 1979, two years after their divorce. A third son, Adam, was born to Jabbar and an unnamed woman.
Although Jabbar's luxurious Bel-Air home was destroyed by a fire early in 1983, he found his faith in Islam and took a philosophical approach. In December of the year he published an autobiography, Giant Steps, with Peter Knobler. Jabbar's later memoir, Kareem, was written with Mignon McCarthy and published in 1990. This book documents his final season with the NBA.
Between 1979 and 1998 Jabbar made ten film appearances. Most of them were as himself, including his roles in Fletch and Forget Paris. He served as the executive producer of The Vernon Johns Story, a made-for-television movie about a civil rights pioneer.
Where Is He Now?
After retiring from the NBA Jabbar took a ten-year hiatus from basketball, returning in 1999. Among his more visible projects during that time, in 1995 he researched and published a book, Black Profiles in Courage. In it he documented the stories of inspirational African Americans: Harriet Tubman of the Underground Railroad, a Moorish slave named Estevanico who discovered Arizona and New Mexico, and others. In the course of his research he spent time at the Fort Apache Indian Reservation near White River, Arizona. He returned to White River in 1999-2000 season to serve as an assistant coach, at Alchesay High School on the reservation. Jabbar accepted only one dollar in compensation for the five-month assignment. He documented the experience in 2000 in a book with Stephen Singular, called Season on the reservation: my sojourn with the White Mountain Apache.
Jabbar, who contributes color commentary to ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut, rejoined the NBA briefly as a coach with the Los Angeles Clippers in 2000. He coached a training session with the Indiana Pacers in 2001, and in 2002 joined the United States Basketball League as the head coach of the Oklahoma Storm. He led the Storm to its first league championship but resigned just a few days later without explanation. Observers suggested that he wished to return to coaching in the NBA.
Address: c/o Amsel Eisenstadt & Frazier, 5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 510, Los Angeles, CA 90046. Phone: (323) 939-1188.
SELECTED WRITINGS BY ABDUL-JABBAR:
(With Peter Knobler) Giant Steps, New York: Bantam Books, 1983.
(With Mignon McCarthy) Kareem, New York: Random House, 1990.
(With Alan Steinberg) Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African American Achievement, New York: William Morrow and Co., 1996.
(With Stephen Singular) Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apache, New York: W. Morrow and Co., 2000.
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, and Mignon McCarthy, Kareem, New York: Random House, 1990.
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, and Peter Knobler, Giant Steps, New York: Bantam Books, 1983.
Cobourn, R. Thomas, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Basketball Great, New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1995.
Jet, July 22, 2002, p. 51.
"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Biography," http://www.hoophall.com/halloffamers/Abdul-Jabbar.htm (January 7, 2003).
"stormmenu2," Oklahoma Storm, http://www.theoklahomastorm.com/index.htm (January 7, 2003).
Sketch by G. Cooksey
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem 1947–
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem 1947–
(Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Lewis Ferdinand Alcindor)
Original name, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr.; born April 16, 1947, in New York, NY; name legally changed in 1971; son of Ferdinand Lewis (a police officer and jazz musician) and Cora (a department store price checker) Alcindor; married Janice (name changed to Habiba) Brown, May 28, 1971 (divorced, 1978); children: Habiba, Sultana, Kareem (an actor); (with Cheryl Pistono) Amir; (with another woman) Adam. Education: University of California, Los Angeles, B.A., 1969. Religion: Hanafi Muslim. Avocational Interests: Wind surfing, jazz, yoga, collecting rugs, horseback riding.
Agent—Amsel, Eisenstadt, and Frazier, 5055 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 865, Los Angeles, CA 90036; Posh Voices, 4727 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 333, Los Angeles, CA 90010.
Actor and producer. Professional basketball player with Milwaukee Bucks, 1969-75, then Los Angeles Lakers, 1975-89; Los Angeles Clippers, assistant coach, 2000; Oklahoma Storm (U.S. Basketball League), coach, 2002; Los Angeles Lakers, special assistant coach, 2005—; also worked in various positions with the New York Knicks, Seattle Supersonics, and Indiana Pacers. Appeared as a commentator on ESPN; appeared in numerous television commercials, including Reebok, Edge Gel shaving lotion, Coors Light beer, Bravo television channel, TD Waterhouse brokerage firm, Wickes Furniture, Tostitos Scoops chips, and Twix candy bars; appeared in print ads for Kenwood automobile stereo systems and Team NFL apparel. Cranberry Records, president.
