Legends Interview: Kareem Abdul Jabbar

September 14, 2015

NBRPA writer Jon Teitel has sat down with many of the greatest players in NBA history and will share his interviews at LegendsofBasketball.com. Jon visited with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about his signature shot and his place among the elite.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born with the name Lew Alcindor in 1947, and all he has ever done his entire life is set records and win championships. He won 71 straight games at Power Memorial High School set a New York City high school record by scoring 2067 PTS. He chose to attend college at UCLA, where he won 3 straight titles while being named tourney MOP each time, and set a record that still stands by averaging 26.4 PPG. Abdul-Jabbar was selected 1st overall by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1969 NBA Draft, and his 20-year pro career resulted in a resume that may never be matched: 19-time All-Star, 6-time MVP, 11-time All-Defensive Team, and 6 NBA titles as a player thanks to his unstoppable skyhook. He retired in 1989 as the NBA's all-time leader in several different categories, and his 38,387 PTS remains the best ever.

1. You learned to shoot your trademark "sky hook" in the 5th grade and were later able to shoot it with either hand: how did you 1st come up with it, and how hard was it to learn to shoot it ambidextrously?

When I was in the 5th grade our basketball coach Farrell Hopkins would have older kids from our parish (St. Jude’s) who were in either college or HS help him with coaching duties. 1 of those kids showed me the “Mikan Drill.” To do this drill you station yourself in front of the basket and shoot the ball off the glass by alternately using your right and left hand. In this way, you can develop the use of both hands and the footwork you need to shoot the hook shot.

2. After growing to a height of 6’8” by age 13, you went to HS at Power Memorial Academy and won 71 straight games and 3 NYC Catholic championships on a team that was later called the “#1 High School Team of the Century”: how was your team so dominant, and what was the feeling like in your locker room after the winning streak came to an end?

My team was dominant because we had sound game plans: get the ball to the open man for the easiest shots and play tough “D.” We felt that we were emulating the Boston Celtics of Bill Russell’s era.

3. In 1965 at UCLA you scored 51 PTS for the freshman team in a win over the 2-time defending champion varsity (who was ranked #1 in the preseason poll that year) in the 1st-ever game in Pauley Pavilion: what was it like to play in Pauley for the 1st time, and did you think your freshman team could have beaten anyone in the country?

Pauley Pavilion in 1965 was a state-of-the-art arena. We felt that we were playing in the best possible environment. We also felt that we were the best college team in the country even though we were freshmen.

4. In 1967 you set a school record with 61 PTS against Washington State: was it just 1 of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were “in the zone”?

My 61-PT game came about because Coach Wooden left me in a game that we had already put away. I usually would have come out of such a game with 5 minutes left, but for some reason he left me in that day.

5. In 1968 your team had a 2-PT loss to Houston in the 1st-ever nationally-televised regular season college basketball game in front of over 50,000 fans at the Houston Astrodome in what has been called the "Game of the Century": how big an obstacle was your scratched left cornea, and was it extra-special to beat the Cougars by 32 PTS in the rematch at the 1968 NCAA tourney semifinals?

I was not able to practice with my team before we played Houston in 1968 because of my eye injury. I am sure that it affected my conditioning/shooting touch, as it was the only game I played at UCLA where I did not shoot at least 50% from the field. Beating Houston in the finals was very satisfying because we got to prove all of our critics wrong.

6. You allegedly boycotted the 1968 Olympics to protest the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the US: do you have any regrets about your decision, and what impact do you think your boycott had?

I do not have any regrets about missing the 1968 Olympics, but the supposed boycott did not take place.
7. You went 88-2 under Coach John Wooden, won 3 NCAA titles and 3 NCAA tourney MOP awards, and were named 1st-team All-American during each of your 3 varsity seasons: what was it like to play for Coach Wooden, and do you consider yourself to be the best player in college basketball history?

Playing for Coach Wooden gave all of us a great deal of confidence because we felt that he was a master at coaching the game. I would only say that I should be considered 1 of the best college players.

8. In the spring of 1971 you were named MVP, won your 1st scoring title (31.7 PPG), swept Baltimore in the NBA Finals, were named Finals MVP, and adopted the Muslim name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: was that the greatest 2-month stretch of your entire life, and why did you decide to change names?

It is very hard for me to define the best stretch of my life, but I was thrilled to win the NBA title. I had been a Muslim for 3 years at that point so it was an opportunity to go public with regard to my faith.

9. You won 6 NBA titles, won 6 MVP awards, were named to 19 All-Star teams, hold the record for most career PTS in NBA history, and were inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995: which accomplishment are you proudest of, and do you consider yourself to be the best player in NBA history?

I feel that making 19 All-Star teams was a great achievement and a testimony to my longevity. It is impossible to say who was the best in NBA history, but I do feel that I have earned my way into that argument.

10. You made your movie debut by fighting against Bruce Lee in the film “Game of Death”, and later played co-pilot Roger Murdock in “Airplane”: which performance are you proudest of, and what was it like to work with Bruce Lee?

I think that “Airplane” was more demanding in terms of acting skills. Working with Bruce was a direct result of having trained with him for 11 years.

For more info on Kareem, please check out his website at: www.kareemabduljabbar.com/championshipseason