|Born||April 16, 1947|
Harlem, New York, U.S.
|Listed height||7 ft 2 in (2.18 m)|
|Listed weight||225 lb (102 kg)|
|High school||Power Memorial|
(New York City, New York)
|NBA draft||1969 / Round: 1 / Pick: 1st overall|
|Selected by the Milwaukee Bucks|
|1975–1989||Los Angeles Lakers|
|1998–1999||Alchesay HS (assistant)|
|2000||Los Angeles Clippers (assistant)|
|2005–2011||Los Angeles Lakers (assistant)|
|Career highlights and awards|
As head coach:
As assistant coach:
|Career NBA statistics|
|Points||38,387 (24.6 ppg)|
|Rebounds||17,440 (11.2 rpg)|
|Assists||5,660 (3.6 apg)|
|Stats at NBA.com|
|Stats at Basketball-Reference.com|
|Basketball Hall of Fame as player|
|College Basketball Hall of Fame|
Inducted in 2006
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (/kəˈriːm æbˈduːl dʒəˈbɑːr/ kə-REEM ab-DOOL jə-BAR; born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr.; April 16, 1947) is an American former professional basketball player who played 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) for the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers. During his career as a center, Abdul-Jabbar was a record six-time NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP). He was a 19-time NBA All-Star—tied for the most ever—a 15-time All-NBA Team member, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection. He was a member of six NBA championship teams as a player and two more as an assistant coach, and was twice voted the NBA Finals MVP. He was named to three NBA anniversary teams (35th, 50th, and 75th). Widely regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, he was called the greatest basketball player of all time by Pat Riley, Isiah Thomas, and Julius Erving. Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA's career scoring leader from 1984 to 2023.
Abdul-Jabbar was known as Lew Alcindor (/luː ælˈsɪndər/ LOO al-SIN-dər) when he played at parochial high school Power Memorial in New York City, where he led their team to 71 consecutive wins. He played college basketball for the UCLA Bruins, winning three consecutive national championships under head coach John Wooden. Alcindor was a record three-time most outstanding player of the NCAA tournament. Drafted with the first overall pick by the one-season-old Bucks franchise in the 1969 NBA draft, he spent six seasons in Milwaukee. After leading the Bucks to its first NBA championship at age 24 in 1971, he took the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Using his trademark skyhook shot, he established himself as one of the league's top scorers. In 1975, he was traded to the Lakers, with whom he played the final 14 seasons of his career in which they won five additional NBA championships. Abdul-Jabbar's contributions were a key component in the Showtime era of Lakers basketball. Over his 20-year NBA career, his teams succeeded in making the playoffs 18 times and got past the first round 14 times; his teams reached the NBA Finals on ten occasions.
At the time of his retirement at age 42 in 1989, Abdul-Jabbar was the NBA's all-time leader in points (38,387), games played (1,560), minutes (57,446), field goals made (15,837), field goal attempts (28,307), blocked shots (3,189), defensive rebounds (9,394), and personal fouls (4,657). He remains the all-time leader in field goals made and field goal attempts. He is ranked third all-time in both rebounds and blocked shots. ESPN named him the greatest center of all time in 2007, the greatest player in college basketball history in 2008, and the second best player in NBA history (behind Michael Jordan) in 2016. Abdul-Jabbar has also been an actor, a basketball coach, a best-selling author, and a martial artist, having trained in Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee and appeared in his film Game of Death (1972). In 2012, Abdul-Jabbar was selected by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be a U.S. global cultural ambassador. In 2016, President Barack Obama awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. was born in Harlem, New York City, the only child of Cora Lillian, a department store price checker, and Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., a transit police officer and jazz musician. Cora was born in North Carolina but would end up in Harlem as part of the Great Migration. Ferdinand was the child of immigrants from Trinidad. Alcindor grew up in the Dyckman Street projects in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan, which he moved to at the age of 3 in 1950. At birth, Alcindor weighed 12 lb 11 oz (5.75 kg) and was 22+1⁄2 inches (57 cm) long. He was always very tall for his age. By age nine, he was already 5 ft 8 in (1.73 m) tall. Alcindor was often depressed as a teenager because of the stares and comments about his height. By the eighth grade (age 13–14), he had grown to 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m) and could already slam dunk a basketball.
Alcindor began his record-breaking basketball accomplishments when he was in high school, where he led coach Jack Donohue's Power Memorial Academy team to three straight New York City Catholic championships, a 71–game winning streak, and a 79–2 overall record. This earned him "The Tower from Power" nickname. His 2,067 total points were a New York City high school record. The team won the national high school boys basketball championship when Alcindor was in 10th and 11th grade and was runner-up his senior year. He had a strained relationship in his final year with Donohue after the coach called him a nigger.
Alcindor wrote for the Harlem Youth Action Project newspaper. The Harlem riot of 1964, which was prompted by the fatal shooting of 15-year old black boy James Powell by a New York police officer, triggered Alcindor's interest in racial politics. "Right then and there, I knew who I was, who I had to be. I was going to be black rage personified, Black Power in the flesh", he said.