Most Valuable Player of Playoffs Award, National Collegiate Athletic Association, 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, 1989; NBA Most Valuable Player Award, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980; NBA Playoffs Most Valuable Player Award, 1971, 1985; NBA Player of the Year Award, The Sporting News, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1980; named to NBA Thirty-Fifth Anniversary All Star Team, 1980; Sportsman of the Year Award, Sports Illustrated, 1985; Jackie Robinson Award, 1985; inductee, NBA Hall of Fame, 1995; Lifetime Achievement Award, Jim Thorpe Awards, 1995; recipient of Maurice Podoloff Cup.
Himself, The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh, United Artists, 1979.
Roger Murdock, copilot, Airplane! (also known as Flying High and Flying High!), Paramount, 1980.
Purple People Eater, 1988.
Himself, Troop Beverly Hills, Columbia, 1989.
Himself, Curse of the Dragon (also known as Bruce Lee: Curse of the Dragon), Warner Bros., 1993.
Celebrity at party, D2: The Mighty Ducks (also known as The Mighty Ducks 2), Buena Vista, 1994.
Himself, Forget Paris, Columbia, 1995.
The archangel, Slam Dunk Ernest, Buena Vista Pictures, 1995.
Himself, BASEketball, Universal, 1998.
Himself, The Path of the Dragon, 1998.
Himself, Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey (also known as A Warrior's Journey), 2000.
Himself and Hakim, Bruce Lee in G.O.D.: Shiboteki yugi, 2000.
Himself, Bruce Lee: The Immortal Dragon (documentary), Stax Entertainment, 2002.
Hank, Whitepaddy, Big Six Film, 2006.
Himself, The Real: Rucker Park Legends (documentary), Image Entertainment, 2006.
Himself, Fathers of the Sport (documentary), Terra Entertainment, 2007.
Television Appearances; Miniseries:
Monster shouter, Stephen King's "The Stand" (also known as The Stand), ABC, 1994.
Television Appearances; Movies:
Shooting Stars, 1983.
New tenant in Sal's apartment, Jake Spanner, Private Eye (also known as Jake Spanner, Back on the Case, The Old Dick, and Hoodwinked), USA Network, 1989.
Himself, A Night to Die For, 1995.
Himself, Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault (also known as Rebound), HBO, 1996.
Television Appearances; Specials:
Cavalcade of Champions, 1973.
Himself, "The Hero Who Couldn't Read," ABC Afterschool Special, ABC, 1984.
Olympic Gala, 1984.
Rock 'n' Wrestling Saturday Spectacular, CBS, 1985.
Black Champions (also known as Who Will Wear the Crown?, New Times: The Integration of American Sports, and Looking for Tomorrow: Black Athletes and the Sporting Life), PBS, 1986.
The 7th Annual Black Achievement Awards, 1986.
A Star-Spangled Celebration, ABC, 1987.
The Second Annual Star-Spangled Celebration, ABC, 1988.
Superstars and Their Moms, ABC, 1988.
21st NAACP Image Awards, NBC, 1989.
All-Star Tribute to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBC, 1989.
Himself, "Malcolm Takes a Shot," CBS Schoolbreak Specials, CBS, 1990.
Cohost, History of the NBA, HBO, 1990.
Eyes on the Prize II, 1990.
The Sports Comedy Network, CBS, 1990.
Face to Face with Connie Chung, ABC, 1991.
New Kids on the Block at Walt Disney World (also known as New Kids on the Block at Disney-MGM Studios: Wildest Dreams), ABC, 1991.
Honoree, The Great Ones: The National Sports Awards, NBC, 1993.
Presenter, Jim Thorpe Pro Sports Awards Presented by Footlocker, ABC, 1993.
The Rich and Famous 1993 World's Best, syndicated, 1993.
Special guest, Third Annual Rock N' Jock B-Ball Jam (also known as MTV's Third Annual Rock N' Jock B-Ball Jam), 1993.
A Salute to the Newport Jazz Festival, 1993.
American Coaches: Men of Vision and Victory, HBO, 1994.
Honoree, The Jim Thorpe Pro Sports Awards, ABC, 1995.
Idols of the Game, 1995.
Fields of Fire: Sports in the '60s, 1995.
The Journey of the African-American Athlete, 1996.
Nissan Presents a Celebration of America's Music, 1996.
NBA at 50, 1996.
Blue Note: A Story of Modern Jazz (also known as Blue Note), Bravo, 1996.
Presenter, The 68th Annual Academy Awards, ABC, 1996.
Bruce Lee: The Immortal Dragon, 1997.
Brandon Lee: The E! True Hollywood Story, E! Entertainment Television, 1997.
Presenter, The Sixth Annual Trumpet Awards, TBS, 1998.
Sports Illustrated's 20th Century Sports Awards, CBS, 1999.
The Great American History Quiz: Pursuit of Happiness, 2000.
Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year 2000, 2000.
John Wooden: Values, Victory and Peace of Mind, PBS, 2001.
