Greatest Players in NBA History: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

In this weekly blog I'm going to pick one of the top players in NBA history as voted on in this project and discuss some of his career accomplishments…in other words, what made him so great that he deserves a spot among the greatest?  This week’s player is Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, another on the short list of players with an argument for Greatest of All Time status.  Abdul-Jabbar’s case is built on shear domination in numbers and accolades that compares favorably with any player in history.

1. Abdul-Jabbar is the only player in NBA history with at least six MVP awards AND six NBA championship rings.  Bill Russell has 11 rings and five MVPS, while Michael Jordan has six rings and five MVPs.  No other player has more than four MVPs.

2. Abdul-Jabbar made All NBA first team a whopping 10 times, and made first team All Defense another five times.  He was also the Rookie of the Year in 1970, and a two-time Finals MVP (including his 1985 award at age 38, making him the oldest Finals MVP in history).

3. Abdul-Jabbar is also arguably the greatest collegiate player ever, with two AP Player of the Year awards and three Final Four Most Outstanding Player awards in only three seasons of eligibility at UCLA.

4. Abdul-Jabbar is the NBA all-time leader in points and minutes played, is third in rebounds, third in blocks (weren’t even counted until his fifth season), and even 35th in assists.

In the project linked above, Abdul-Jabbar finished no. 3 overall behind Michael Jordan and Bill Russell.  I was one that voted Russell above Kareem, because to me his year-to-year impact on team results was higher than Kareem's was.  On the flip side, I could have been convinced to vote Kareem over Jordan had they ever been the head-to-head vote.  I'm interested to hear if any of you have any takes on where Kareem rates on your GOAT list, and what made him the best (jestomjaz, I'm looking at you in particular).


By: elsicilian
On: 1/11/2012 7:04:00 PM
It's always tough to compare players of different eras, but for as many accolades as Kareem receives, I actually think he is somewhat underrated in the pantheon of NBA big men. Russell and Chamberlain each dominated in their own ways of course; but like Mikan before them, they were men among boys, whose size and athleticism alone were an often insurmountable advantage.

Conversely, Kareem Abdul-Jabar (nee Lew Alcindor) had to compete against Cowens, Reed, Malone, Walton, Unseld, Gilmore, and Lanier in their primes, not to mention guys like Olajuwon, Parish, Ewing, and all the other monsters who began their careers in the 1980s. In the immortal words of Roger Murdock, "I'm out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes .."
By: Jason Thornbury
On: 1/12/2012 8:56:00 AM
elsicilian, you beat me to the punch. Because of his era and because he played so long, Kareem faced the best of the best at his position ... and still made 10 first-team All-NBA teams! And probably a handful more second-teams, meaning he was considered one of the top two centers in the league in probably 75 percent of the seasons he played over 20 years, despite competing against, what, 12-15 Hall of Fame centers over that span. Dude was unstoppable.
By: vtadave
On: 1/12/2012 11:09:00 AM
All-time NBA team:

