How Many Years Did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Play in the NBA?

Jimmy Remland
By Jimmy Remland 6 Min Read
6 Min Read

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a towering figure in the world of basketball, left an indelible mark on the NBA. His career spanned two decades, and his impact reverberates even today. In this article, we delve into the remarkable journey of this legendary player, exploring his years on the court, accolades, and the enduring legacy he created.

1. The Early Years and College Dominance

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. on April 16, 1947, in New York, emerged as a basketball prodigy during his high school years. Playing for Power Memorial Academy, he set a New York City high-school record with an impressive 2,067 points—a record that stood until it was eventually broken. His offensive prowess was so remarkable that the collegiate basketball rules committee took notice. Fearing that he would score at will, they made dunking illegal before his enrollment at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1965.

Despite the no-dunking rule, Abdul-Jabbar made an immediate impact at UCLA. In his first game, he set a UCLA scoring record by dropping 56 points. Under the guidance of renowned coach John Wooden, he helped lead UCLA to three consecutive National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships from 1967 to 1969. During his time at UCLA, the team lost only two games. The no-dunking rule was eventually rescinded after his graduation.

2. NBA Career: Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers

Abdul-Jabbar entered the NBA in the 1969–70 season, joining the Milwaukee Bucks. His rookie year was nothing short of spectacular, earning him the title of Rookie of the Year. In the 1970–71 season, the Bucks clinched the NBA championship, and Abdul-Jabbar led the league in scoring with 2,596 points and an impressive points-per-game average of 31.7. He repeated this feat in the 1971–72 season, scoring 2,822 points with an average of 34.8 points per game.

In 1971, Abdul-Jabbar converted to Islam and adopted the Arabic name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His move to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975 marked the beginning of a new era. The Lakers went on to win NBA championships in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988. During his Lakers tenure, Abdul-Jabbar surpassed Wilt Chamberlain’s career scoring total of 31,419 points, solidifying his place as the all-time leading scorer in NBA history.

3. The Skyhook and Unstoppable Scoring

Abdul-Jabbar’s signature move—the skyhook—became legendary. This graceful shot, nearly indefensible, allowed him to dominate opponents. Despite lacking the physical strength of other NBA centers, he compensated with finesse, precision, and an excellent shooting touch. His range of post moves, including the skyhook, made him a force to be reckoned with.

4. The Cultural Icon and Social Activist

Abdul-Jabbar was not just a basketball player; he was a cultural icon. His towering presence and eloquence made him a sought-after figure in interviews, documentaries, and public appearances. He used his platform to advocate for social justice, civil rights, and racial equality. His unwavering commitment to these causes earned him immense respect both on and off the court.

In 1968, during his college years at UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar boycotted the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He protested racial inequality and the treatment of Black Americans. His decision to skip the Olympics was a powerful statement—one that resonated with many.

5. The Skyhook’s Influence

We cannot discuss Abdul-Jabbar without emphasizing the skyhook—a shot that became synonymous with his name. The skyhook was more than a basketball move; it was an art form. Abdul-Jabbar’s mastery of this shot baffled defenders. He released the ball from an impossible angle, making it nearly impossible to block. The skyhook was a weapon that allowed him to score consistently, even against the most formidable opponents.

6. The Numbers Don’t Lie

Let’s dive into the numbers that define Abdul-Jabbar’s illustrious NBA career:

  • 20 Seasons: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played an astounding 20 seasons in the NBA. His longevity is a testament to his discipline, work ethic, and love for the game.
  • 1,560 Regular-Season Games: He graced the court in over 1,500 regular-season games, consistently delivering stellar performances.
  • 38,387 Points: Abdul-Jabbar’s scoring prowess is unparalleled. He retired as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a record that still stands today.
  • 6 MVP Awards: His dominance earned him six Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards—an achievement shared with only a select few.
  • 19 All-Star Selections: Abdul-Jabbar was a perennial All-Star, showcasing his excellence year after year.
  • 2 NBA Championships with the Lakers: His Lakers teams secured titles in 1980 and 1982, with Abdul-Jabbar leading the charge.

7. The Post-Playing Career

After retiring as a player, Abdul-Jabbar continued to contribute to basketball. He worked as a coach, mentor, and author. His book “Giant Steps” delves into his life, career, and the challenges he faced. He also explored acting, appearing in movies and TV shows.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s legacy extends beyond statistics. It’s about the lives he touched, the barriers he broke, and the inspiration he provided. His impact on the game and society remains immeasurable.

Stay tuned for more captivating stories from the world of sports and beyond. 

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