Playboy's 50th Anniversary Celebration, Arts and Entertainment, 2003.
The 2003 Trumpet Awards, TBS, 2003.
Untitled David Diamond/David Weissman Project, 2005.
The 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, NBC, 2006.
Ali Rap, ESPN, 2006.
Generation Boom, TV Land, 2006.
Ali's 65, 2007.
Television Appearances; Episodic:
Jeff, "A Day Filled with Shadows," Mannix, CBS, 1971.
Man stuck in car, "Foreign Trade," Emergency! (also known as Emergencia and Emergency One), NBC, 1974.
The Giant, "Giant," Man from Atlantis, NBC, 1977.
Himself, "The January 1968 UCLA vs. University of Houston Basketball Game," The Way It Was, 1977.
Dinah! (also known as Dinah! & Friends), 1977.
Mr. Wilkes, "Substitute Teacher," Diff'rent Strokes, NBC, 1982.
The Djinn, "Djinn, No Chaser," Tales from the Darkside, syndicated, 1984.
Himself, "Too Old Too Soon, Too Smart Too Late," Pryor's Place, CBS, 1984.
Mr. Wilkes, "A Tale of Two Teachers," Diff'rent Strokes, ABC, 1985.
Pryor's Place, CBS, 1985.
"James Hill," An American Portrait, CBS, 1986.
"Ask Max," Disney Sunday Movie, ABC, 1986.
"Blood Money," Stingray, NBC, 1987.
"Special Games," Bustin' Loose, syndicated, 1987.
Oriental Rugs (also known as Art Underfoot), PBS, 1990.
Wesley Williams, "Hi Mom," 21 Jump Street, Fox, 1990.
Judge, Uncle Buck, 1991.
"Pros and Ex-Cons," Good Sports, 1991.
The Wiz, "The Deacon's Slam Dunk," Amen, 1991.
Blind man, "Shadows from the Past," Matrix, USA Network, 1993.
In Living Color, Fox, 1993.
"Bruce Lee," Biography, Arts and Entertainment, 1994.
Voice of himself, "A Day at the Races and a Night at the Opera," The Critic (animated), ABC, 1994.
Himself, "Will's Misery," The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, NBC, 1994.
Himself, "Air Jesse," Full House, ABC, 1995.
Voice of himself, "I Can't Believe It's a Clip Show," The Critic (animated), ABC, 1995.
Doctor, "Why Can't We Be Friends: Part 2," Martin, Fox, 1996.
Himself, "Frank, the Writer," Everybody Loves Raymond (also known as Raymond), CBS, 1996.
Himself, "Back in the Day," Living Single (also known as My Girls), Fox, 1997.
Himself, "The Occidental Purists," Boston Common, NBC, 1997.
Himself, "To Volunteer Is Human," The Gregory Hines Show, CBS, 1998.
Himself, "The Lees: Action Speaks Louder," Famous Families, Fox Family, 1999.
Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NBC, 2000.
The War Next Door, 2000.
"Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson," ESPN SportsCentury, ESPN, 2000.
The Time McCarver Show, 2002.
"John Wooden," ESPN SportsCentury, ESPN, 2003.
Host, The Drop, 2004.
Hollywood Squares (also known as H2 and H2: Hollywood Squares), syndicated, 2004.
The Daily Show (also known as Jon Stewart, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Global Edition), Comedy Central, 2004.
Dennis Miller, CNBC, 2004.
Tavis Smiley, PBS, 2004.
(Uncredited) Late Show with David Letterman (also known as The Late Show), CBS, 2004.
The Late Show with Craig Kilborn (also known as The Late Late Show), CBS, 2004.
"Shaquille O'Neal," ESPN SportsCentury, ESPN, 2004.
ESPN Hollywood, ESPN, 2005.
Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith, ESPN, 2006.
Himself, "My Cabbage," Scrubs, NBC, 2006.
"Kareem Abdul Jabbar," Stars on Stars, Fox Sports, 2007.
"The Best of Stars and Stars," Stars on Stars, Fox Sports, 2007.
Also appeared as himself, "The PSA Story," Buddies.
Television Co-Executive Producer; Movies:
The Road to Freedom: The Vernon Johns Story (also known as The Vernon Johns Story), syndicated, 1994.
Television Executive Producer; Specials:
All-Star Tribute to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBC, 1989.
NBA Awesome Endings (also known as Great Moments in the NBA: Awesome Endings), 1989.
(With Peter Knobler) Giant Steps: An Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bantam, 1983.
(With Mignon McCarthy) Kareem, Random House, 1990.
(With Steinburg) Black Profiles in Courage, 1996.
(With Stephen Singular) A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the Mountain Apaches, Morrow, 2000.
(With Anthony Walton) Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes, Broadway Books, 2004.