Alcindor was not able to play professionally in the National Basketball Association (NBA) out of high school. At the time, the league only accepted players beginning with the year that they could have hypothetically graduated from college. His other options to play pro ball would were to join the Harlem Globetrotters or play overseas. However, Alcindor's goal was to attend college. Recuited by hundreds of schools, he was the most sought-after prospect since Wilt Chamberlain. Southern teams that were segregated were willing to break the color line to acquire Alcindor. He chose to attend the University of California, Los Angeles, after being recruited by Bruins assistant coach Jerry Norman.
By now 7-foot-1-inch (2.16 m) tall, Alcindor was relegated to the freshman team in his first year with the Bruins, as freshman were ineligible to play varsity until 1972. The freshman squad included Lucius Allen, Kenny Heitz, and Lynn Shackelford, who were fellow high-school All-Americans. On November 27, 1965, Alcindor made his first public performance in UCLA's annual varsity–freshman exhibition game, attended by 12,051 fans in the inaugural game at the Bruins' new Pauley Pavilion. The 1965–66 varsity team was the two-time defending national champions and the top-ranked team in preseason polls. The freshman team won 75–60 behind Alcindor's 31 points and 21 rebounds. It was the first time a freshman team had beaten the UCLA varsity squad. The varsity had lost Gail Goodrich and Keith Erickson from the championship squad to graduation, and starting guard Freddie Goss was out sick. After the game, UPI wrote: "UCLA's Bruins open defense of their national basketball title this week, but right now they're only the second best team on campus." The freshman team was 21–0 that year, dominating against junior college and other freshman teams.
Alcindor made his varsity debut as a sophomore in 1966 and received national coverage. Sports Illustrated described him as "The New Superstar" after he scored 56 points in his first game, which broke the UCLA single-game record held by Gail Goodrich. He averaged 29 points per game during the season and led UCLA to an undefeated 30–0 record and a national championship, their third title in four years. After the season, the dunk was banned in college basketball in an attempt to curtail his dominance; critics subbed it the "Alcindor Rule". It was not rescinded until the 1976–77 season. Alcindor was the main contributor to the team's three-year record of 88 wins and only two losses: one to the University of Houston in which Alcindor had an eye injury, and the other to crosstown rival USC who played a "stall game"; there was no shot clock in that era, allowing the Trojans to hold the ball as long as it wanted before attempting to score. They limited Alcindor to only four shots and 10 points.
During his college career, Alcindor was a three-time national player of the year (1967–1969), a three-time unanimous first-team All-American (1967–1969), played on three NCAA basketball champion teams (1967, 1968, and 1969), was honored as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament three times, and became the first-ever Naismith College Player of the Year in 1969. He was the only player to win the Helms Foundation Player of the Year award three times. He had considered transferring to Michigan because of unfulfilled recruiting promises. UCLA player Willie Naulls introduced Alcindor and teammate Lucius Allen to athletic booster Sam Gilbert, who convinced the pair to remain at UCLA.
During his junior year, Alcindor suffered a scratched left cornea on January 12, 1968, in a game against Cal when he was struck by Tom Henderson in a rebound battle. He would miss the next two games against Stanford and Portland. His cornea would again be scratched during his pro career, which subsequently caused him to wear goggles for eye protection. On January 20, the Bruins faced coach Guy Lewis's Houston Cougars in the first-ever nationally televised regular-season college basketball game, with 52,693 in attendance at the Astrodome. In a contest billed as the "Game of the Century", Cougar forward Elvin Hayes scored 39 points and had 15 rebounds, while Alcindor, suffering from his eye injury, was held to just 15 points as Houston won 71–69, ending UCLA's 47-game winning streak. Hayes and Alcindor had a rematch in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, where UCLA, with a healthy Alcindor, defeated Houston 101–69 en route to the national championship. UCLA limited Hayes, who was averaging 37.7 points per game, to only ten points. Wooden credited his assistant, Jerry Norman, for devising the diamond-and-one defense that contained Hayes. Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on the game and used the headline: "Lew's Revenge: The Rout of Houston." As a senior in 1968–69, Alcindor led the Bruins to their third consecutive national title.
During the summer of 1968, Alcindor took the shahada twice and converted to Sunni Islam from Catholicism. He adopted the Arabic name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, though he did not begin using it publicly until 1971. He boycotted the 1968 Summer Olympics, deciding not to try out for U.S. Olympic basketball team, who went on to easily win the gold medal. Alcindor was protesting the unequal treatment of African Americans in the United States, stating that he was "trying to point out to the world the futility of winning the gold medal for this country and then coming back to live under oppression."
As the NBA did not allow college underclassmen to make an early NBA draft declaration, Alcindor completed his studies and earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in history in 1969. In his free time, he practiced martial arts. He studied aikido in New York between his sophomore and junior year before learning Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee in Los Angeles.
As of the 2019–20 UCLA Bruins men's basketball team season, he still holds or shares a number of individual records at UCLA:
He is represented in the top ten in a number of other school records, including season and career rebounds, second only to Bill Walton.
The Globetrotters offered Alcindor $1 million to play for them, but he declined and was picked first overall in the 1969 NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, who were in only their second season of existence. The Bucks had won a coin toss with the Phoenix Suns for the first pick. He was also chosen first overall in the 1969 American Basketball Association draft by the New York Nets. The Nets believed that they had the upper hand in securing Alcindor's services because he was from New York; however, when Alcindor told both the Bucks and the Nets that he would accept only one offer from each team, he rejected the Nets' bid as too low. Sam Gilbert negotiated the contract along with Los Angeles businessman Ralph Shapiro at no charge. After Alcindor chose the Milwaukee Bucks' offer of $1.4 million, the Nets offered a guaranteed $3.25 million. Alcindor declined the offer, saying: "A bidding war degrades the people involved. It would make me feel like a flesh peddler, and I don't want to think like that."
