‘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 joining the purple and gold, in a deal that sent Elmore Smith, Brian Winters, Junior Bridgeman, and Dave Meyers to the Bucks. And as reported, the deal did reshape both the face and the future of pro basketball, as Kareem went on to win five championships in what was one of the greatest dynasties the NBA has ever seen.
But if it were up to Jabbar, NY Times wouldn’t have been reporting about his move to the Lakers. 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. But the way things worked out the Lakers were very interested in having me come here and they made sincere determined efforts to get me here. They 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.Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, NBC News
Just for context; by that time, Kareem had already won three regular-season MVPs, was a ’71 NBA champion, and an established dominant force in the league, as he averaged 30.4 PPG, 15.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, and 3.4 BPG. And he wanted to join the Knicks! He wanted to be there!
Most teams don’t get the luxury of an all-time great expressing desire to join them. But the Knicks had that luxury. And on top of that, they were in need of a big-man. Willis Reed announced his retirement in ’74, so John Gianelli became NY’s starting center. Now, if you get the opportunity, do you replace a solid role-playing big with an all-time great one who wants to play for you? Most of the time, it’s a no brainer. But the ’75 Knicks passed on it.
So all the bad decisions, whether it’s a poor trade, bad draft selection, or shambolic free agency signing, they all date back to the ’70s, when the Knicks made the worst one of them all – they passed up on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – a guy who, unlike LeBron, Kawhi, KD, or any other top-tier player in NBA history, wanted to play ‘for the Knickerbockers.’