(With Raymond Obstfeld) On the Shoulders of Giants: My Personal Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, Simon & Schuster, 2007.
Contributor to periodicals, including TV Guide.
Doucette, Eddie, The Milwaukee Bucks and the Remarkable Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Prentice-Hall, 1974.
Contemporary Black Biography, Vol. 8, Gale Research, 1994.
Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed., Gale Research, 1998.
Hano, Arnold, Kareem!: Basketball Great, Putnam, 1975.
Haskins, James, From Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lothrop, 1978.
Jackson, H. C., Jabbar: Giant of the NBA, Walck, 1972.
Klein, Dave, Pro Basketball's Big Men, Random House, 1973.
Margolies, Jacob, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Basketball Great, F. Watts, 1973.
Notable Black American Men, Gale Research, 1998.
Pepe, Phil, Stand Tall: The Lew Alcindor Story, Grosset & Dunlap, 1970.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, St. James Press, 2000.
Family Circle, October 13, 1992, p. 164.
Jet, June 26, 1989, p. 46; October 9, 1989, p. 48; February 24, 1992, p. 52; February 16, 1998, p. 49; March 6, 2000, p. 53; August 7, 2000, p. 36.
People Weekly, October 28, 1996, p. 41; September 13, 1999, p. 11.
The Sporting News, February 28, 2000, p. 15.
Sports Illustrated, October 19, 1987, p. 89; November 17, 1997, p. 28; February 12, 1990, p. 34; November 30, 1998, p. 72.
Variety, August 22, 1990, p. 3.
(b. 16 April 1947 in New York City), Hall of Fame basketball player who was one of the most dominant centers in the sport's history.
Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis "Lew" Alcindor, Jr., in Harlem, the only child of Lewis Alcindor, Sr., a transit police officer, and Cora Alcindor, a homemaker. Height ran in the family. Abdul-Jabbar's mother was nearly six feet tall, and his father was six feet, two inches. Abdul-Jabbar's parents told him that his grandfather, who had come from Alcindor Trace, a section of the Balandra district of Trinidad, was over six feet, eight inches in height, and Abdul-Jabbar was over twenty-two inches long at birth.
Abdul-Jabbar's mother read to him constantly, hence he learned to love books at an early age. His father, who played the trombone, often took Abdul-Jabbar to the Elks Club at 5th Avenue and 126th Street, where the senior Alcindor joined other musicians for long jam sessions. From his father, who graduated from the Juilliard School of Music in 1952, Abdul-Jabbar gained a lasting love of jazz music.
When Abdul-Jabbar was three, his father thought the area around Seventh Avenue and 111th Street was becoming too dirty and dangerous, so in 1950 he moved his family to the Dyckman Housing Project in Inwood, a section of northern Manhattan. Between the first and second grades at P.S. 52, Abdul-Jabbar first picked up a basketball and tried unsuccessfully to put it through the hoop. When he was eight years old his parents, devout Catholics, transferred him to Saint Jude's, a private Catholic boy's school nearby, where he was one of only two blacks.
When Abdul-Jabbar was ready to enter fourth grade, his parents were both working, so they enrolled him in Holy Providence, a Catholic school in Pennsylvania. The five-foot, four-inch boy was teased for his height, shyness, and bookish habits. He participated in swimming, track, baseball, and basketball and soon learned to love the last sport. Most of the other students at Holy Providence spoke and behaved in a rough manner. After one year his parents withdrew Abdul-Jabbar, returning him to Saint Jude's in the fall of 1957. He joined the basketball team and, although he was six feet tall, spent most of the season on the bench. Farrell Hopkins, his coach, helped him improve his skills, allowing the eager youngster to continue practice after regular hours.
When Abdul-Jabbar was in seventh grade, Hopkins got the team new uniforms. Abdul-Jabbar's new number was 33, the number he wore for the remainder of his basketball career. Encountering racial prejudice from whites, he concentrated on his studies and basketball. By the eighth grade, when he was fourteen, he was six feet, eight inches tall and could dunk. In one game he scored thirty-three points, more than the entire team usually scored.
Abdul-Jabbar's friend and neighbor Arthur Kenny, a freshman at Power Memorial Academy, a Catholic high school for boys in Manhattan, took Abdul-Jabbar to practice at the high school, where the coach, Jack Donohue, offered Abdul-Jabbar a full scholarship. Donohue ran a summer camp at Friendship Farm in Saugerties, New York, and he invited Abdul-Jabbar to spend the summer before his freshman year there. The only black player at the camp, Abdul-Jabbar was shunned by the other boys, and he returned home after only three weeks.