Alcindor's presence enabled the Bucks to claim second place in the NBA's Eastern Division with a 56–26 record (improved from 27–55 the previous year). On February 21, 1970, he scored 51 points in a 140–127 win over the SuperSonics. Alcindor was an instant star, ranking second in the league in scoring (28.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (14.5 rpg), for which he was awarded the title of NBA Rookie of the Year. In the series-clinching game against the Philadelphia 76ers, he recorded 46 points and 25 rebounds. He was the second rookie to score at least 40 points and 25 rebounds in a playoff game, the first being Wilt Chamberlain. He also set an NBA rookie record with 10 or more games of 20+ points scored during the playoffs, tied by Jayson Tatum in 2018.
The next season, the Bucks acquired All-Star guard Oscar Robertson. Milwaukee went on to record the best record in the league with 66 victories in the 1970–71 season, including a then-record 20 straight wins. Alcindor was awarded his first of six NBA Most Valuable Player Awards, along with his first scoring title (31.7 ppg). He also led the league in total points, with 2,596. The Bucks won the NBA title, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets 4–0 in the 1971 NBA Finals. Alcindor posted 27 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in Game 4, and he was named the Finals MVP after averaging 27 points per game on 60.5% shooting in the series.
During the offseason, Alcindor and Robertson joined Bucks head coach Larry Costello on a three-week basketball tour of Africa on behalf of the State Department. In a press conference at the State Department on June 3, 1971, he stated that going forward he wanted to be called by his Muslim name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, its translation roughly "noble one, servant of the Almighty [i.e., servant of Allah]".
Abdul-Jabbar remained a dominant force for the Bucks. The following year, he repeated as scoring champion (34.8 ppg and 2,822 total points) and became the first player to be named the NBA Most Valuable Player twice in his first three years. In 1974, Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks to their fourth consecutive Midwest Division title, and he won his third MVP Award in four years. He was among the top five NBA players in scoring (27.0 ppg, third), rebounding (14.5 rpg, fourth), blocked shots (283, second), and field goal percentage (.539, second). Milwaukee advanced to the 1974 finals, losing to the Boston Celtics in seven games.
Robertson, who became a free agent in the offseason, retired in September 1974 after he was unable to agree on a contract with the Bucks. On October 3, Abdul-Jabbar privately requested a trade to the New York Knicks, with his second choice being the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards) and his third, the Los Angeles Lakers. He had never spoken negatively of the city of Milwaukee or its fans, but he said that being in the Midwest did not fit his cultural needs. Two days later in a pre-season game before the 1974–75 season against the Celtics in Buffalo, New York, Abdul-Jabbar caught a fingernail in his left eye from Don Nelson and suffered a corneal abrasion; this angered him enough to punch the backboard stanchion, breaking two bones in his right hand. He missed the first 16 games of the season, during which the Bucks were 3–13, and returned in late November wearing protective goggles. On March 13, 1975, sportscaster Marv Albert reported that Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade to either New York or Los Angeles, preferably to the Knicks. The following day after a loss in Milwaukee to the Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar confirmed to reporters his desire to play in another city. He averaged 30.0 points during the season, but Milwaukee finished in last place in the division at 38–44.
In 1975, the Lakers acquired Abdul-Jabbar and reserve center Walt Wesley from the Bucks for center Elmore Smith, guard Brian Winters, blue-chip rookies Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman, and cash. In the 1975–76 season, his first with the Lakers, he had a dominating season, averaging 27.7 points per game and leading the league in rebounding (16.9), blocked shots (4.12), and total minutes played (3,379). His 1,111 defensive rebounds remains the NBA single-season record (defensive rebounds were not recorded prior to the 1973–74 season). He earned his fourth MVP award, becoming the first winner in Lakers' franchise history, but missed the post-season for the second straight year as the Lakers finished 40–42.
After acquiring a cast of no-name free agents, the Lakers were projected to finished near the bottom of the Pacific Division in 1976–77. Abdul-Jabbar helped lead the team to the best record (53–29) in the NBA, and he won his fifth MVP award, tying Bill Russell's record. Abdul-Jabbar led the league in field goal percentage (.579), was third in scoring (26.2), and was second in rebounds (13.3) and blocked shots (3.18). In the playoffs, the Lakers beat the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference semifinals, setting up a confrontation with the Portland Trail Blazers. The result was a memorable matchup, pitting Abdul-Jabbar against a young, injury-free Bill Walton. Although Abdul-Jabbar dominated the series statistically, Walton and the Trail Blazers (who were experiencing their first-ever run in the playoffs) swept the Lakers, behind Walton's skillful passing and timely plays.
