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Excerpts on Kareem

kareem

I caught myself day dreaming about sky hooks yesterday.  I’m not sure why.  Long day in the office?  Not enough *real* basketball to keep my mind occupied?  Whatever the case, I was specifically thinking about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — the NBA’s all time scoring leader — and his supposedly unstoppable go-to move.  First, why hasn’t anybody copied the sky hook?  Second, why isn’t Kareem — a six-time MVP and champion — discussed more in G.O.A.T. debates?  (Seriously, look at his basketball-reference page.)  And finally, it occurred to me that almost every book I’ve read on basketball history has a section on Kareem.  His career arc was interesting for multiple reasons, but mostly because he spent most of the 1970s as the league’s best player and most of the 80s as a champion with Magic Johnson receiving more of the credit.

With that in mind, I thought I’d scrap together some of the better stuff I’ve read on Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

David Halberstam, The Breaks of the Game:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is likewise a dominating player.  He is not the defensive force that Russell or Walton was, but he is so consistently good on offense that he changes the texture of every game he plays…

He was very tall and his height was a matter of some conjecture.  He listed his height as 7’2″.  Other very tall young men, seven feet even, who had played against him, swore he was at least 7’4″.  Some, not given to exaggeration, said he was surely 7’6″.  What most people did not see was the grace, the agility so rare in any man, but truly astonishing in a man of his height; they saw only the height, which was greater than their own.  Failing to see the grace, they also failed to see the passion, which was brilliantly concealed, hidden behind two layers of masks, first a protective eyepiece which was a mask to the face, and then the face itself which was a mask to the soul.  They saw the lack of emotion and decided that Kareem did not care as they cared…

His play had, if anything, too much consistency to it.  His good games were forgotten, his bad ones remembered.  He had played for much of his career on weak teams or on teams poorly designed for him.  Often too much depended on him, and because he was so dominating a force, opposing teams always knew that the key to stopping the Lakers was stopping Kareem.  His teams, strong in their regular-season records, tended to wear down in playoff games.  Opponents always based their strategy on stopping him and he rarely got very much help from referees.  He was held, fouled and elbowed more than any otehr player in the league, all with the semitacit approval of the referees; for in truth, if they did not allow his opponents some small advantage there would be no way of stopping him.

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