Abdul-Jabbar played on the varsity team at Power Memorial Academy in his freshman year, and by his sophomore year he had become a great player, leading the school to the New York City Catholic high school championship. He was named to numerous All-America high school teams and had his picture in national magazines. By his junior year the sixteen year old was seven feet, one-and-a-half inches tall and almost unstoppable on the basketball court. During halftime of a game against Saint Helena's in the Bronx, Coach Donohue scolded his team for a lackadaisical performance and hurled a racial epithet at his star center. Abdul-Jabbar was stunned. He eventually led Power Memorial to another city championship, but he refused to work during the summer at Friendship Farm. During his senior year Abdul-Jabbar broke the New York City high school basketball records for career points (2,076) and total rebounds (2,002). He graduated in 1965 and won a New York State Regents' scholarship. Heavily recruited, Abdul-Jabbar enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
Abdul-Jabbar liked the UCLA coach John Wooden immediately. He spent most of his time with black friends, like Lucius Allen, his roommate and teammate on the freshman basketball team, and J. J. Johnson, who introduced him to black literature. Reading Malcolm X's The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965), Abdul-Jabbar became interested in black nationalism and the religion of Islam.
Shunned by many whites, Abdul-Jabbar devoted himself to basketball. In his first season he broke the previous UCLA freshman records for total points (696), total rebounds (425), and single game total points (48). Off the court he was not so successful. Because he refused to give interviews, reporters described him as moody and surly. The white girl he was dating received threatening calls, forcing the couple to break off the relationship.
As a sophomore Abdul-Jabbar set a school single game scoring record (56 points) in his first varsity game. UCLA won all twenty-six games that season, and its star center was chosen Player of the Year by a United Press International poll. In the summer of 1967 Abdul-Jabbar found rewarding work teaching basketball in the ghetto areas of New York City in a program called Operation Sports Rescue, run by the New York City Housing Authority.
In his junior year Abdul-Jabbar led UCLA to another championship season. Because he could stuff the ball so easily, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) banned the dunk shot. To compensate, Coach Wooden helped Abdul-Jabbar develop a hook shot, which over the years developed into the famous skyhook, a modification of the traditional hook shot in which the ball travels downward from the peak of an arch. Joining other black athletes, he boycotted the 1968 Olympics because of the discrimination that black athletes who had won medals in the 1964 Olympics faced at home. As a result he received a great deal of hate mail. He took refuge again in Operation Sports Rescue over the summer. At the same time he converted to Islam. His new name became Kareem (noble and generous) Abdul (servant) Jabbar (powerful).
Abdul-Jabbar's senior year capped a significant college career. He became the first player to receive the NCAA Tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) award three times. When he left UCLA he had won a record eighty-eight games, losing only to Houston and the University of Southern California. He had scored a total of 2,325 points (26.4 per game average) and had grabbed 1,367 rebounds (15.5 per game average). Writing his senior thesis on Islam in North America, he graduated in 1969 with a B.A. degree in history.
In 1969, signing a five-year, $1.4 million contract, Abdul-Jabbar began his pro basketball career with the last-place Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). By the end of his first season he had earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors for the 1969–1970 season and had carried the Bucks to the Eastern Division playoffs. In his second season Abdul-Jabbar teamed up with the legendary Oscar Robertson, recently traded to Milwaukee from the Cincinnati Royals, and the Bucks won the 1971 NBA championship. Abdul-Jabbar was named MVP of the NBA finals.
On 28 May 1971 Abdul-Jabbar married Janice Brown, a schoolteacher, in Washington, D.C. Shortly thereafter he changed his name legally to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His wife also changed her name, taking the Islamic name of Habiba. They had one daughter. In 1972 Abdul-Jabbar won the league's MVP award. In December 1974, after suffering an eye injury while going for a loose ball, he began to wear goggles when he played. That season Abdul-Jabbar was again named the league MVP.
By the end of the 1974–1975 season, Abdul-Jabbar's marriage had soured. Habiba, beleaguered from the pressures of being a pro basketball wife, took their three-year-old daughter and moved back to Washington, D.C. Abdul-Jabbar had never liked Milwaukee and asked to be traded. In 1975 he signed a five-year contract with the Los Angeles Lakers and moved into a ranch house in Stone Canyon, above the UCLA campus. Although the Lakers' new team did not make the playoffs that year, Abdul-Jabbar won his fourth MVP award in six years as a pro basketball player. In 1976 the American Basketball Association merged into the National Basketball Association, bringing to the Lakers many new players and a new coach, Jerry West, who guided Abdul-Jabbar to his fifth MVP award.
The Lakers had their star center, and all they needed was a playmaker. They found that person in the 1979–1980 season, when they added a rookie, Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The Jabbar-Johnson combination helped the Lakers win the NBA championship that season, and Abdul-Jabbar won an unprecedented sixth MVP title. Taking over as head coach in 1981, Pat Riley developed a running game based on the fast break known as "show time," which won the Lakers their second NBA title in three years in 1982. On 5 April 1984 Abdul-Jabbar surpassed Wilt Chamberlain to become the league's all-time leading scorer with 31,420 total career points. According to Abdul-Jabbar, the best moment in his career was in 1985, when the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics for the NBA title.