Two minutes into the opening game of the 1977–78 season, Abdul-Jabbar broke his right hand punching Milwaukee's Kent Benson in retaliation to the rookie's elbow to his stomach. Benson suffered a black right eye and required two stitches. According to Benson, Abdul-Jabbar initiated the elbowing, but there were no witnesses and it was not captured on replays. Abdul-Jabbar, who broke the same bone in 1975 after he punched the backboard support, was out for almost two months and missed 20 games. He was fined a then-league record $5,000 but was not suspended. Benson missed one game but was not punished by the league. The Lakers were 8–13 when Abdul-Jabbar returned. He was not named to the 1978 NBA All-Star Game, the only time in his 20-year career he was not selected to an All-Star Game. Chicago's Artis Gilmore and Detroit's Bob Lanier were chosen as reserves for the West, with Walton starting at center. Amid criticism from the media over his performance, Abdul-Jabbar had 39 points, 20 rebounds, six assists and four blocks in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers the day the All-Star rosters were announced. He added 37 points and 30 rebounds in a victory over the New Jersey Nets (now Brooklyn) in the final game before the All-Star break.
Abdul-Jabbar's play remained strong during the next two seasons, being named to the All-NBA Second Team twice, the All-Defense First Team once, and the All-Defense Second Team once. The Lakers, however, continued to be stymied in the playoffs, being eliminated by the Seattle SuperSonics in both 1978 (first round) and 1979 (semifinals).
The Lakers selected Magic Johnson with the first overall pick of 1979 NBA draft. They had acquired the pick from the New Orleans Jazz (later Utah) in 1976, when league rules required that they compensate Los Angeles for their signing of free agent Gail Goodrich. The addition of Johnson paved the way for the Lakers' Showtime dynasty of the 1980s, appearing in the finals eight times and winning five NBA championships. While less dominant than in his younger years, Abdul-Jabbar reinforced his status as one of the greatest basketball players ever, adding an additional four All-NBA First Team selections and two All-Defense First Team honors. He won his record sixth MVP award in his first season with Johnson in 1979–80. In the 1980 finals, Abdul-Jabbar averaged 33.4 points in five games, spraining his ankle in Game 5, but returning to finish the contest with 40 points and leading the team to a win. He missed Game 6, when the Lakers clinched the title, and Johnson was named the Finals MVP after recording 42 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists in the finale.
Abdul-Jabbar continued to average 20 or more points per game in the following six seasons. The Lakers won another championship in 1981–82, but he suffered migraines in the finals, averaging just 18 points per game against Philadelphia. In 14 playoff games, he finished with a 20.4 point average, the lowest of his career at the time. The Lakers advanced to the 1983 NBA Finals in a rematch against the 76ers, who had acquired Moses Malone to shore up their center position after Abdul-Jabbar had outplayed their big-man duo of Darryl Dawkins and Caldwell Jones in the previous finals. The 76ers swept the Lakers 4–0, and Malone was named the Finals MVP after outrebounding Abdul-Jabbar 72–30 in the series. Malone had 27 offensive rebounds, which nearly equaled Abdul-Jabbar's total rebounds (30). On the road against Utah on April 5, 1984, Abdul-Jabbar broke Chamberlain's record for most career points in the NBA. He received a pass from Johnson and scored from 15 feet (4.6 m) on his patent skyhook over the 7-foot-4-inch (2.24 m) shot-blocking expert Mark Eaton. The game was played at the Thomas & Mack Center, one of 11 home games for the Jazz in the Las Vegas Valley that season. The contest drew 18,389 fans, the Jazz's largest home crowd since moving from New Orleans before the 1979–80 season.
Abdul-Jabbar won his second Finals MVP in 1985, when he became the oldest to win the award at 38 years and 54 days old. He averaged 25.7 points, 9 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 1.5 blocks in the series against Boston. He was initially outplayed in Game 1, scoring 12 points with three rebounds against 30-year-old Celtics center Robert Parish, who had 18 points and eight rebounds in a 148–114 win over the Lakers, dubbed the "Memorial Day Massacre". At the team's film session the following day, Abdul-Jabbar—who normally sat near the back—was seated in the front row, and accepted all of head coach Pat Riley's criticism. Before Game 2, Abdul-Jabbar asked if his father could ride on the team bus to the game. Typically a hard-liner on rules, Riley agreed to make an exception. Abdul-Jabbar bounced back with 30 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists and three blocks in a 109–102 victory. In the Lakers’ four wins, he averaged 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.0 blocks. The title ended the Celtics' streak of eight consecutive championships against the Lakers.
Abdul-Jabbar played in his 17th season in 1985–86, breaking the previous NBA record for seasons played of 16, held by Dolph Schayes, John Havlicek, Paul Silas, and Elvin Hayes. Prior to the 1986–87 season, he gained 13 pounds (5.9 kg), reaching close to 270 pounds (120 kg), to compete against the growing number of 7-footers (2.1 m) in the league. The Lakers advanced to the NBA Finals in each of his final three seasons, defeating Boston in 1987, and Detroit in 1988. The Lakers lost to the Pistons in a four-game sweep in his final season. After winning Game 7 of the 1988 finals, the 41-year-old Abdul-Jabbar announced in the locker room that he would return for one more season before retiring. His points, rebounds, and minutes had dropped in his 19th season, and there were reports prior to the game that he was retiring after the contest. On his "retirement tour" he received standing ovations at games, both home and away, and gifts ranging from a yacht that said "Captain Skyhook" to framed jerseys from his career to a Persian rug. At the Forum against Seattle in his final regular season game, every Laker came onto the court wearing Abdul-Jabbar's trademark goggles.
