The biggest trademark a retired player holds in the game of basketball is the hook shot. A pass from the guard, use your size to your advantage, bend down the entire body and then fluidly release the ball from the topmost point – the technicality of a hook shot.
Tim Duncan does it better than anyone in today’s game. Shaq manipulated his physique with the shot in the 90s. And Hakeem Olajuwon made the shot his own with his release from nearly 11 feet high.
But no one can come close to the inventor of the game’s most popular field goal – the skyhook. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the man who famously mocked the chemist’s goggles and innovated the skyhook – a weapon nobody dared combat.
Jabbar was about more than just the skyhook. He was a defensive powerhouse, a rebound machine and a prolific scorer. He carried the Lakers and Bucks single-handedly for a decade before a Magic Johnson happened to stop by at Los Angeles, after which began one of the strongest duos the NBA has seen.
Abdul-Jabbar was born as a Roman-Catholic and went by the name of Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. His birth certificate indicates him being a 12 pound baby and nearly two feet tall. His father worked as a transit police officer and jazz musician, while his mother was a departmental store price-checker. Brought up in a lower-middle class setting, Jabbar was principled at a very young age. Ideals and morals governed his life to an extent that he often spoke about how his father made him question every decision he made, only to correct the mistakes.
Growing up in Manhattan, Jabbar (then Alcindor Jr) played high school basketball at Power Memorial Academy. Having led the Academy to a 71 game winning streak, the 7-foot tall monster was a publicized recruit heading to the UCLA Bruins, where he began another illustrious journey. After a stellar four years at UCLA under coach Wooden, he went into the NBA having been named a three-time All American First Team, the first Naismith College Player of the Year and three championship rings – not to forget, a three-time NCAA tournament MVP. John Wooden could be named one of the better coaches to grace college basketball but his glorious reign at UCLA wouldn’t have been close to possible hadn’t it been for Jabbar. To quote Wooden on Jabbar in his interview with Steve Bisheff, “I could feel Lewis go rigid and I tried to tell him it was just a demonstration of ignorance,” Wooden told Bisheff, “But I learned a great deal about the inhumanity of man from being around him. What he had to go through wasn’t easy.” (John Wooden: An American Treasure)
Like his predecessor Bill Russell, Jabbar declined an opportunity from the Harlem Grobtrotters to play for the organization. He declared himself eligible for the 1969 draft and was picked number 1 overall by the Milwaukee Bucks, who then acquired the point guard genius, Oscar Robertson.
Despite Robertson hitting his career lows, Jabbar combined with him for a championship run in 1971. A day after this victory and have being named MVP, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. switched faith to Islam, thereby naming himself Kareem Abdul Jabbar – a name that is enshrined in basketball folklore.
After being awarded Rookie of the Year, three MVP awards and a two-time scoring champion in the 74-75 season, Jabbar shipped docks to the Los Angeles Lakers citing an irreconcilable and racist environment in Milwaukee and more pertinently, the midwest. The Bucks lost their biggest star and the Lakers gained the best player to don the yellow and purple.
Jabbar’s achievements at the Lakers were boundless. He would appear in 13 more All-Stars, taking his tally to an unfathomable 19. With Magic Johnson, Jabbar claimed 5 more rings- making him one of the most successful players of all time.
In 1985, when everyone predicted a slump in Mr. Skyhook’s career, he totaled for a phenomenal stats season that elated him with an NBA title and Finals MVP award. At retirement, Jabbar became the first man to play 20 seasons in the National Basketball Association – a feat many doubted he would accomplish considering his low body weight. As a token of appreciation, both his jerseys were retired by his respective franchises. In 1986, Jabbar quit the game of basketball as being not only the best of his generation but remarkably, one of the greatest ever.
To evince Cap’s commanding presence on the court, his records at retirement were: Most All-Star appearances, NBA MVPs, points scored, games played, minutes played, field goals made and field goals attempted, blocked shots, defensive rebounds and total rebounds, fast break points scored and games of 40 or more points made.
Jabbar’s influence on the game can not be put in words. His opponents never jumped against him in the opening jump ball tip-off. Rules were rewritten in college to stop this beastly character from an unfair domination.
Post retirement, Jabbar has become a cultural ambassador for the United States, spoken about a simplified diverse society and campaigned for human rights. The star on the court also has taken to the silver screen with several appearances in TV sitcoms. Writing books has been another passion for Jabbar with many of them being best-sellers.
Like I always say, Football has Maradona and Cricket has Vivian Richards. For Basketball, it is the one and only Kareem Abdul Jabbar.Published 23 Aug 2012, 12:14 IST