PG Magic Johnson
SG Kobe Bryant
PF Elgin Baylor
SF James Worthy
C Kareem
By: The Professor
On: 1/12/2012 11:39:00 AM
I agree that Kareem doesn't get the reflexive "GOAT" treatment in many folks' minds that his resume would argue. On the other hand, as we've really been scrubbing NBA history on a year-to-year basis in these projects, I've sometimes wondered the exact opposite of your point...does his resume actually OVER-state Kareem's case, just slightly. And when I say that I do it with all respect, and I mean only "just" slightly. Because despite your list of the great centers that Kareem played against, his time of mega-dominance occurred right when the ABA was splitting the available talent in half. At the time of the merger Kareem was averaging up over 30 points and 15.5 boards with most of his MVPs over his first 7 seasons, but he never even approached those stats those after the merger put the talent all in one league...despite him being only 28 (at his absolute athletic peak) at the time of the merger. I do think Kareem was one of the absolute best, but contrary to you guys, I wonder if he's not HELPED historically speaking by the numbers and accolades he was able to rack up while the league was split.
By: The Professor
On: 1/12/2012 11:40:00 AM
And lol, Vtadave. I was a bit incredulous about your All-time team until I noticed what all 5 of them have in common. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that you must be a Lakers fan, huh? My only question is, how did you manage not to work West in there somewhere?
By: thepearl-673
On: 1/12/2012 3:18:00 PM
Kareem was great, MJ was great, but neither was a Wilt Chamberlain. MJ scored 50+ points 30 times in his career. Wilt scored 50+ 45 times in the '61-'62 season alone. Wilt AVERAGED 50.4 points that season. He AVERAGED 27.2 rebounds in '60-'61, AVERAGED 72.7 FG% in '72-'73. All league leading #s. His SECOND best years in these categories are better than any other human's best years. After his knee surgery in '69 he was not nearly as fluid as prior years, and that is the Wilt that is shown in footage, and the one that most of you have seen. Prior to that, he was as athletic as any player since.
By: thepearl-673
On: 1/12/2012 3:28:00 PM
Next, we get the Bill Russell argument. Russell was also great. His teams were generally better than the teams that Wilt played on. But this is about the GOAT players, not teams. Russell and Chamberlain played against each other for 10 years. Boston won 57 of 94 regular season meetings. In those games Wilt outscored Russell per game 30.0 to 14.2, out rebounded Russell 28.2 to 22.9, and led him in shooting 49% to 37%. In playoff games the Celtics won 29 of 49 games. Wilt outscored Russell 25.7 to 14.9, out rebounded him 28.0 to 24.7, out out shot him 51% to 42%. Given the same 4 other starters, which man would you want to play center? And, Wilt led the league in assists as well. Not that I paid attention.
By: Jason Thornbury
On: 1/12/2012 4:09:00 PM
That's a fair point about Kareem and the ABA. But with respect to the competition at his position, how many great centers, outside of Artis Gilmore of course, played in the ABA? Was the starting center position *that* watered down in the NBA because of the ABA? Maybe. Obviously, playing five games a year against some deadbeat is better for the stats than five games a year against, say, Dan Issel. And, of course, the competition overall was weaker pre-merger, which played to Kareem's favor. However, the guy still dominated post-merger. His scoring went down when he went to the Lakers because his minutes went down, but his FG%, assists, blocks, etc., were still strong.
By: gooklaw
On: 1/12/2012 7:07:00 PM
Coolest stat about Wilt - didn't he average more than 48 minutes/game one year?
By: gooklaw
On: 1/12/2012 7:08:00 PM
vtadave - don't forget about the Laker cheerleaders - they might ACTUALLY be the best!
By: thepearl-673
On: 1/12/2012 7:33:00 PM
Yes, he did. In '61-'62 he averaged 48.5 minutes a game. The same season he averaged 50.4 points per game. So much for fresh legs.
By: The Professor
On: 1/12/2012 7:36:00 PM
I'm loving the discussion in this thread. It's inspired me to go back and re-read some of the arguments in the original project, which were really great as well. One post by an old-school fan named ThaRegul8r has caught me eye. He was arguing Russell over Kareem, and pointed out some of the "intangible" (I hate that word, by the way, since these days most intangibles actually ARE tangible) disadvantages that Kareem is perceived to have vs. other all-time greats. He posted this quote from Lenny Wilkens:

“You must have someone on your team who demands the respect of the players and has earned that respect by what he does on the court. The coach can only do so much; then its up to the players. Kareem was one of the greatest players ever, but he was not that guy. He won a title with Milwaukee in 1971, when an aging Oscar Robertson came in to join him, and he didn’t win again until Magic arrived in 1980. Kareem is a thoughtful, quiet man. He is not the kind of vocal leader who can inspire a team, despite his greatness on the court.”

Russell, on the other hand, was universally acknowledged by teammate and foe alike as one of the greatest leaders the game has ever seen. And this is further evidenced by him winning a championship as a player-coach. Just food for thought, as we try to compare the best-of-the-best against the other bests-of-the-best.
By: The Professor
On: 1/12/2012 7:39:00 PM
And by the way, here is the direct link to the project thread for #2 all-time, which generally ended up being Russell against Abdul-Jabbar. I'd encourage anyone that really gets into these types of GOAT discussions to go check it out. It's a long thread, but has a lot of good info in it.
By: Zenguerrilla
On: 1/13/2012 3:32:00 PM
If I was a Laker nuthugger I probably would have Shaq and West on my team! Shaq at PF, Kobe SF, West SG. Kareem should be #2 imho. He was consensus #1 pretty much until Jordan came along. It seems like his stock is dropping faster than others. Russell and Wilt are worthy debates for the 2 hole too but I think without the hiv problem you would be seeing Magic at #2.
By: The Professor
On: 1/13/2012 6:27:00 PM
Funny you should mention Magic as a possible #2, Zen. I think I'm going to do Magic's write-up next week, and it's scooping it a little, but I'll tell you now that I voted for Magic above Kareem in the project too...
By: Jason Thornbury
On: 1/14/2012 10:51:00 AM
That's a great quote by Lenny Wilkens. I'm not saying Kareem should be ranked higher than he is in your poll. It's just that when the GOAT topic comes up, he isn't always mentioned in the Wilt-Russell-Magic-etc conversation after MJ, and he should be.
By: thepearl-673
On: 1/15/2012 8:14:00 PM
MJ should be mentioned at #2 with Kareem and Russell. Otherwise you guys are showing your youthfulness (inexperience) Anyone watching the NBA at all from '60 until '70 knows who #1 is.
By: The Professor
On: 1/17/2012 6:39:00 AM
Don't worry, thepearl, will be getting to Wilt soon. I've got Magic queued up for this week, but we'll be doing Wilt (and the obvious comparisons with Russell) very soon. Hopefully you'll weigh in, because I'm very sure that your input will vary widely from mine, which could lead to a good discussion.

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