At the time of his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar held the record for most career games played in the NBA. He was also the all-time record holder for most field goals made (15,837) and most minutes played (57,446), as well as most points (38,387) until LeBron James broke the record in 2023.
In 1995, Abdul-Jabbar began expressing an interest in coaching and imparting knowledge from his playing days. His opportunities were limited despite the success he enjoyed during his playing days. During his playing years, Abdul-Jabbar had developed a reputation for being introverted and sullen. He was often unfriendly with the media. His sensitivity and shyness created a perception of him being aloof and surly. At the time, his mentality was that he either did not have the time or did not owe anything to anyone. Magic Johnson recalled as a kid being brushed off after asking him for an autograph. Abdul-Jabbar might freeze out a reporter if they touched him, and he once refused to stop reading the newspaper while giving an interview.
Abdul-Jabbar had spent most of his career with a reserved attitude towards media attention (since he did not have to deal with it as a star at UCLA) before he softened up near the end of his career. Abdul-Jabbar said: "I didn't understand that I also had affected people that way and that's what it was all about. I always saw it like they were trying to pry. I was way too suspicious and I paid a price for it." However, he believes it was his reputation as a "difficult person", alongside his attempts at trying to break into coaching while nearing the age of fifty, that affected his chances of becoming a head coach within the NBA or NCAA.
Abdul-Jabbar worked as an assistant for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Seattle SuperSonics, helping mentor, among others, their young centers, Michael Olowokandi and Jerome James. Abdul-Jabbar was the head coach of the Oklahoma Storm of the United States Basketball League in 2002, leading the team to the league's championship that season, but he failed to land the head coaching position at Columbia University a year later. He then worked as a scout for the New York Knicks. He returned to the Lakers as a special assistant coach to Phil Jackson for six seasons (2005–2011). Early on, he mentored their young center, Andrew Bynum. Abdul-Jabbar also served as a volunteer coach at Alchesay High School on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona, in 1998. He moved on from coaching in 2013 after unsuccessfully lobbying for open head coach positions with UCLA and the Milwaukee Bucks.
On offense, Abdul-Jabbar was a dominant low-post threat. In contrast to other low-post specialists like Wilt Chamberlain or Shaquille O'Neal, he was a slender giant, standing 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) tall while weighing around 240 pounds (110 kg) to 250 lb (115 kg), although he bulked to 270 lb (120 kg) in 1986; in his early years, he used that frame for agility and speed while in later years he utilized a bigger frame for trying to guard under the basket. Abdul-Jabbar was famous for his ambidextrous skyhook shot. It contributed to his high .5595 field goal accuracy, making him the 21st most accurate scorer of all time, as well as a feared clutch shooter. He shot above 50% in every season but his last.
Abdul-Jabbar maintained a dominant presence on defense. He was selected to the NBA All-Defensive Team eleven times. He frustrated opponents with his superior shot-blocking ability and denied an average of 2.6 shots a game. He was not an aggressive rebounder, relying more on his size as a 7-footer instead of positioning. After the pounding he endured early in his career, his rebounding average fell to between six or eight a game in his latter years. As a teammate, Abdul-Jabbar exuded natural leadership and was affectionately called "Cap", or "Captain", by his colleagues. He had an even temperament, which Riley said made him coachable.
A strict fitness regime made Abdul-Jabbar one of the most durable players of all time. He began a year-around conditioning program at age 26. While in Los Angeles, Abdul-Jabbar started doing yoga in 1976 to improve his flexibility, and was notable for his physical fitness regimen. He said: "There is no way I could have played as long as I did without yoga." Because of his metabolism, he had difficulty putting on weight. Prior to the 1979–80 season, he gained 10 pounds (4.5 kg) from 240 to 250 pounds (110 kg) after switching from free weights to Nauitilus equipment. He also switched that offseason from tai chi to yoga. To reduce wear during his later years, Riley did not have him inbound the ball on made baskets, and had him wait at the opposite end of the court on free throws. In what he described as playing a "smarter game" to conserve energy, Abdul-Jabbar sometimes would be the last player to set up on offense by several seconds after staying behind on defense to see if the Lakers scored on a fast break. In 1981, he responded to criticism that he did not hustle: "You have to understand I have to play 42 to 45 minutes a night, and it's like mowing a huge estate lawn. If you rush out and run around furiously, it's self-defeating. You'll be worn out just at the point when you're most needed." Addul-Jabbar finished his career with then-NBA records of 20 seasons and 1,560 games played, later broken by former Celtics center Robert Parish.
Abdul-Jabbar began wearing his trademark goggles after getting poked in the eye during preseason in 1975. He continued wearing them for years until abandoning them in the 1979 playoffs. He resumed wearing goggles in October 1980 after being accidentally poked in the right eye by Houston's Rudy Tomjanovich. After years of being jabbed in the eyes, Abdul-Jabbar developed corneal erosion syndrome, occasionally experiencing pain when his eyes dry up. He missed three games in December 1986 due to the condition.
Abdul-Jabbar was well known for his trademark skyhook, a hook shot in which he raised the ball and released it at the highest point of his arm's arching motion. He could shoot the skyhook from up to 16 feet (4.9 m). With his long arms and great height, he released the ball so high that it was difficult for a defender to block without committing a goaltending violation. His body being between the defender and the ball made it further difficult to block, as did extending his non-shooting arm to fend off opponents. He was stronger shooting the skyhook with his right hand than he was with his left, which he developed in his later years.
