Monday, August 10, 2015
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
Rock between the fingertips and palm of his hand, this young man stands in a circle that seems like a spotlight of circling pressure, in a capacity arena that feels like the millions that are tuning in on their television sets around the nation and globe. In this moment this kid Lew Alcindor feels like an Olympian as he moves with the athletic grace somewhere between the bounty of ballet and the beauty of knowing kung-fu. He holds the rock for a moment slightly stretched to the side of him, before bringing it in to his body...slowly, carefully in one perfect pirouette of a pivot. Then he steps back, dancing with his spot, striding forward and in one creatively, crafted crane moment, elevates his arm to the outstretched stature that even the record books can't reach. Making proud and perfect flamingos out of all the goose-necks before his wrist snaps in one downward, almost deflated motion that sort of tells the opposition; "never mind"! As the ball flies high towards its one goal, the world record and more than just another point proved. They check the tape and its off the charts and when it lands...it's his personal best perfection. It's the gold! The top of the podium. It almost looks like a shot putt, but this shot is put down as a sky-hook and this young Lew Alcindor is the name at the top of it all; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Floating like a butterfly and stinging the net like a bee, this ball pollinates the nylon like it was a beautiful flower in basketball bloom. And it all comes from the hands of the greatest, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The most famous name change in sports and entertainment since the artist formerly known as Cassius Clay became some Louisville Slugger who went by the red corner name of Muhammed Ali. Young Lew may have changed his name to the mighty Kareem, but one thing number 33 didn't change in reflection was his tried and tested signature shot that no one could block. If it ain't broke, just hone it! Make it work like shot clockwork. Until after all the seconds are out you're the highest score with your arcade like move. One that leaves you leading all the second placers first and foremost in history and legacy of the books of legends. No, no Mike, Kobe, Shaq or Wilt. Even 'The Mailman' of Karl Malone couldn't deliver as many points as the storied Abdul-Jabbar did in the history of the National Basketball Association. And it's all thanks to that shot. Hook, sky-line and net sinker. But that wasn't the only thing this hoops grandmaster and godfather of the hardwood possessed. There where the devastating dunks, the brutal blocks battling, the bountiful rebounds rallied and of course the flawless post-up game that lead to all of this. All of this that lead this perfect prototype of a player in the centre position to be the best big-man in not only the history of the Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquille O'Neal dominated Los Angeles Lakers (not to forget the Minneapolis master of George Mikan, the NBA's first superstar), but the NBA as a Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and of course Boston Celtics ring bearer Bill Russell whole. Let alone the greatest all-round player on a Laker team that featured the Big Game of James Worthy and the Magic of Earvin Johnson and one of history and legacies all-time best like Laker luminaries from the classic logo of Jerry West to the modern day icon of Kobe Bryant and all the LeBron's, Jordan's, Bird's and Oscar winners.
Before the 7 foot 2, 225 pound, 68 year old number one pick in the '69 draft with a 20 year career of 6 rings, 6 MVPs and 19 All-Star selections racked up all those 38,387 points (good luck Steph Curry and your shot) Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was rolling in the Bucks with Milwaukee and the Big O of triple-double dream Oscar Robertson. Yet even, before all that Lew Alcindor was making immortal basketball history way before the NBA even called his name. When most kids in high school were waiting to be saved by the bell, Lew was playing 'till the final buzzer making power plays for Power Memorial and leading them to a huge 71 game winning streak during the Harlem renaissance in New York City. Then from the Big Apple to the Hollywood sands, Alcindor made the transition to college hoops in Los Angeles, becoming a Bruin with UCLA and uniting with classic coach and hardwood forefather John Wooden for a perfect partnership and coach player combo that outside of Hollywood was the hoops alternative of a Scorsese and De Niro director and actor. Yeah we're talking to you! Breaking every UCLA record, Lew was barely scrapping the surface of his basketball career whilst scratching his cornea in what later on in his playing days would resort to his goggle wearing look being iconic as his balding afro and beard. In L.A. before L.A. a young L.A. converted to Islam before changing his name, trained with martial arts legend Bruce Lee, played in the 'Game Of The Century' and even got the art of the dunk outlawed due to his dominance. Standing next to Wooden with three NCAA titles under the drawstring of his warm ups and strings of nylon around his neck was this young man ready for the NBA?
With the first pick in the 1969 draft you where damn right! After winning a coin toss tip against the Phoenix Suns the sophomore Milwaukee franchise was just the first round ticket, despite the legendary court circus act; the Harlem Globetrotters offering Lew a million bucks to travel the world with them. The hometown hero would also have to disappoint the New York Nets who thought they had secured his services with the ABA drafts first pick. Even if number 33 did have an afro he wasn't going to roll his socks up for anything trying to scale higher than the original and one, true basketball league. Or more aptly the "flesh" bidding war that he saw as so degrading to all parties involved he was prepared to literally turn down millions. With defensive legend and Boston Celtics lord of the 11 rings; Bill Russell sharing a last retirement cigar with Red the only thing standing in Alcindor's way was the rivalry of the most, 100 point scoring dominant ever; Wilt Chamberlain. But before number 33 would replace the lucky 13 in purple and gold he replaced him in the post as the NBA's centre of attention. Winning Rookie Of The Year honours off 28.8 points and 14.5 rebounds per game, before teaming up with Oscar in his second season to win the biggest award in basketball. The day after he became an NBA champion, Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the rest was National Basketball Association and Los Angeles Lakers history. The iconography of the goggles came next, put on by two broken hands as after injury a trade waved goodbye to the Wisconsin wonder who hit the coast for the Californian sun. Adding a purple heart to his gold standard career, rewriting the script with a casting call from Hollywood. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a Laker...it was Showtime without the Apollo!