By 1986 the offensive leadership of the Lakers had passed to Magic Johnson, and while the team continued to win NBA titles, Abdul-Jabbar struggled for points. In 1989 his streak of 787 consecutive games in which he scored in double figures came to an end. By this time he was averaging only eight points and four rebounds per game. He was still suffering financially from a 1983 fire that had destroyed his Bel-Air home and ruined his beloved, valuable jazz record collection. In addition he had lost millions of dollars in bad business investments. In 1989, at age forty-two, Abdul-Jabbar decided to retire. He had won six world championships and six MVP awards. In 1995 he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Frustrated by retirement and devastated by the death of his mother, Abdul-Jabbar sought work. In 1999 he coached the high school basketball team at White Mountain Apache Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona. He was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers from February to May 2000. He made many movie and television appearances, including memorable Hollywood roles as the copilot named Flying High in Airplane! (1980) and the Monster Shouter in Stephen King's The Stand (1994). He had two sons in relationships after Habiba left (they divorced in 1993), and he has spent most of his retirement time with his three children, traveling between his homes in Los Angeles and Maui, Hawaii. Most of his earnings have come from speaking engagements, signing autographs at trading card shows, and product endorsements.
Abdul-Jabbar's pro basketball career statistics are staggering. His regular-season numbers averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 3.6 blocked shots per game. He had a lifetime shooting percentage of .559, and he was first-team all-league ten times and second-team five times. He established NBA records for most seasons of 1,000 or more points (19), most minutes played (57,446), most field goals (15,837), most field goal attempts (28,307), most points (38,387), and most personal fouls (4,657) as well as several NBA All-Star Game records.
Abdul-Jabbar authored three autobiographical memoirs, Giant Steps (1983), Kareem (1991), and A Season on the Reservation (2000), along with a chronicle of the lives of famous African Americans, Profiles in Black Courage (1996). James Haskins, From Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972), gives detailed information about Abdul-Jabbar's early life. Thomas R. Cobourn, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1995), is the most recent biography and contains an extensive bibliography.
John J. Byrne
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Kareem Abdul Jabbar
Kareem Abdul Jabbar (born 1947), formerly Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. was one of the greatest basketball players to play the game at the high school, college, and professional ranks.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr., on April 16, 1947, in New York City, the only child of Ferdinand and Cora Alcindor. He grew up in middle-class circumstances in Inwood, an upper Manhattan neighborhood. A Roman Catholic, he attended the St. Jude's parish elementary school, where he excelled in baseball, swimming, and ice skating. His height began to increase dramatically, and his characteristic self-consciousness led him to seek refuge on the basketball court. By the time he completed eighth grade, Jabbar's height had rocketed to six feet, six inches and he played basketball exclusively.
Already a local basketball legend, Jabbar was heavily recruited by many of the local New York preparatory schools. He chose Power Memorial Academy, and his six foot, eight inch height gave Coach Jack Donohue no alternative but to place him on the varsity squad, a rarity for a ninth grader. He spent the year building his coordination. As a sophomore averaging 19 points per game, Jabbar led his team to 27 straight victories en route to the 1963 New York City Catholic High School championship. Power Memorial's unbeaten streak continued the following year, as Jabbar averaged 26 points a game and led Power to another City Catholic High School championship. As a senior he averaged 33 points per game, and although Power's unbeaten streak of 71 games was snapped by DeMatha High School of Hyattsville, Maryland, they again won the New York City Catholic High School championship by going undefeated the rest of the season.
With the college offers as abundant as the publicity, Jabbar heeded the advice of notable African Americans such as Arthur Ashe, Jackie Robinson, and then Undersecretary of the United Nations Ralph Bunche and elected to accept the scholarship from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). A conscientious student, he enrolled at UCLA in the fall of 1965 believing that there would be a strong balance between sports and academics there.
Although freshmen were ineligible to play varsity sports at the time, Jabbar gave Coach John Wooden a preview of his forthcoming dominance by leading the freshman team to an easy 75-60 victory over the varsity team that had already won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) basketball championship in two of the preceding three seasons. In his first varsity game, Jabbar scored 56 points against California. Along with guards Mike Warren and Lucious Allen and forwards Kenny Heitz and Lynn Shackelford, Jabbar led UCLA to a perfect 26-0 season. The UCLA Bruins again won the national championship in 1967, beating Dayton in the final game.
