Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: The Most Underrated Legacy in Sports History

Bill Russell is the greatest champion but Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the greatest player in the history of the game.”----Julius Erving

"Without question, no hesitation, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the best player I ever played against. "-------Bill Walton

I really needed help to guard Kareem. He is the only guy. "--------Wilt Chamberlain

In a day and age of social networking where GREATEST PLAYER EVER lists/conversations are everywhere we look, we have grown accustomed to hearing some of the same names compared and mentioned. Michael Jordan.........Magic Johnson.......Bill Russell......Wilt Chamberlain. What baffles me is that one name is always missing: Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I have said for years that KAJ has the most underrated/under-appreciated legacy in sports history, and it's not even close if you look at his track record. I understand to a certain extent for the younger generation to not be aware of his game and accomplishments, so let's give everyone a run down of what this man accomplished: 

Lew Alcinder was born a phenom from New York City, he was by far the top HS player in America towering at 7'2. He decided to attend UCLA for his collegiate career and play under the greatest coach of all time, John Wooden. While at UCLA, as a freshman he would single handedly lead the freshman UCLA bball team over the Varsity Team, who just happened to be the defending National Champions (dominance). Lew would also go 88-2 over his college career which is absolutely absurd. He would win National Player of the Year twice, was a 3 time First Team All-American and was on 3 NCAA basketball championship teams. He was one of the 1st players to yam on his defenders under the rim, so much so that he led to the dunk being banned for quite some time. As you can tell, he is arguably the greatest college basketball player of all time. This matters greatly when discussing legacy.

After his college career, Lew would show his 1st signs of what would later prove to be a somewhat rebelliant and revolutionary mindframe he carried by boycotting the 1968 Olympics bc of what he felt was injustice in the United States towards African Americans. We will touch a bit more on this attitude further later. He would go on to get drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in 1969, he did 29 and 15 as a rookie yall! He turned the worst team in the league into the best in 1 season, his 2nd season he would have Milwaukee with the best record in the lg. He would also become and NBA champion and league MVP that same season......think about that. This kid in his 2nd year in the lg was lg MVP with a NBA championship! 

Soon after the championship, his 2nd sign of his revolutionary mindframe was shown when he changed his named to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar because of his religious beliefs. If you think in 1971 that White America was not taking note of his attitude and beliefs you are sorely mistaken. His 3rd NBA season he would win MVP again while doing 34 ppg, the following year he would win MVP again. He won MVP of the lg 3 of his 1st 5 seasons in the lg! He was not only scoring, he was grabbing 15 rpg, shooting 60% with a rolling sky hook and leading the lg in blocked shots. 

In 1975, KAJ would be acquired by the Lakers. We all know about his greatness with the Lakers, but whats important here is that he played 4 seasons with the Lakers before they drafted "his crutch" Magic Johnson. The 1st of those years, he racked up ANOTHER MVP, his 4th. From 1975-1979 (pre-Magic Lakers), Kareem would struggle to win a championship, but his individual accolades would continue to rack up. In the Magic era (1979-1989 Kareems retirement year), Kareem would go on to win 5 championships, another MVP (5), and was an All Star every year during that time.


*Magic Crutch: Most 80's babies and ppl in general really ONLY. remember Kareem playing with the greatest distributor of all time (Magic Johnson). They remember Magic finding him on an open break, they remember Magic aiding Kareem. They remember Kareem's game falling off starting in the mid 80's. OF COURSE his game was beginning to fall off, he is 7'2 on his 15th year in the lg after playing 4 seasons in college! In actuality, this theory couldnt be any further from the truth. These 2 players HELPED EACH OTHER WIN. Magic is not Magic without Kareem, but we know Kareem was Kareem without Magic. Kareem played for 20 years; 10 with Magic, 10 without. In the 10 PRE-Magic, he already had a title and 5 MVPs.

*Timeframe: Ppl act like KAJ was dunking on 6'3 centers on crate rims in the 1920's, this is false. To put it in perspective, Bill Russell was retired by the time KAJ came into the lg. KAJ played against some GREAT big men: Wilt, McHale, Parrish, Walton. He arguably played in the golden age of true big centers. He played until 1989, he did 24/6/2 as recent as 1985.

*Style of Play: How his game LOOKED should have no bearing on his legacy over time. His dunks were grotesque, it looked like a mosquito climbing a wall. His YMCA goggles were horrendous vision spectacles, and his hook shot was sickening to watch for some. WHO CARES! Name any flashy big man: Blake Griffin, Shawn Kemp, Shaq; I guarantee you Kareem would SKYHOOK the shit out of them for 25 in his prime bc he invented and perfected the most unstoppable/unflashy move ever. KAJ was 11 time NBA all defense so good luck reciprocating the effortless buckets he gives you. I want the final result over how it looks any day of the week. 

*Attitude: This is the biggest reason I feel his legacy is undervalued, and it's a shame. He is one of the most interesting ppl sports has ever seen. For one, he has the personality of a penguin. This did nothing but hurt his marketability and lower his ceiling. He did not seem to want the fame and often had a very serious demeanor, he was the polar opposite of the bubbly Magic Johnson. In the 1970's his Muslim revolutionary views rubbed white writers the wrong way, I feel this also hurt his popularity and legacy. He wanted to be a head coach at one point post-career, but most insiders believed he did not have the personality or fire to be a head coach. So instead, he has to settle for being a consultant for the very team he helped build, very disrespectful to his legacy but some feel warranted by his attitude. He has openly criticized the Lakers for what he has felt is a lack of respect towards him post career, which is why I was overjoyed to see his statue finally placed outside the Staples Center in 2012; the respect was overdue in my opinion. He doesn't do interviews post-career about how great he was (Bill Russell), that is not his style. He, like I believe his resume MORE THAN speaks for itself.


If you factor in college/team/winning/individual/statistical accolades into your equation, he is 2nd to none. His longevity - 2nd to none. He has the best combination resume wise of team and individual accomplishments (ex: vs Russell - team accomplishments primarily, Robertson - individual accomplishments primarily). He played defense, he had the clutch gene, and what I think is really important is Kareem's game could truly flourish in any era bc of his style of play. A 7'2 player shooting a rolling hook shot with his arm extended from 15 feet out will forever be unstoppable. Why do ppl praise Olajuwon's post repertoire, go workout with him over the Summer but NOBODY HAS EVER BEEN ABLE TO SHOOT A SKYHOOK EFFECTIVELY since Kareem? How do you think Kareem has a scoring record that will NEVER be broken, that let him do 24 ppg his 15th year in the lg? That shot is a 1 of 1, KAJ is a 1 of 1, and I hope more ppl realize how GREAT of a player he was.


NBA Championships: Michael Jordan - 6, KAJ - 6
MVPs: Michael Jordan: 5 , KAJ - 6
NCAA Championships: Michael Jordan - 1, KAJ - 3
All Star Selections: Michael Jordan - 15,  KAJ - 19
All NBA Selections: Michael Jordan - 11, KAJ - 15
All Defensive Team Selections: Michael Jordan - 9, KAJ -  11
Career NBA points: Michael Jordan - 32292, KAJ - 38387

Is KAJ the greatest of all time? IT IS UP FOR DEBATE, but the next time you bring up the question of who is the greatest, you'd better throw his name in the conversation.


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