But Hollywood was bowled over and before Magic and the Boston Bird saved the game and brought all the Nicholson actors into the superstar seats, Captain Kareem was the era director of this epic, with the slick Pat Riley running the screenplay. Battling all sorts of big-men from Bill Walton to John Salley and all sorts of eye erosion problems. It wasn't until the dawn of the Showtime L.A. and blue collar Boston era of the 80's that Cap and the Lake Show would win and pull real Magic out the hat when they selected the everlasting enthusiasm and smile of Earvin Johnson from the 1979 draft. After winning the season opener, Kareem shot and shouted a young Magic down after number 32 embraced 33 like they just won game 7 of the last day on the basketball calender. But by the end of the season when this Rookie Point Guard showed that the only man that could possibly replace Jabbar at center was the 6,9 pass first magician himself, Kareem would have bear hugged the next Lakers star himself if there wasn't a planes distance from the injured big and Philadelphia. In the storied Lakers and Celtics rivalry of the ages, Kareem was avenging Wilt Chamberlain's finals heartbreak to the ring hands of Bill Russell's Celtics. They could put balloons in the rafters now thanks to a team of greats like fellow google sporting James Worthy, the silk of Jaamal Wilkes, future millennium champion A.C. Green, future general manager Mitch Kupchack, future coach of today Byron Scott and the dynamic duo of dynamic duos. The inside and outside, one-two punch of Magic and Kareem, took over that of West and Wilt and nothing from the legendary legacy of the Los Angeles Lakers or the NBA as a whole since has topped this. Not even the second most dominant player of all-time Shaq and the second Jordan G.O.A.T. Kobe...this dynamite duo comes in second place too. Nothing could top the vision of Johnson's passing that looked to the sky of Jabbar's hook. And when a 40 year old Kareem bulked up and practiced yoga to muscle up and lean with a younger, post big-man dominating career the show just went on like Hollywood Lakerland's version of Shakespeare. Back to back and that again. Jack wouldn't give up his courtside chair marked like a directors one for nothing...not even the next big budget movie. Even the Pulitzer of legendary sportswriter Jim Murray saw a new prize everytime his typewriter slid back the moment Chick Hearn's jiggling words closed the refrigerator door.
When the retirement chair came rocking and hoop heavens door came knocking, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left the game with all-time leading totals of 38,387 points, 15,837 field goals and 57,446 minutes played (only to be perished by Parish). Averaging a legendary line of 24.6 points,11.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a game, en route to the top 50, his number 33 up in rafters on each coast, the corridors of the Hall of Fame, the header in the history books and finally a statue outside STAPLES. A fond farewell to this gentle giant between the Lakers and their love to hate them Celtic rivals saw all players participating rocking the goggles and attempting a sky-hook, a move that nobody like this man can duplicate. It belongs in a basketball museum next to the exhibits of Jordan's fade-away and Allen Iverson's crossover like these holy grail, signature moves it's a pioneer play. Following the last streak of sky to be hooked, Kareem has done anything but retired. The man who has shown that even at seven feet and two nickels change he is agile enough to go toe-to-toe with Bruce Lee, fought him in the movie 'Game Of Death' and sent his serious self up in the hilarious 'Airplane' spoof that saw his star stock soar. Surely he couldn't be anymore than serious?! Well, even if a Shirley Temple was his drink of choice, this actor knew how to lighten the heart in the Summer, after giving his soul and sole to the season. Following his playing days retirement the history books engraver has proved to be a wonderful writer beyond his amazing first-name self-titled autobiography. Cap has capped off many basketball books, including children's ones with an off court message off the playbook. The regular columnist for leading, world newsstand famous magazine of the day 'Time' has gone beyond being a cover star to writing critical columns of issues of inspiration and influence too. Yet his most intriguing creative venture comes this year and we're not just talking about the HBO Abdul-Jabbar documentary. Kareem is set to look into legendary writer Arthur Conan Doyle's magnify glass to write the next pipe dream for Sherlock Holmes fans with an original idea about penning a story about the worlds most famous detectives brother 'Mycroft Holmes'. Now how's that for the most anticipated book of the year outside of Harper Lee's 'To Kill A Mockingbird' sequel 'Go Set A Watchmen'? That's elementary my dears. This old Cap is still involved in basketball operations however and the two time NBA champion as an assistant coach is now tutoring the next line of Laker big men in the central position of this franchises legendary legacy like he tried to do with stars Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard. Now its sophomore Julius Randle, technically speaking in his rookie season after injury and troubled but talented defensive presence in the block Roy Hibbert, after the Lakers couldn't buy a free agent big-man after passing on so many in the draft for the small-ball future of D'Angelo Russell. A Ewing, Mourning and Mutombo following Georgetown Hoya who could go from role player to star again thanks to the mentoring of the master that when it comes to years as a Laker even Shaq and Wilt can't reach and touch. You want to really grasp the ceiling of number 33's classic court contributions? Then in this city of stars-with even 16 circling the centre of the court-you can't just hook the billboards bearing his name in the rafters. You have to reach for the sky...