Jabbar spurned a one-million dollar offer to sign with the Harlem Globetrotters after the 1967 season. In spite of the fact that he was a sensitive individual and somewhat of a loner, Jabbar was also extremely mature for his age and able to cope with constant media attention. He became a history major and enjoyed reading and music. His awareness of racial prejudice was strong, and he became a follower of the teachings of Malcolm X, who stressed pride among African American people. He entered his junior year somewhat jaded, disappointed at the lack of social awareness he saw in many Californians. However, he was also on the threshold of even greater basketball accomplishments.
Although the 1967-1968 basketball season brought with it many more triumphs for Jabbar and the UCLA Bruins, Houston University handed UCLA their first loss after 47 consecutive victories. The 55,000 fans at the Houston Astrodome who witnessed the 69-68 defeat saw Jabbar's six-foot, nine-inch nemesis, Elvin Hayes, score 39 points in college basketball's most exciting spectacle to that point. The UCLA team gained sweet revenge against the Cougars in the NCAA championship semi-final that year, scoring a lopsided 101-69 victory. They defeated North Carolina in the final game, to win the NCAA championship again in 1968.
UCLA also won the NCAA championship in 1969, losing only once along the way to Southern California. Jabbar's totals in three years of varsity play were a phenomenal 88 wins in 90 games, three straight NCAA championships, three straight years as the tournament's most valuable player, and a career average of 26 points per game on a.639 shooting percentage. Many called him the greatest collegiate player ever.
Jabbar graduated from UCLA in 1969 and was the National Basketball Association's (NBA's) first draft choice, selected by the Milwaukee Bucks. He joined the Bucks reluctantly, but settled in to become the 1970 NBA Rookie of the Year. Following the 1970 season, he changed his name to Kareem Abdul Jabbar and professed his membership in the Hanafi Muslim sect of the Islamic religion. In 1971, Jabbar led the Bucks to the NBA championship and was named the NBA's league's most valuable player.
In the four seasons that followed, Jabbar perfected his trademark sky-hook and was named the NBA's most valuable player in the 1972 and 1974 seasons. In 1975, he was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and earned even more accolades. He led the Lakers to NBA championships in 1980 and 1982 and was the NBA's most valuable player in 1976 and 1980.
Jabbar became one of the NBA's most prolific players and served as a positive representative for the league. He was named to the All-Star team every year, including his rookie season. An eloquent individual, Jabbar came out of an introverted phase to make numerous television show appearances and commercials. He also appeared in cameo roles in movies such as Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1971), The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979), and Airplane (1980).
During the 1984 season, Jabbar became the NBA's alltime scoring leader, eclipsing the record of 31,419 points set by Wilt Chamberlain, and capped things off by leading the Lakers to yet another NBA championship in the 1984-1985 season. The following season, he broke the record of 1,303 games played in the NBA.
Jabbar officially retired from the sport of basketball after the 1989-1990 season. He continued to remain very active following his retirement. In 1990, he penned yet another autobiography titled Kareem (an earlier one titled Giant Steps appeared in 1983). Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African American Achievement was co-authored by Jabbar and Alan Steinberg, and released in 1996. In 1991, Jabbar traveled to Saudi Arabia to play basketball for an exhibition team entertaining troops involved in Operation Desert Storm. Jabbar also appeared in the Stephen King television mini-series The Stand in 1994. He has continued working as a producer and developer for motion pictures and television.
Jabbar was named one of President Bill Clinton's The Great Ones for National Sports Awards and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
An interesting account of Jabbar's early years of basketball is provided in Giant of the NBA (1972) by Robert Jackson. Jabbar, a self-confessed enigmatic individual, set the record straight in his autobiographical Giant Steps (1983). Paul Deegan's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1974) is a biography for children, and Kareem, Basketball Great (1975), by Arnold Hano, is a biography through the eyes of a sports fan. For more information, see Helen Borrello, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1995). Many of the best in-depth accounts about him are provided in the many years of coverage and attention given him by Sports Illustrated magazine. □
April 16, 1947
Basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Lewis Ferdinand Alcindor, the only child of Ferdinand Lewis and Cora Alcindor, in the Harlem district of New York City. His father took a degree in musicology from the Juilliard School of Music on the GI bill but worked most of his life as a prison corrections officer and as a policeman for the New York Transit Authority. In 1950 the family moved to the Dyckman Street projects, city-owned middle-class housing in the Inwood section of Manhattan. Surrounded by books and jazz in his home, young Alcindor attended a parochial elementary school, Saint Jude's, and in 1961 he enrolled at another Roman Catholic school in Manhattan, Power Memorial Academy.
