As Uncle Drew once famously said,”This game is about buckets and will always be about buckets.” He may be Kyrie Irving‘s fictional character used for a Pepsi commercial, but that statement holds the truth. Basketball is a deep, strategical, complicated, and beautiful game of details and numerous factors, but in the end, all that matters is which team scored more points.
When you think about some of the best scorers in NBA history, most of the names that come to mind are perimeter players like Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Tracy McGrady, Adrian Dantley, George Gervin, and many more. But the leading scorer in NBA history is a 7’2” center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, with 38 387 career points, sitting firmly in the #1 spot.
Kareem was super-skilled for his size, which allowed him to dominate the paint consistently for 20 years and invent the most unstoppable shot in basketball history – the skyhook. But in his time, the game was different and more inclined to the big men. A slower pace allowed the centers to get more touches and be the primary source of points. That game style gave us numerous great centers in the ’60s and 70’s, but with the game’s evolution, the playstyle became more preferable to the perimeter players.
The constant acceleration of the game reached its peak in today’s game, with teams playing faster than ever and focusing on outside shooting rather than playing through a dominant big man. So now all the best scorers of today’s game are guards and perimeter players that mostly base their game around the three-point shot while the big men have taken a step back.
Who could imagine nowadays that Wilt Chamberlain, a 7’1” giant without any ability to shot, scored 100 points in a game? One of his rivals and best players in the history of the NBA, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, made a guest appearance on The Dan Patrick Show back in 2017 and talked about various topics, including Wilt’s 100-point game and the scoring evolution of the NBA. Dan pointed out how it’s easier for a perimeter player to score than a center because of the ball being in their hands most of the time, but Kareem disagreed, saying it’s all about coaching.
But when Dan asked if Kareem thinks he could have score 100 points in a game as Wilt did, “Cap” answered his point of view and opinion.
“Like Wilt did? Who was that, Alex Hannum was coaching him? He told them: ‘Hey, every time down, throw the ball to Wilt.’ I played with guys that needed to get the ball, so I didn’t want them thinking that if they threw me the ball, they wouldn’t get it back. If I got double-teamed, I gave it up, and I tried to play a team game. I think people didn’t resent the fact coaches wanted me to shoot those high-percentage shots because when defense sags, I passed the ball, and guys got shots on the perimeter. We had a balanced attack.”Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, The Dan Patrick Show
Kareem was never the physical force Wilt was, but he had more moves in his bag and a better shooting touch. In the end, it is all about the different mindsets of these two individuals. Wilt was getting the ball on the block every single possession and trying to stuff the stat sheet, while Kareem was worried about making his teammates happy and the team winning. I guess that’s why in the end, Kareem has 6 rings compared to Wilt’s 2 rings.
Every player has their style and preferences on how they wanted their legacy to look, and Kareem was never the type to force it. If he wanted to, I firmly believe Kareem could have scored 100 points in a game in that era, but that was not his goal, as “Cap” played the right way and got remembered as a winner while still receiving numerous individual awards along the way.