For someone who accomplished so much for so long, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar can rightfully make the claim to being the best player to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. Personally, I’m not in the business of trying to suss out such arguments, but if someone picked Kareem how could you doubt them?
His career ran a remarkable 20 years, which only a handful of players have approached. It took Kareem until his 39th year on this earth, his 18th in the NBA, to finally dip below 20 PPG. The only time he shot below 50% from the field was in his final season. At age 37 he spearheaded the Los Angeles Lakers to the title and captured a Finals MVP in the process.
In his younger days, he teamed with Oscar Robertson and Bob Dandridge to deliver the Milwaukee Bucks a title in 1971. During his six seasons in Wisconsin, Kareem averaged an astounding 30 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3.5 blocks a game on his way to three MVP awards.
Even after a trade to the Los Angeles Lakers, which left the Lakers gutted, Kareem kept up the assault. The Lakers “stumbled” to a 40-42 record during this first season (1976), but Jabbar was a one man wrecking crew with 28 points, 17 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks per game that season on his way to yet another MVP. These 1970s years were Kareem at his absolute finest but given the lack of exposure the NBA had in general they aren’t as easily relived on SportsCenter highlight clips.
What clips we do receive are of his days in the 1980s with Showtime. Magic Johnson receives rightful credit for igniting Showtime, but when that fastbreak attack wasn’t humming, Kareem was the go-to safety valve. He wasn’t quite the force he was in the 1970s, but Kareem’s second act in his mid-and-late 30s was better than most men ever dream of in their youthful 20s.
The sheer weight and volume of his numbers have such gravity that we’re reduced to chuckles at its absurdity: 6 MVPs, 19 All-Star Games, 15 All-NBA Teams, the all-time leading scorer in NBA history… He battled Wilt Chamberlain, Wes Unseld, Willis Reed, Dave Cowens, Bill Walton, Bob McAdoo, Bob Lanier, Jack Sikma, Hakeem Olajuwon, Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, Elvin Hayes, Patrick Ewing, and got the best of all of them at one time or another.
So, if someone indeed comes around arguing for Kareem as the greatest of all-time, the argument is about as dependable and solid as Jabbar’s skyhook.
Years Played: 1969 – 1989
6x Champion (1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-’88)
2x Finals MVP (1971, 1985)
6x MVP (1971-’72, 1974, 1976-’77, 1980)
10x All-NBA 1st Team (1971-’74, 1976-’77, 1980-’81, 1984, 1986)
5x All-NBA 2nd Team (1970, 1978-’79, 1983, 1985)
4x All-Defensive 1st Team (1974-’75, 1979-’81)
6x All-Defensive 2nd Team (1970-’71, 1976-’78, 1984)
Rookie of the Year (1970), All-Rookie 1st Team (1970)
19x All-Time All-Star (1970-’77, 1979-’89)
NBA - 1560 Games
24.6 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 3.6 APG, 2.6 BPG, 0.9 SPG, 55.9% FG, 72.1% FT
4x BPG Leader (1975-’76, 1979-’80), 2x PPG Leader (1971-’72)
FG% Leader (1977), RPG Leader (1976)
Contemporary NBA Ranks (1969-70 through 1988-89 season)
1st Points, 7th PPG
1st FGs Made, 6th FG%
2nd FTs Made
1st Rebounds, 9th RPG
1st Blocks*, 3rd BPG*
8th Assists, 14th Steals*
1st Games Played, 1st Minutes Played
*Stats not kept until the 1973-74 season