Kareem Abdul Jabbar - NBA All-Time Leading Scorer
Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Hadir Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Current Times…
Called Harlem in New York City where a boy named Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. was born on April 16, 1947. His parents, Cora, a department store price checker, and Ferdinand Sr. (Big Al), a Julliard-trained musician and a transit police officer, only had one child. As a result Ferdinand, or rather Lew as he was called, was raised with all the love and attention that parents tend to lavish on an only child.
As he grew up, Lew quickly became known for his unusually tall stature and his curious, inquisitive mind, both of which helped him pursue his passions including his favorite sport, basketball.
Lew attended St. Jude Elementary school in Inwood (another part of Manhattan) where his family moved, and he was one of only two African-American children there. Most of his free time was spent playing basketball at a local playground known as the Battlegrounds. When he started fourth grade, Lew, an honors student, transferred to Holy Providence Boarding School in Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania which was an African-American all boys school.
After a year at the boarding school, Lew returned to New York City and continued his schooling there. When he finished eighth grade, Lew was already a notable six-foot-eight inches tall which meant that a lot of high school coaches worked hard to recruit him.
Lew ended up attending Power Memorial High School from 1962-1966 on scholarship. Because of his skill, he played on the varsity team and made all-city team all four years. He also led his team to two national championships, set a record for most rebounds and set a New York record for most points scored by a high school student.
When Lew graduated from high school, the Vietnam war was ongoing but Lew, who was still growing and would eventually top off at seven-feet-two inches tall, received 4-F status from the draft board because he was simply too tall for military service. Instead he went to the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) on scholarship and played for the University's team, the Bruins. While playing for the freshman team, he averaged thirty-three points per game and led his team to an undefeated season. In his sophomore year, he was offered, and turned down, a million dollar contract from the Harlem Globetrotters, a professional exhibition basketball team.
Once he was on the UCLA varsity team, Lew helped the school win three national championships from 1967 through 1969 when he graduated. Also, during both 1967 and 1969, Lew was named College Player of the Year. In 1968, he converted to Islam and joined the Nation of Islam, then later that same year he retook the Shahada (declaration of Islam) and became a Sunni Muslim.
Having been on the receiving end of numerous racial slurs, Lew used his success on the court to become an advocate for African-Americans whom history had ignored. He also decided to protest the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the US by boycotting the 1968 Summer Olympics and not joining the US Men's Olympic Basketball team.
During Lew's junior year at UCLA, the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) decided Lew's remarkable height gave him an unfair advantage and instituted a ten year ban on the dunk shot in college basketball. To get around the ban, Lew invented a new form of dunk shot, a straight-armed shot which became famous as the skyhook, a term coined by radio play-by-play announcer Eddie Doucette. The skyhook became Lew's signature move for the rest of his long and successful career.
In the video below you can watch some of his "Greatest Skyhooks":
In 1969, Lew graduated from UCLA with a degree in History and turned pro, playing for the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Milwaukee Bucks. In 1971 he was named Rookie of the Year, helped the Bucks win the Championship and, on May first, adopted the name Kareem (generous) Abdul (servant/worshipper of the) Jabbar (Mighty/Powerful i.e. God). Kareem continued his invaluable contribution to his team as scoring champion and one of the top five NBA players in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, and field goal percentage. He was also named NBA Most Valuable Player, the first of six MVPs he would earn.
Later, in October 1974, Kareem requested to be traded to either New York or Los Angeles. Accordingly, in 1975 the LA Lakers acquired Kareem Abdul Jabbar who helped them win the Championship six times. He also began wearing his signature goggles after he scratched his cornea for the second time during a game.
Over the years, Kareem continued to set and break records and earn MVPs. In 1983 he suffered a personal setback when his house burned down destroying most of his prized possessions, including his jazz LP collection. In reaction, many of his fans showed their support by sending him LPs in an effort to replace his losses. Later in 1985, Kareem was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the year.
