Kareem met Wilt when he was still a teenager
The personal connection between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the late great Wilt Chamberlain existed even long before Kareem came to the NBA. Something relatively unknown is that Wilt observed Kareem’s progress ever since he was in high school up until he joined the Milwaukee Bucks and became his rival on the court. Wilt was the first one that took an interest in Jabbar growing up because you don’t see a 6’11” kid on every corner, so an instant connection between them was formed from their first meeting.
In his book ‘Becoming Kareem’ Jabbar talks about one of the first times he met Wilt and the important advice he gave him if he wanted to get to the NBA. At that time, Wilt has already built a reputation as one of the strongest and most athletic players in the world, not just in the realms of basketball. His strength and durability were unique, and his imposing figure shocked even Kareem, who was usually the tallest person in the room wherever he went.
“Wilt recognized me from our previous meeting. At six foot eleven, I was hard to forget. “Still makin’ a name for yourself, huh, kid?” he said as he curled dumbbells larger than my head. “Trying,” I said.
“You’re going to need to pack on some meat if you want to bang with the big boys.” He grinned and plopped the dumbbells onto the ground with a loud clank. Then he picked up a barbell with even bigger weights. “You need muscle if you’re going to jump up with three guys climbing on your back.”
The advice he used to improve as a player
At that time, Wilt was in his absolute prime, and Kareem, who wanted to be the next Wilt, simply marveled at his muscular built and the ease he would lift all those weights. Kareem was tall but extremely slim and lengthy, while Wilt looked twice as his size. Kareem also recalls trying to lift one of those weights but soon realized he still didn’t have the necessary strength, and he was happy Wilt didn’t see him struggling.
I looked at his thick muscles with envy. I felt like a pencil standing next to a mailbox. “I’ll work on it,” I promised, then grabbed a barbell that was too heavy for me, struggling to raise it. If he noticed, he didn’t let on, which I appreciated more than the advice.”
Excerpt From: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “Becoming Kareem”. Apple Books.
It was years from that moment these two would face in their first NBA game, with Kareem coming into the NBA as the same lengthy and tall kid with an incredible amount of talent. Then, as the years went on, Kareem took Wilt’s advice more seriously and built up some muscles to have an easier time banging down in the post with other bigs. He had all the essential skill set and fundamentals to succeed in the NBA, but building up his body wasn’t even on his mind until Wilt told him its one of the crucial aspects of being a dominant player.
Kareem eventually inserted weight lifting, stretching, and yoga into his daily regimen, which was one of the main reasons his career spanned through 20 years. Consistency and durability became recognizable traits of Kareem’s career, and he learned what he needed to do to be on the top of his game for such a long time.