Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s list of individual and team accomplishments is as impressive as it gets: Rookie of the Year, member of six NBA championship teams, six-time MVP, two-time Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, all-time leading scorer, and so much more.
However, there’s still a lot we don’t know about this NBA icon. But not anymore. Here are 10 things you may not know about Kareem — one of the greatest players in NBA history.
1. He led his high-school team to a 71-game winning streak
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — then Lew Alcindor — began making his case for the greatest winner in basketball history as early as high school. He led the Power Memorial Academy to three straight New York City Catholic championships, during which the team went on a 71-game winning streak.
The ’63-64 team was named “The #1 High School Team of The Century” by National Sports Writers and Alcindor finished his high school career as a New York City high school record holder in points with 2,067.
2. He set the UCLA scoring record in his debut game
Due to freshmen being ineligible to play until ’72, Alcindor was forced to sit out his first year at UCLA. He made his debut as a sophomore in ’66 and received national coverage after breaking UCLA’s single-game scoring record at the time with 56 points, as the Bruins beat USC 105-90.
“My shooting was only adequate,” he said after the game. “I could have done better. And my defense was poor, too. I need to work on it.” However, UCLA’s head coach John Wooden didn’t hide his admiration for a 19-year-old. “He was just awesome on offense,” said Wooden. Little did he know, Lew was only getting started.
3. He was drafted 1st overall by the Nets in the ABA
Three NCAA championships and numerous individual awards later, Alcindor decided to go Pro. He was picked first by the Milwaukee Bucks in the ’69 NBA Draft after they won a coin-toss with the Phoenix Suns. But despite that, the Bucks still weren’t guaranteed to sign Lew since he was also chosen first overall by the ABA’s New York Nets.
What followed was a bidding war between two teams, one in which the Nets believed they had the upper hand due to Alcindor’s New York background. But after he told both organizations he would only sign with one of them, the Nets bid too low.
The Bucks then offered him a $1.4 million contract, and New York countered with $3.25 million. But at that time, Lew had already made up his mind. “A bidding war degrades the people involved,” he said about his decision to go with Milwaukee. “It would make me feel like a flesh peddler, and I don’t want to think like that.”
4. He was offered $1 million to play for the Globetrotters
Before he joined the Bucks, the former UCLA superstar was persuaded to join the Harlem Globetrotters. One of the best basketball teams in the world at the time offered Alcindor $1 million to play for them, but he decided to decline the offer and take his talents to the NBA.
20 years later, he was added to the lineup as an honorary member — an accolade which “recognizes an individual of extraordinary character and achievement who has made an everlasting mark on the world.”
5. His Arabic name means “the noble one, servant of the Almighty”
In ’68, the year before he declared for the NBA Draft, Alcindor stirred controversy when he boycotted the Olympic Games in an anti-racism protest. He converted to Islam and privately changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which decades later he described as a manifestation of his African history, culture, and beliefs. The day after he won his first NBA title in ’71, Lew publicly adopted his new name, which means “the noble one, servant of the Almighty.”
6. He wanted to join the Knicks in ’75
‘In a deal that reshapes the face and possibly the future of pro basketball, the Milwaukee Bucks traded Kareem Abdul‐Jabbar yesterday to the Los Angeles Lakers.’ This was NY Times reporting about Kareem’s trade to the Lakers after his 6-year-run with the Bucks. But if it were up to Jabbar, the reports would’ve been about him coming to New York. Because LA wasn’t Kareem’s preferred destination — it was the Knicks.
“I wanted to go to New York and play there. It’s been a dream of mine since I first started playing basketball: to play for the Knickerbockers,” said Kareem after the deal. “The Lakers tried to make me feel at home and New York; this just wasn’t the case for them. So I don’t think it’s smart to go around people that don’t really want you.”
7. He was mentored by Bruce Lee
Bruce Lee and basketball – an awkward fit, to say the least. But the connection is there, and it’s called Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Not only did the two make a movie together called “Game of Death,” but Lee also mentored the NBA legend, laying the foundations for Jabbar’s unprecedented basketball longevity at the time.
“I first met Bruce when I was a student at UCLA looking to continue my martial arts studies, which I started in New York City,” Kareem said. “We quickly developed a friendship as well as a student-teacher relationship. He taught me 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.”
8. His Former Financial Advisor Stole $9 Million From Him
In ’80, after Kareem’s initial business manager died of cancer, the Lakers superstar was introduced to Tom Collins — an up-and-coming sports agent who also managed Lucius Allen and Ralph Sampson. Jabbar was earning $1 million at the time and needed help managing his finances. Collins was in the right place at the right time, and the two started working together.
A couple of years into their business relationship, Collins became increasingly quiet, sometimes going a month or more without communicating. Kareem ordered an independent audit of his finances and discovered he was $9 million in debt, thanks to things going south with Collins’ real estate deal in ’84.
Jabbar even discovered Collins didn’t have any formal training in finances and decided to fire him. He later filed a $55 million lawsuit against his former business manager, charging him with mismanagement, negligence, and fraud. The suit settled in late ’89, and the terms of the deal were sealed.
9. He was nominated for an Emmy
Over three decades after he retired from the NBA, Kareem came close to earning another accolade — a non-basketball one. He was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Narrator category for his narration in the hour-long “Black Patriots: Heroes of the Revolution” documentary.
The Emmy went to David Attenborough for his performance in “Seven Worlds, One Planet,” but the nomination alone is something not a lot of former athletes can brag about.
10. He co-authored a mystery novel called Mycroft Holmes
In ’17, Jabbar teamed with seasoned screenwriter Anna Waterhouse for Mycroft Holmes, a book about the older and smarter brother to Sherlock Holmes. Since he began reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a rookie with the Bucks, Kareem became a huge fan of a famous detective, and the fact he got to reinvent a small fraction of the story has to be at the top of Kareem’s career accomplishments. And for one of the greatest basketball players the world has ever seen, that speaks a lot.