According to Abdul-Jabbar, he learned the move in fifth grade after practicing with the ambidextrious Mikan Drill and soon learned to value it, as it was "the only shot I could use that didn't get smashed back in my face". He also watched Cliff Hagan shoot the hook with the St. Louis Hawks. To prevent his hook from being blocked from behind, he was advised by Wooden to do away with the typical sweeping motion of a hook shot, instead keeping the ball close to his body and shooting with a straighter motion. Addul-Jabbar's hook shot improved in his junior year at UCLA, after the dunk was banned. In his final college years, he often released the ball several feet above the rim.
Abdul-Jabbar won a record six MVP awards. His 38,387 career points remained the NBA's career scoring record until February 7, 2023, when he was surpassed by LeBron James of the Lakers in Los Angeles. Abdul-Jabbar attended the game, and passed the game ball to James during the in-game ceremony after the record was broken. James did not play college ball, entering the league straight out of high school at age 18 in 2003. Abdul-Jabbar held the scoring mark for nearly 39 years, the longest span in league history. His skyhook is considered one of the most unstoppable shots ever. He won six NBA championships and two Finals MVP awards, was voted to 15 All-NBA and 11 All-Defensive Teams, and was selected to a record 19 All-Star teams, tied by James in 2023. He was named to the NBA's 35th, 50th, and 75th anniversary teams. He averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 2.6 blocks per game. Abdul-Jabbar is ranked as the NBA's third leading all-time rebounder (17,440). He is the third all-time in registered blocks (3,189), which is impressive because this basketball statistic was not recorded until the fourth year of his career (1974). He had three straight seasons where he averaged at least 30 points and 16 rebounds, and six times he averaged at least 27 points and 14.5 rebounds in the same season.
Abdul-Jabbar combined dominance during his career peak with the longevity and sustained excellence of his later years. A pioneer in using yoga in the NBA, he also credited Bruce Lee with teaching him "the discipline and spirituality of martial arts, which was greatly responsible for me being able to play competitively in the NBA for 20 years with very few injuries". Abdul-Jabbar played in 95 percent of his team's regular-season games during his career, including 80 or more games in 11 of his 20 seasons. Five times he played in all 82 games. After claiming his sixth and final MVP in 1980, he continued to average above 20 points in the following six seasons, including 23 points per game in his 17th season at age 38. He earned first-team All-NBA selections that were 15 years apart and Finals MVPs 14 seasons from each other.
Among the most graceful basketball players ever, Abdul-Jabbar is regarded as one of the best centers ever and one of the greatest players in NBA history; he was voted the best center of all time by ESPN ahead of Wilt Chamberlain in 2007, and ranked No. 4 in Slam's "Top 100 Players Of All-Time" in 2018, and No. 3 in ESPN's list of the top 74 NBA players of all time in 2020, the best center ever ahead of Bill Russell and Chamberlain. League experts and basketball legends frequently mentioned him when considering the greatest player of all time. Riley said in 1985: "Why judge anymore? When a man has broken records, won championships, endured tremendous criticism and responsibility, why judge? Let's toast him as the greatest player ever." In 2023, as James was on the verge of breaking the NBA career scoring record, Abdul-Jabbar remained as Riley's choice as the greatest: "We don't win championships without the greatest player in the history of the game, who had the greatest weapon in the history of the game. The skyhook was unstoppable. Last minute of the game, it's going to one guy". As president of the Miami Heat, Riley had won two NBA titles with James on their roster. Isiah Thomas remarked: "If they say the numbers don't lie, then Kareem is the greatest ever to play the game." In 2013, Julius Erving said: "In terms of players all-time, Kareem is still the number one guy. He's the guy you gotta start your franchise with." In 2015, ESPN named Abdul-Jabbar the best center in NBA history, and ranked him No. 2 behind Michael Jordan among the greatest NBA players ever. While Jordan's shots were enthralling and considered unfathomable, Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook appeared automatic, and he himself called the shot "unsexy". In 2016, Abdul-Jabbar's only recognized rookie card became the most expensive basketball card ever sold (the record has since been surpassed) when it went for $501,900 at auction. In 2022, he was ranked No. 3 (first in his position) in ESPN's NBA 75th Anniversary Team list, and No. 3 (behind Jordan and James) in a similar list by The Athletic.
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field goal percentage||3P%||3-point field goal percentage||FT%||Free throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game||Bold||Career high|
|†||Won an NBA championship||*||Led the league||NBA record|
Main article: List of career achievements by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Playing in Los Angeles facilitated Abdul-Jabbar's trying his hand at acting. He made his film debut in Bruce Lee's 1972 film Game of Death, in which his character Hakim fights Billy Lo (played by Lee).
In 1980, Abdul-Jabbar played co-pilot Roger Murdock in Airplane! He has a scene in which a little boy looks at him and remarks that he is in fact Abdul-Jabbar, spoofing the appearance of football star Elroy "Crazylegs" Hirsch as an airplane pilot in the 1957 drama that served as the inspiration for Airplane!, Zero Hour! Staying in character, Abdul-Jabbar states that he is merely Roger Murdock, an airline co-pilot; the boy continues to insist that Abdul-Jabbar is "the greatest", but that according to his father he does not "work hard on defense" and that he does not "really try, except during the playoffs". This causes Abdul-Jabbar's character to snap: "The hell I don't!" He then grabs the boy and snarls that he has "been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA" and been "busting my buns every night!" He instructs the boy: "Tell your old man to drag [Bill] Walton and [Bob] Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes." When Murdock loses consciousness later in the film, he collapses at the controls wearing Abdul-Jabbar's goggles and yellow Lakers' shorts. In 2014, Abdul-Jabbar and Airplane! co-star Robert Hays (character Ted Striker) reprised their Airplane! roles in a parody commercial promoting Wisconsin tourism.
