Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Biography, Career, Stats, Movies, Wife, Children

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a dominant high school basketball player who was recruited to play at UCLA and led the Bruins to three national championships. His domination in the NBA continued, first with the Milwaukee Bucks and then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar won six championships and six MVP honors, and he retired as the league’s all-time leading scorer. He retired in 1989 and is largely regarded as one of the best NBA players of all time, with his brilliance recognized as early as high school.

Early Life and Education

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born in New York City on April 16, 1947, as Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. Alcindor, the only son of New York City cop Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr. and his wife Cora, was consistently the tallest boy in his class.

Lew Alcindor stood an amazing 5’8″ at the age of nine, and by eighth grade, he’d grown another full foot and could already dunk a basketball.

He began playing the sport at a young age. Alcindor had a high school career that few could match at Power Memorial Academy. He shattered New York City school records for scoring and rebounding while guiding his team to an incredible 71 straight wins and three straight city crowns. In 2000, the National Sports Writers Association named Alcindor’s team “The #1 High School Team of the Century.”

College Career and John Wooden

Alcindor enrolled at the University of California-Los Angeles after graduating in 1965. There, he continued his unrivaled dominance, becoming the finest player in the college game.

Alcindor led the Bruins to three national titles under famed coach John Wooden from 1967 to 1969 and was voted the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player in those years.

Milwaukee Bucks

In only their second year of existence, the Milwaukee Bucks selected Alcindor with the first overall pick in the NBA draft in the spring of 1969. Alcindor swiftly adapted to the professional game. He was voted Rookie of the Year after being second in the league in scoring and third in rebounds.

He also significantly improved the fortunes of his franchise. Following a disappointing 27-win season the previous year, the retooled Bucks improved to 56-26 with Alcindor at the helm.

The Bucks made another major breakthrough the following season after adding future Hall of Fame player Oscar Robertson to their squad. The club went 66-16 during the regular season and then dominated the playoffs, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets in the 1971 NBA finals. That same year, Alcindor collected his first Most Valuable Player title, the first of six in his long career.

Conversion to Islam

Alcindor converted to Islam shortly after the 1971 season concluded and took the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which translates as “noble, powerful servant.”

In 1974, Abdul-Jabbar led the Bucks back to the NBA finals, where they were defeated by the Boston Celtics.

Los Angeles Lakers

Even with all his on-the-court success as a Buck, Abdul-Jabbar struggled to find happiness off the court in his life in Milwaukee.

“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.”

After the 1975 season, Abdul-Jabbar demanded a trade, suggesting that the Bucks send him to either New York or Los Angeles. He was eventually sent west for a package of players, none of whom came near to providing what Abdul-Jabbar would deliver for the Lakers.

Abdul-Jabbar transformed Los Angeles into a perennial winner for the next 15 seasons. Beginning in 1979-80, when he was teamed with rookie point guard Magic Johnson, the powerful center led the Lakers to five league titles.

The skyhook, Abdul-Jabbar’s iconic jump jumper, became an irresistible offensive weapon for the Lakers, who won championships over Julius “Dr. J” Erving’s Philadelphia 76ers, Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics, and Isiah Thomas’ Detroit Pistons.

Hollywood Calls

His success on the court landed him some acting roles. Abdul-Jabbar appeared in various films, including Game of Death, a 1979 martial-arts film, and Airplane!, a 1980 comedy.

Even in his 30s, he managed to average more than 20 points per game. He was still playing roughly 35 minutes each game in his late 30s. The 38-year-old Abdul-Jabbar was awarded series MVP in the Lakers’ six-game victory over the Boston Celtics in the 1985 finals.


When Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989, he was the NBA’s all-time top scorer with 38,387 points and the first player in NBA history to play for 20 seasons. In his career, he had 17,440 rebounds, 3,189 blocks, and 1,560 games.

In 1989, he also set records by scoring the most points, blocking the most shots, and winning the most MVP awards.

Years after his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar seemed especially proud about his longevity. “The ’80s made up for all the abuse I took during the ’70s,” he told the Orange County Register. “I outlived all my critics. By the time I retired, everybody saw me as a venerable institution. Things do change.”

Post-Playing Life

Since his retirement, Abdul-Jabbar has remained active in basketball, 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, which he documented in his book A Season on the Reservation, published in 2000.

He has written several more novels, including On the Shoulders of Giants, about the Harlem Renaissance, published in 2007. Abdul-Jabbar has also worked as a public speaker and product representative. Abdul-Jabbar was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

Abdul-Jabbar was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in November 2009, but his long-term prognosis was promising. Doctors certified the retired NBA great cancer-free in February 2011. Abdul-Jabbar was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 by former President Barack Obama.

In the spring of 2018, the basketball icon joined the cast of Dancing with the Stars: Athletes, proving he was still athletic enough to compete at the age of 71. He was paired with reigning winner Lindsay Arnold. He also proceeded to demonstrate his talent for persuasion, writing an essay about the delicate problem of firing Roseanne Barr for her racist tweet, as well as another about the increasing prevalence of socially conscious villains in popular entertainment.

Personal Life and Children

Abdul-Jabbar is the father of five children, four from his first marriage to Habiba Abdul-Jabbar and one from another relationship.

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