After playing a record twenty seasons, Kareem Abdul Jabbar retired in 1989 as the NBA's all-time leading scorer. Once he retired, Kareem wrote several books including A Season on the Reservation (2000) about his time coaching the Alchesay Falcons team on the White Mountain Apache reservation, On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance (2007) about the tremendous impact the Harlem Renaissance had on both American culture and his own life and What Color is My World?: The Lost History of African-American Inventors (2012).
He also appeared in numerous movies including The Game of Death (1978) where he played Hakim who battled Bruce Lee's character Billy-Lo, Airplane! (1980) where he played Roger Murdock the co-pilot, and Forget Paris (1995) where he played himself.
December 2008 proved to be a trying time for Kareem because he was diagnosed with Philadelphia chromosome-positive chronic myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. In 2009, Kareem held a press conference announcing his condition to the public in order to raise awareness of the disease, and help others similarly afflicted. Kareem reassured his fans that his cancer could be managed by taking oral medication daily, seeing his specialist every other month, and getting his blood analyzed regularly. During his initial diagnosis and illness, Kareem's family supported and stood by him, especially his middle son Amir, a third year medical student in San Francisco.
In 2011, Kareem Abdul Jabbar was awarded the Double Helix Medal (named for the “winding-staircase” structure of the DNA molecule), which is awarded to individuals who have positively impacted human health by raising awareness and funds for biomedical research. Recipients of the Double Helix Medal include Muhammad Ali (Parkinson's disease sufferer and spokesman), Suzanne and Bob Wright (Autism Speaks founders), and Sherry Lansing (Stand Up to Cancer telethon).
To date, Kareem has worked as a professional basketball player, author, civil rights advocate, cancer awareness advocate, actor and producer. He was also named a US Cultural Ambassador in 2012 following in the footsteps of other notable African-Americans such as Louis Armstrong.
Though retired, Kareem Abdul Jabbar continues to be involved in the sport that he loves through coaching and mentoring and he continues his charitable and civil rights activities. His foundation, the Skyhook Foundation, is working with the California Board of Education to emphasize science, technology, engineering and math in schools in order to "turn success into significance."
Recently he received a long overdue honor. A sixteen foot tall, 1,500 pound statue of Kareem Abdul Jabbar, wearing his signature goggles, armband, 1980s short-shorts and number thirty-three jersey, executing his famous skyhook shot. It was placed outside Staples Center in Los Angeles, home of the LA Lakers. His statue there joins the statues of other iconic players such as hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, boxer Oscar De La Hoya, basketball Hall of Famers Jerry West and Magic Johnson, and longtime Lakers announcer Chick Hearn.
During his acceptance speech, Kareem who had been vocal in the past about the absence of a statue in his honor despite his accomplishments and contributions to the LA Lakers, spoke wisely to those who attended the statue's unveiling ceremony, "I realized four years ago when I was diagnosed with leukemia that a lot of this doesn't mean as much as we think it means as we're living our lives," he said. "The fact that we get the chance to wake up and enjoy life on this planet every day -- every day is a blessing from the good Lord. I'm out shopping or going to the movies or going to a bookstore or places and Laker fans come up to me and say, 'Kareem, how's your health? How are you doing?' And that means more to me than any of this. And I want to thank all of you for that."
At the ceremony, civil rights activist Richard Lapchick congratulated Kareem "not only for the statue but for a life well-lived." But his life's not over yet, the ever achieving Kareem Abdul Jabbar no doubt still has a lot more to offer and we look forward to seeing what this versatile man will do next.
If you want to stay up-to-date on all the latest news about Kareem Abdul Jabbar you can check his official website at: www.kareemabduljabbar.com.
*Written by Aisha Bilal © 2012. Care to read or leave Comments?
- Names, Translations and Aliases:
- Kareem Abdul Jabbar aka Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr: كريم عبد الجبار.
- Kareem Abdul Jabbar aka Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr: كريم عبد الجبار.