Abdul-Jabbar has had numerous other television and film appearances, often playing himself. He has had roles in movies such as Fletch, Troop Beverly Hills and Forget Paris, and television series such as Full House, Living Single, Amen, Everybody Loves Raymond, Martin, Diff'rent Strokes (his height humorously contrasted with that of diminutive child star Gary Coleman), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Scrubs, 21 Jump Street, Emergency!, Man from Atlantis, and New Girl. Abdul-Jabbar played a genie in a lamp in a 1984 episode of Tales from the Darkside. He also played himself on the February 10, 1994, episode of the sketch comedy television series In Living Color.
Abdul-Jabbar appeared in the television version of Stephen King's The Stand, played the Archangel of Basketball in Slam Dunk Ernest, and had a brief non-speaking cameo appearance in BASEketball. Abdul-Jabbar was also the co-executive producer of the 1994 TV film The Vernon Johns Story. He has also made appearances on The Colbert Report in a 2006 skit called "HipHopKetball II: The ReJazzebration Remix '06", and in 2008 as a stage manager who is sent out on a mission to find Nazi gold. Abdul-Jabbar also voiced himself in a 2011 episode of The Simpsons titled "Love Is a Many Strangled Thing". He had a recurring role as himself on the NBC series Guys with Kids, which aired from 2012 to 2013. On Al Jazeera English he expressed his desire to be remembered not just as a player, but also as somebody who used their mind and made other contributions.
In February 2019, he appeared in season 12 episode 16 of The Big Bang Theory, "The D&D Vortex". In 2021, Abdul-Jabbar made a guest appearance as himself in a season 2 episode of Dave. The episode he appeared in was also named after him. Abdul-Jabbar makes a cameo appearance as himself in the 2022 Netflix film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.
In September 2018, Abdul-Jabbar was announced as one of the writers for the July 2019 revival of Veronica Mars.
On February 10, 2011, Abdul-Jabbar debuted his film On the Shoulders of Giants, documenting the tumultuous journey of the famed yet often-overlooked New York Renaissance professional basketball team, at Science Park High School in Newark, New Jersey. The event was simulcast live throughout the school, city, and state. In 2015, he appeared in Kareem: Minority of One, an HBO documentary on his life. In 2020, Abdul-Jabbar was the executive producer and narrator of the History channel special Black Patriots: Heroes of the Revolution. He was nominated for an Emmy Award for his narration.
Abdul-Jabbar participated in the 2013 ABC reality series Splash, a celebrity diving competition. In April 2018, Abdul-Jabbar competed in the all-athlete season of season 26 of Dancing with the Stars and partnered with professional dancer Lindsay Arnold.
In 1967, Abdul-Jabbar was the only college athlete to attend the Cleveland Summit, a meeting of prominent black athletes who convened in support of Muhammad Ali's refusal to fight in the Vietnam War. The following year, Abdul-Jabbar boycotted the Summer Olympics to protest American racism, drawing death threats for his decision.
Abdul-Jabbar became a best-selling author and cultural critic. He published several books, mostly on African-American history. His first book, his autobiography Giant Steps, was written in 1983 with co-author Peter Knobler. The book's title is an homage to jazz great John Coltrane, referring to his album Giant Steps. Others include On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance, co-written with Raymond Obstfeld, and Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, World War II's Forgotten Heroes, co-written with Anthony Walton, which is a history of the first black armored unit to fight in World War II.
A regular contributor to discussions about issues of race and religion, among other topics, in national magazines and on television, Abdul-Jabbar has written a regular column for Time. He appeared on Meet the Press on January 25, 2015, to talk about a column saying that Islam should not be blamed for the actions of violent extremists, just as Christianity has not been blamed for the actions of violent extremists who profess Christianity. When asked about being Muslim, he said: "I don't have any misgiving about my faith. I'm very concerned about the people who claim to be Muslims that are murdering people and creating all this mayhem in the world. That is not what Islam is about, and that should not be what people think of when they think about Muslims. But it's up to all of us to do something about all of it."
In November 2014, Abdul-Jabbar published an essay in Jacobin calling for just compensation for college athletes, writing that "in the name of fairness, we must bring an end to the indentured servitude of college athletes and start paying them what they are worth." Commenting on Donald Trump's 2017 travel ban, he condemned it, saying: "The absence of reason and compassion is the very definition of pure evil because it is a rejection of our sacred values, distilled from millennia of struggle."
In January 2012, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Abdul-Jabbar had accepted a position as a cultural ambassador for the United States. During the announcement press conference, Abdul-Jabbar commented on the historical legacy of African-Americans as representatives of U.S. culture: "I remember when Louis Armstrong first did it back for President Kennedy, one of my heroes. So it's nice to be following in his footsteps." As part of this role, Abdul-Jabbar has traveled to Brazil to promote education for local youths.
