Kareem Abdul Jabbar is the greatest Basketball player of all time. Period. End of Story.He was the best High School Baller of his generation, ( 95-6 at Power Memorial in New York, which included a 71 game winning streak), His UCLA Bruins went 88-2 in this 3 year varsity career, which included 3 NCAA Championships; he was named MVP of the Final Four 3 times (which would have been 4 if Freshman were eligible for Varsity back in the day).
NBA Rookie of the Year, an NBA Champion in his second year on an expansion team, a record Six-Time NBA MVP, Two Time Finals MVP (and look it up, he was robbed of a third Finals MVP in 1980 by one ill-timed ankle injury in Game 5 followed by a Magical performance for the ages in Game 6), 1985 Finals MVP at age 35, Back to Back Titles in 1987 and 1988. Six Titles in all. Did I mention he stands alone atop the Mount Everest of NBA achievements, the NBA’s all-time scoring record with 38,387 Points?
Ten times All NBA First team, 5 times All NBA second team, Five times All Defensive First team, Six times All Defensive Second Team. 19 All Star Team selections. #1 in total minutes played, #3 in Total Rebounds, #3 in Blocked Shots, #9 in Free Throws made.
For all of the Analytic number crunchers out there, Kareem was Numero Uno in Player Efficiency Rating in Ten of his first Twelve seasons, Number One all time in Win Shares (273.41; Jordan at Number 4); Number Two all-time in Defensive Win Shares at 94.49 (Bill Russell Number One at 133.64!)
He won the 1970 NBA Rookie of the Year award leading the expansion Milwaukee Bucks to a 29–game improvement; the next season he would win both his first League MVP award and first NBA Championship with an assist from the five greatest Guards of all time, Oscar Robertson.
Over 1,560 regular season and 237 playoff games, (#1 in total minutes played) Abdul-Jabbar was the Rock, the Anchor, the NBA’s greatest closer wielding the most automatic weapon the game has ever seen, the indominable Skyhook. Ahh, the Skyhook. Name another NBA legend who has his own signature shot… “swing left, shoot right” is how the late great Chick Hearn would poetically describe the Captain methodically, majestically delivering another dagger into the bottom of the net.
Abdul-Jabbar’s status as All Time King of the Hardwood was earned based on the quality of the competition he faced night after night for twenty seasons during the Seventies and Eighties, the Era of the Big Man, where purveyors of the paint ruled supreme in the League; in those generations Champions were crafted around a dominant post presence. From George Mikan to Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlain, Big and Strong won the game. Only Two non-Centers received the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award from 1959-1983; Oscar Robertson in 1964 and Julius Erving in 1981.
On most nights, Kareem jockeyed for positon in the low post against a Hall of Fame Roster; Wilt, Willis Reed, Wes Unseld, Nate Thurmond, Bob Lanier, Dan Issel, Bill Walton, Dave Cowens, Robert Parish, Kevin Mchale, Moses Malone, Artis Gilmore, Patrick Ewing, Akeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson, David Robinson. (Seattle Sonic Jack Sikma should be on that list). He lost his share of battles against these giants, but ultimately towered above them all, teaming with Oscar to win the 1971 NBA Championship in a dominant sweep of Unseld, Earl Monroe and the Baltimore Bullets, earning his first Championship Series MVP in the process.
He won the first of 5 Titles in the decade of the Eighties facing Philadelphia’s tag team of Darryl Dawkins and Caldwell Jones, then lost the last Finals of that decade vs Bad Boys Bill Laimbeer and James Edwards. They were all gunning for him, with well-placed hips, knees and elbows engaging various parts of the Kareem’s anatomy, usually with the help of a teammate or two. He averaged 24.6 points over twenty seasons, kung-fu fighting in the low box against the best of the best.
His migraine headaches were well documented, but mostly he sent his peers reaching for the Excedrin.
The Captain reached his Apex with his magnificent performance in the 1985 NBA Finals vs the hated Boston Celtics. From Bill Russell and Bob Cousy to John Havlicek and Dave Cowens to Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson, the Green Machine were a major Migraine for Kareem and the Laker Franchise. The Purple and Gold were Oh and Eight in Championship series vs Boston entering the ‘85 Finals, and the wounds were still fresh from 12 months before, where the Lakers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the 1984 Finals vs the regular season and Finals MVP, a soaring Larry Bird. Boston then proceeded to pour salt on the gaping wound in the form of a 148-114 shellacking in game one of the rematch, aka the “Boston Massacre”.
Kareem rebounded from a poor game one outing to lead the Lakers to 109-102 victory in game two with 30 points and 17 rebounds, a game Coach Pat Riley called “the most important game in Laker history”. Abdul-Jabbar kept the pressure on Boston throughout the next 5 games as Los Angeles wrapped up their first-ever title Championship Victory vs. the Celtics on the Parquet floor in Boston Garden. The 35 year old wonder averaged 25.7 pts on 60% shooting, 9 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.5 blocks in the six game series on his way to his second Finals MVP award.
The Captain took a back seat to Magic and James Worthy during the Back to Back Title runs in 1987 and 1988, but Kareem would step up to the plate when needed, never more than in game 6 of the 1988 Finals vs the Detroit Pistons; tie game, less than a minute, Lakers down 3 games to 2, Showtime reduced to Slowtime by the thumpin', bumpin’ and grindin’ Bad Boys. One minute away from elimination, the Forum faithful in a cold sweat and the Laker Repeat on the line. So whose number does Pat Riley call?. Not regular season MVP Magic or 1988 Finals MVP Worthy, but the Rock, the proverbial Well, number 33, just one more time.
Kareem is fouled by Laimbeer, then hits nothing but net from the free throw line, once, then twice as the Lakers win by a breath and seal the Back to Back deal in Game 7.
As he left the game with enough highlights for an entire year of SportsCenter, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never seemed like he received his due, maybe because he avoided public life like the plague; people in general and sports reporters in particular loved to dwell on what he couldn’t or didn’t do in a game, a season, a career. Warm and Fuzzy just wasn’t in his job description. Winning Championships while dominating his position was. It was a privilege to witness his majesty on a basketball court, secure in the knowledge that there will never be another 7 foot goggle-wearing, Sky-hooking phenomenon in this generation or the next or the next.