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I am sorry this came late but earlier this week Kareem Abdul Jabbar celebrated his 65th birthday.  It is hard to believe the man who dominated the game of basketball for half of my life is now a senior citizen.  If Coach Wooden were still alive he'd probably call and say "Happy birthday Lewis."

When Kareem (then Lew Alcindor) enrolled as a freshman at UCLA the team was already national champions, with a number of the players from that championship team back for round 2.  Freshman weren't allowed to play varsity then, but Alcindor's freshman team played against the varsity and defeated them.  During the next 3 years UCLA's record was 88-2, with 3 straight championships.  Alcindor was named 1st team All American all 3 years, and twice was the Player of the Year.  Alcindor was so dominant as a college player that the NCAA banned dunking after Alcindor's first year.  And, in stark contrast to later players, Alcindor graduated in four years.

As a pro, what more can be said of Kareem (he legally changed his name after college).  Six time MVP, 6 championships, an all-star every year he played, most career points of anyone who ever played.  But what really needs to be acknowledged is how great Kareem really was.  Some rankings put him behind Wilt and Bill Russell, some even rank Hakeem Olajuwon or Tim Duncan above Kareem.  Only Wilt (the best player ever) really deserves to be considered at or above Kareem.  Russell won more championships and pulled down more rebounds, but Kareem was a great rebounder/shot blocker too.  His ability is overlooked because he played in the Moses Malone era (Malone was probably the greatest rebounder ever).  Kareem's scoring sets him apart from Russell, in particular the Kareem sky hook was probably the most indefensible shot in NBA history. 

What one must also keep in mind about Kareem was that he has always carried himself with class and grace.  I'm sure some of his character was learned from Coach Wooden's lessons and life pyramid, but I can't really recall anything Kareem ever said or did that made him seem unlikeable.  Although he skipped the USA Olympic team in 1968 in protest of American treatment of black persons, I don't recall that he made a spectacle of the protest (like the very unclasy actions of John Carlos and Tommy Smith).  When the NBA wouldn't evengive him an assistant coaching job, he quietly worked his way up, starting as an assistant on an Indian reservation high school team.  He now stands as a shining example to the modern player of how to live life as a superstar but still live it with dignity and class.

So happy (belated) birthday to Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the greatest college basketball player ever, the second best center ever in the NBA and a man of dignity always.

 

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