Our New Yorker of the Day is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Born April 16, 1947.
NBA all-time leading scorer, New York Times-bestselling author, and U.S. Cultural Ambassador, born and raised in Upper Manhattan.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a global icon that changed the game of professional basketball. Since his stellar professional career, he has gone on to become a celebrated New York Times-bestselling author, filmmaker, ambassador of education, and Time Magazine columnist. A sought-after speaker, Abdul-Jabbar recounts in riveting and humorous detail his exciting evolution from street ball player to successful athlete, author, producer, and community activist.
Hall of Fame basketball center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA's all-time leading scorer. He won six NBA titles, five with the Los Angeles Lakers, over 20 years. When he retired in 1989, he was the NBA's all-time leading scorer, with 38,387 points, and became the first NBA player to play for 20 seasons. His career totals included 17,440 rebounds, 3, 189 blocks and 1,560 games.
Since his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar hasn't strayed too far from the game he loves, working for the New York Knicks and the Los Angeles Lakers. He even spent a year as a coach on the White Mountain Apache reservation in Arizona—an experience that he recorded in the 2000 book A Season on the Reservation. He has written numerous other books, including 2007's On the Shoulders of Giants, about the Harlem Renaissance, “What-color-is-my-world?” about African-American inventors, as well books about his life in basketball and a series about Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes, one of his many passions.
In February 2020, the History Channel aired a documentary he produced Black Patriots, a comprehensive picture of the African American experience during the Revolutionary War. “Since retiring from the NBA, I’ve been writing books and articles to bring awareness to the public of the many overlooked African Americans in history who have contributed so much to American society,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a statement. Black Patriots chronicles the surprising, crucial, and often ignored role the black people played in the creation of our country.”
He added, “Here’s something we never learned in school: George Washington said that African-Americans were pivotal to winning the Revolutionary War. From soldiers to spies to poets, black people were as much the founders of America as those who signed the Declaration of Independence.”
In 1995 Abdul-Jabbar was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In November 2009 Abdul-Jabbar was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia, but his long-term prognosis looked favorable. In February 2011, doctors declared the retired NBA star cancer free. In 2012, he was selected by Sectretary of State Hillary Clinton to be a U.S. global cultural ambassador Abdul-Jabbar was named a 2016 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, presented by Barack Obama.
EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. on April 16, 1947, in New York City. The only son of Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., a New York City policeman, and his wife, Cora, Alcindor was always the tallest kid in his class. Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. was born in New York City, the only child of Cora Lillian, a department store price checker, and Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., a transit police officer and jazz musician. He grew up in the Dyckman Street projects in the Inwood neighborhood of Upper Manhattan.
Known as Lew Alcindor, by the age of nine he stood an impressive 5'8", and by the time he hit eighth grade, he had grown another full foot and could already dunk a basketball. He started playing the sport at an early age. At Power Memorial Academy, Alcindor put together a high school career few could rival. He set New York City school records in scoring and rebounds, while simultaneously leading his team to an astonishing 71 consecutive wins and three straight city titles.
Alcindor began his record-breaking basketball accomplishments when he was in high school, where he led coach Jack Donahue's Power Memorial Academy team to three straight New York City Catholic championships, a 71-game winning streak, and a 79–2 overall record. This earned him a nickname—"The tower from Power". In 2000 the National Sports Writers dubbed Alcindor's team "The #1 High School Team of the Century."
COLLEGE AND PRO CAREER
After graduating in 1965, Alcindor enrolled at the University of California-Los Angeles. There, he continued his unprecedented dominance, becoming the college game's best player. Under legendary coach John Wooden, Alcindor led the Bruins to three national championships from 1967 to 1969 and was named the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament's Most Outstanding Player for the In the spring of 1969 the Milwaukee Bucks, in only their second year of existence, selected Alcindor with the first overall pick in the NBA draft.
Alcindor quickly adjusted to the pro game. He finished second in the league in scoring and third in rebounding and was named Rookie of the Year. He also helped dramatically change the fortunes of his franchise. Coming off a dismal 27-win season the year before, the retooled Bucks, with Alcindor manning the basket, improved to 56-26.
The following season the Bucks, having added future Hall of Fame guard Oscar Robertson to their roster, made another huge leap. The team finished the regular season 66-16 and then steamrolled through the playoffs, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets in the 1971 NBA finals. That same year Alcindor won his first Most Valuable Player award, the first of six MVP honors he received during his long career.
Shortly after the 1971 season ended, Alcindor converted to Islam and adopted the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which translates into "noble, powerful servant." In 1974, Abdul-Jabbar again led the Bucks to the NBA finals, where the team lost to the Boston Celtics.
Following the end of the 1975 season, Abdul-Jabbar demanded a trade, requesting Bucks management send him to either New York or Los Angeles. "Live in Milwaukee?" he said in an early magazine interview. "No, I guess you could say I exist in Milwaukee. I am a soldier hired for service and I will perform that service well. Basketball has given me a good life, but this town has nothing to do with my roots. There's no common ground.”
He was eventually shipped west for a package of players, none of whom came close to delivering for Milwaukee what Abdul-Jabbar would give the Lakers. Over the next 15 seasons Abdul-Jabbar turned Los Angeles into a perennial winner. Beginning with the 1979-80 season, when he was paired with rookie point guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson, the dominant center propelled the Lakers to five league titles while dominating the league in the 1980s.
Abdul-Jabbar also became more outgoing, making a memorable turn as the co-pilot in the 1980 comedy “Airplane!” and appearing in other television shows and movies.
A father of five, Abdul-Jabbar has four children from his first marriage to Habiba Abdul-Jabbar and a son from another relationship.
As UCLA Health rallies the community to step up to support doctors, nurses and staff on the front lines combatting COVID-19, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar answered the call in a very personal and generous way, donating 900 pairs of safety goggles to the Medical Center. Abdul-Jabbar wanted health care workers to have the same sense of safety that he had wearing eye protection, as he regularly wore goggles as he became the NBA’s all-time leading scorer in his 20-year career.
“I am honored to be able to use whatever resources I can to help UCLA Health continue its courageous and necessary work to protect the health of our community,” said Abdul-Jabbar.