6 x NBA champion, 2 x Finals MVP (14 years apart!), 6 x MVP, 10 x All-NBA First Team, 5 x All-NBA Second Team, 19 x All-Star, 3 x NCAA champion, the greatest college player of all time, and oh by the way – he dropped 38,387 points in his NBA career and is still no.1 all-time in that category. Yet, despite this summary, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is rarely mentioned when talking about the GOAT. Well, Kevin McHale has thoughts on that.
If you want to talk numbers, Kareem’s obviously got Michael Jordan, and LeBron James beat. That’s not debatable. But as we know, numbers don’t tell the entire story. Are you a leader, do you make others around you better, can you carry a team against all odds, how strong was your competition? All these questions matter when talking about the greatest players to play the game.
For Kevin McHale, Kareem’s case is partly in the numbers, made possible by his longevity. The time, energy, and thought Abdul-Jabbar invested in being so effective for such a long time. But the single most important thing for Kareem’s claim to the mountain top is something most people don’t think of when they talk about his game.
To me, everybody talks about the best player to play the game, you cannot forget Kareem. He was effective well into his mid 30s. He did a lot of stretching, martial arts – he was worried about diet before anyone thought about that stuff. He’s one of those guys, more than Michael Jordan for me, that could take a game over, and there’s nothing you can do about it. He would made shots that you couldn’t defend. He was just phenomenal.Kevin McHale, The Universe Galaxy
Do you think “clutch” when you think about Kareem? How about unstoppable? That’s exactly what he was. The skyhook is still considered the most unguardable shot of all time. It’s the “secret” behind 38,387 points. We all know big guys don’t age as well, as their game is, on average more predicated on athleticism. Once injuries start appearing on a seven-footers file, the end comes fast.
Kareem managed to avoid all that, and that has to be taken into account. But while it wasn’t highlight reel material, the skyhook was the ultimate cheat code. You knew it was coming, and there was nothing you could do about it. That’s what separates the best from the rest, and Kareem can claim the best move in history in that category. And don’t think he didn’t have a killer instinct.
He was one of the guys I don’t think I never said anything to him when we played. One of the guys told me “You don’t want to piss off Kareem, he’s good enough without getting him pissed off.” We all kind od left Kareem alone, no one said much to him because everybody respected his game so much.Kevin McHale, The Universe Galaxy
The main reason Kareem never gets the props he deserves is his relationship with the media. Abdul-Jabbar always had a reputation of being reluctant to play the media game, and most of his teammates found it hard to relate to him. At the start of his career, McHale tried to develop a relationship with Kareem, and James Worthy explained to McHale not to expect much.
“James Worthy came up to me and told me “It ain’t personal. He’s like that with everybody.” He had his chair facing the corner, reading his book.”Kevin McHale, The Universe Galaxy
McHale’s experience meeting Kareem after his playing days were done was completely different. Kareem was a lot more approachable and open. But as a player, he just didn’t fit into the athlete mold. That width of interest, intellectual hunger, and curiosity made him “weird” in his playing days and earned him the two most impressive achievements in his career.
The NBA named its social justice champion award the “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Social Justice Champion Award.” And in 2016, President Barack Obama gave Kareem The Presidential Medal of Freedom and spoke of him with chosen words.
“The reason we honor Kareem is more than just a pair of goggles and the skyhook. He stood up for his Muslim faith when it wasn’t easy and wasn’t popular. He’s as comfortable sparring with Bruce Lee as he is advocating on Capitol Hill or writing with extraordinary eloquence on patriotism. … Physically, intellectually, spiritually — Kareem is one-of-a-kind. An American who illuminates both our most basic freedoms and our highest aspirations.”Barack Obama, NBA
Kareem has a case for the best player on the court and the most impressive/impactful NBA player off the court of all time. The reason we rarely hear his name in those conversations is simply that Abdul-Jabbar never really cared about being in them. I don’t know about you, but that’s just extra points in my book.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest to play the game.