Former President Barack Obama announced in his last days of office that he has appointed Abdul-Jabbar along with Gabrielle Douglas and Carli Lloyd to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.
In January 2017, Abdul-Jabbar was appointed to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee by United States Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin. According to the United States Mint, Abdul-Jabbar is a keen coin collector whose interest in the life of Alexander Hamilton had led him into the hobby. He resigned in 2018 due to what the Mint described as "increasing personal obligations".
Abdul-Jabbar met Habiba Abdul-Jabbar (born Janice Brown) at a Lakers game during his senior year at UCLA. They eventually married and together had three children: daughters Habiba and Sultana and son Kareem Jr., who played basketball at Western Kentucky after attending Valparaiso. Abdul-Jabbar and Janice divorced in 1978. He has another son, Amir, with Cheryl Pistono. Another son, Adam, made an appearance on the TV sitcom Full House with him.
In 1983, Abdul-Jabbar's house burned down. Many of his belongings, including his beloved jazz LP collection of about 3,000 albums, were destroyed. Many Lakers fans sent and brought him albums, which he found uplifting.
In 2016, Abdul-Jabbar performed a tribute to friend Muhammad Ali along with Chance the Rapper.
At age 24 in 1971, he converted to Islam and legally became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means "noble one, servant of the Almighty." He was named by Hamaas Abdul Khaalis. Abdul-Jabbar purchased and donated 7700 16th Street NW, a house in Washington, D.C., for Khaalis to use as the Hanafi Madh-Hab Center; a few years later, the location would become the place of the 1973 Hanafi Muslim massacre. Eventually, Kareem "found that [he] disagreed with some of Hamaas' teachings about the Quran, and [they] parted ways." He then studied the Quran on his own, and "emerged from this pilgrimage with [his] beliefs clarified and [his] faith renewed." Abdul-Jabbar was also heavily influenced by Malcolm X, a leader of the Nation of Islam. Abdul-Jabbar was invited to join the group, but he refused.
Abdul-Jabbar has spoken about the thinking that was behind his name change when he converted to Islam. He stated that he was "latching on to something that was part of my heritage, because many of the slaves who were brought here were Muslims. My family was brought to America by a French planter named Alcindor, who came here from Trinidad in the 18th century. My people were Yoruba, and their culture survived slavery ... My father found out about that when I was a kid, and it gave me all I needed to know that, hey, I was somebody, even if nobody else knew about it. When I was a kid, no one would believe anything positive that you could say about black people. And that's a terrible burden on black people, because they don't have an accurate idea of their history, which has been either suppressed or distorted." His name change further eroded his public image in the United States, mostly in white areas.
In 1998, Abdul-Jabbar reached a settlement after he sued Miami Dolphins running back Karim Abdul-Jabbar (now Abdul-Karim al-Jabbar, born Sharmon Shah) because he felt Karim was profiting off the name he made famous by having the Abdul-Jabbar moniker and number 33 on his Dolphins jersey. As a result, the younger Abdul-Jabbar had to change his jersey nameplate to "Abdul" while playing for the Dolphins. The football player had also been an athlete at UCLA.
Abdul-Jabbar suffers from migraines, and his use of cannabis to reduce the symptoms has had legal ramifications. In November 2009, Abdul-Jabbar announced that he was suffering from a form of leukemia, Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. The disease was diagnosed in December 2008, but Abdul-Jabbar said his condition could be managed by taking oral medication daily, seeing his specialist every other month, and having his blood analyzed regularly. He expressed in a 2009 press conference that he did not believe the illness would stop him from leading a normal life. Abdul-Jabbar is a spokesman for Novartis, the company that produces Gleevec, his cancer medication.
In February 2011, Abdul-Jabbar announced via Twitter that his leukemia was gone and he was "100% cancer free". A few days later, he clarified his misstatement: "You're never really cancer-free and I should have known that. My cancer right now is at an absolute minimum." In April 2015, Abdul-Jabbar was admitted to hospital when he was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. Later that week, on his 68th birthday, he underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery at the UCLA Medical Center.
In February 2023 he spoke out about his atrial fibrillation diagnosis. He partnered with Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer's "No Time to Wait" to raise awareness of the symptoms of the irregular and rapid heart rhythm condition which increase the risk of stroke. 
In 2011, Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Double Helix Medal for his work in raising awareness for cancer research. Also in 2011, Abdul-Jabbar received an honorary degree from New York Institute of Technology. In 2016, Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama. In 2020, Abdul-Jabbar was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Narrator for his work on the documentary special Black Patriots: Heroes of The Revolution.
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Alcindor played for Power Memorial Academy (at 6 feet 8 inches) on the varsity for four years, and his total of 2,067 points set a New York City high school record.
Lew Alcindor strode onto the Pauley Pavilion court Saturday night and captured the town, completely demoralizing the UCLA varsity basketball team in the process
Jabbar, who wears goggles to protect his eyes during play, is suffering from recurring corneal erosion syndrome in his right eye. He returned to Los Angeles following an eye examination in Dallas early Saturday. Doctors explained that because Jabbar was poked in the eye so many times in the days before he wore goggles, scar tissue had formed on the cornea.
Eight days after scratching his cornea against Cal, Abdul-Jabbar was one of four UCLA starters to play all 40 minutes.
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