"Cultural differences" — The real reason why Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of Milwaukee

Interestingly, the Los Angeles Lakers were Kareem's third choice on his list of preferred teams.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

© Malcolm Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Nowadays, players request to be traded to fulfill their championship dreams. This has created the so-called “ring culture” that not all players subscribe to. But back in the day, getting a ring was just one of the many reasons why a player wanted out. For Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he requested to be traded out of Milwaukee because of “cultural differences.”

Kareem’s preferred teams

Ahead of the 1975-76 NBA season, Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade from Milwaukee. He reiterated his reason for the request: he wants a change in environment, particularly somewhere he feels at home.

I don’t have any family or friends here,” Abdul-Jabbar said, per the Los Angeles Times. “The things I relate to don’t happen to be in this city to any meaningful degree. Culturally, what I’m about and what Milwaukee is about are two different things. The reason I haven’t commented on this before is I don’t want to take a knock at Milwaukee or the people here and have them think they’re unworthy of me. That’s not what it’s all about.

I have no unkind feelings toward the people of Milwaukee or Wisconsin. I want to underline that. But my family and friends aren’t here and culturally what I’m into does not exist here. My stay with management has been great, and the personnel on the team are great. I have no complaints on that.

Abdul-Jabbar had a list of preferred teams. His first option were the New York Knicks, followed by the Washington Bullets (now the Wizards), then the Los Angeles Lakers.

Pre-Kareem Lakers

We could assume that another factor behind Kareem’s trade request was the retirement of Oscar Robertson in 1974. Regarded as one of the greatest guards in history, Robertson and Abdul-Jabbar guided the Bucks to their first-ever NBA Championship in 1971. Did Kareem pull out the “cultural differences” card to camouflage his cravings for another title? Not likely.

After all, among his three preferred teams, it was only the Bullets who were considered legitimate threats. Led by Wes Unseld, the Bullets made it to the NBA Finals in the 1974-75 season but were ultimately swept by the Rick Barry-led Golden State Warriors.

Meanwhile, the Knicks had leveled down to a mid-tier squad in the 1974-75 season after winning titles in 1970 and 1973. As for the Lakers, they had been reeling after Wilt Chamberlain’s retirement in 1973. In the 1973-74 season, they got booted out in the Conference Finals by Kareem himself. The following year, they didn’t even make it to the playoffs.

And so this wasn’t a case of an NBA star actively chasing a title. As Kareem reiterated, it was a case of cultural differences. His first few years in L.A. weren’t exactly ideal. Yes, he did win MVP in his first year, but the team failed to make the playoffs. Only in the 1979-80 season — his fifth year in LA — would he have his appointment with glory. Together with 20-year-old Magic Johson, Kareem won another NBA Championship.