Alcindor began playing basketball competitively at age nine. Standing six feet, eight inches tall at fourteen years of age, he proceeded to lead Power Memorial High School to two New York City interscholastic basketball championships and to two national crowns; he made All-City and All-American three times each. Widely recruited by colleges, in 1965 he chose the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), whose basketball program thrived under coach John Wooden. Freshmen were then ineligible for varsity competition, but in all three of his varsity years Alcindor led the Bruins to National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships. By now he was more than seven feet tall, making it virtually impossible for opponents to block his trademark shot, the skyhook. But another of his tactics proved to be more controversial. After his sophomore season, his awesome dunk shot (jamming the ball in the basket) provoked NCAA officials to establish a rule against dunking. The "Alcindor Rule" lasted for just ten years.
During his three varsity seasons, Alcindor scored 2,325 points, averaged 26.4 points per game, and achieved the rare distinction of making first-team All-American for all three years. Yet as a collegian he is probably best remembered for a single game he played in 1968, one of the most famous games in the history of college basketball. In the Houston Astrodome, a live audience of more than fifty thousand and a television audience of millions watched Elvin Hayes and the unbeaten Houston Cougars challenge Alcindor and unbeaten UCLA. Suffering double vision from an eye bruised in an earlier game, Alcindor still performed well, but Hayes's thirty-nine points led the Cougars to a two-point victory. Later, in the NCAA semifinals, UCLA with a healthy Alcindor demolished Houston, 101–69.
Never a mere athlete, Alcindor emerged in 1968 as a person of political and religious principles. In high school in the early 1960s, his racial consciousness had been raised by the civil rights movement, Birmingham church bombings, Harlem riots, and a racially insensitive coach. He wore his hair Afro-style, participated in the verbal and visible "revolt of the black athlete" led by California sociology professor Harry Edwards, and in 1968 effectively boycotted the Mexico City Olympics by refusing to compete for an assured place on the United States Olympic basketball team. For some time he had been studying Islam, and in 1968 he dispensed with his Catholic religion to become a Muslim. His Muslim mentor gave him a new name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, "generous and powerful servant of Allah"; three years later he legally changed his name.
In 1969 Abdul-Jabbar launched his professional career with the Milwaukee Bucks, winning the Rookie of the Year award. In 1971, following the acquisition of veteran Oscar Robertson, the Bucks seized the National Basketball Association (NBA) championship. For six seasons with the Bucks, Abdul-Jabbar averaged more than thirty points per game and won three Most Valuable Player (MVP) trophies. Yet he was never really happy at Milwaukee, whose culture and climate were vastly different from anything he had ever known. Marriage and a child provided little solace. Burrowing deeper into his Islamic faith, in 1972 he studied Arabic at a Harvard summer school and bought a house for the extended family of his Muslim teacher, Hamaas. Tragedy struck in January 1973, when rival Muslims massacred several members of that family; two years later, Hamaas and several comrades were sent to prison for their illegal activities in opposition to a public showing of a film that negatively portrayed Muhammad.
In that same year, 1975, Abdul-Jabbar went to the Los Angeles Lakers in a six-player exchange. Within his first five years with the Lakers, he won three MVP awards. After a frustrating first year, he led the Lakers to the NBA playoffs thirteen consecutive times and (teamed with Earvin "Magic" Johnson in the golden Laker decade of the 1980s) to three NBA championships. For a man seemingly always in search of inward peace, however, sad moments continued to intrude upon Abdul-Jabbar's personal life. In 1983 fire destroyed an expensive California home and an irreplaceable collection of jazz recordings; in 1987 Abdul-Jabbar lost $9 million in bad business deals. All the while two sons and two daughters bounced back and forth from their mother, Habiba, to their father in an on-andoff marriage.
After thirty-three years of competitive basketball, Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989 at the age of forty-two. His numerous NBA records included the most seasons, games, and minutes played; the most field goals attempted, the most made, and the most points scored; and the most personal fouls and blocked shots. In a total of 1,560 NBA outings, he averaged 24.6 points per game. Into retirement he carried six MVP awards, six championship rings, and memories from nineteen NBA All-Star games.
After his retirement Abdul-Jabbar turned his attention to African-American history and the plight of minorities. He authored or coauthored numerous books on the subject, including A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apaches.
See also Basketball
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, with Peter Knobler. Giant Steps: The Autobiography of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. New York: Bantam Books, 1983.
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, with Mignon McCarthy. Kareem. New York: Random House, 1990.
Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem, with Stephen Singular. A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apaches. New York: Morrow, 2000.
Smith, Gary. "Now, More than Ever, a Winner." Sports Illustrated (December 23–30, 1985): 78–94.
william j. baker (1996)
Updated by publisher 2005
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 Valuable Player award in 1974, asked to be traded at the conclusion of the 1974–75 season. The Bucks honored his request and in one of the true blockbuster player transactions in the history of sport, Abdul-Jabbar was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in return for four players in 1975.
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.