Six-Time Basketball MVP
One of the “50 Greatest Players” in NBA History (1996), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, is a former American professional basketball player, actor, basketball coach and author. Starting out on the court, he played center for UCLA from 1965 to 1969, during which time he made a name for himself for being a three-time First Team All-American, three-time NCAA champion, a Naismith College Player of the Year, and Most Outstanding Player in NCAA Tournament, before playing professionally for the Milwaukee Bucks from 1969 to 1975 and the Los Angeles Lakers from 1975 to his retirement in 1989. During his twenty seasons in the NBA, he won a NBA Rookie of the Year in 1970, a record six Most Valuable Player Awards and a two-time Finals MVP, as well as played on six championship teams. Well-known for his “Skyhook” shot and his height, Abdul-Jabbar was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on May 15, 1995. His glorious career in basketball led the now retired sportsman to pursue a career as a coach. He has worked as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers and the Seattle SuperSonics and was the head coach of the Oklahoma Storm United States Basketball League in 2002. As of 2005, he has served as a special assistant for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Outside basketball, Abdul-Jabbar has been recognized as a part-time actor and author. Among his remarkable roles are Bruce Lee's enemy in “Game of Death” (1978) and the co-pilot Roger Murdock on “Airplane!” (1980). He also guest starred in numerous television series, including “Diff'rent Strokes,” “Scrubs” and “21 Jump Street,” and appeared in the miniseries version of Stephen King's “The Stand.” Abdul-Jabbar is popular among book fans for “On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance,” “Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement,” “A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apaches” and others.
As for his personal life, Abdul-Jabbar has been divorced from Janice 'Habiba' Brown since 1978, with whom he has three children, Habiba, Sultana and Kareem Jr. With companion Cheryl Piston, he has a son named Amir. His youngest child is Adam. Abdul-Jabbar was once also romantically linked to actress Pam Grier (born May 26, 1949). He suffers from migraines and uses cannabis to reduce the symptoms, which has caused legal ramifications. Abdul-Jabbar converted to Islam during his college years.
Childhood and Family:
Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., who would later be famous as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, was born on April 16, 1947, in Harlem, New York City, to Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Sr., a police officer and jazz musician, and Cora, a department store price checker. They were from the island of Trinidad and Tobago. At the time of his birth, Kareem was twenty-two and a half inches long and weighed 12 pounds, 10 ounces. He was educated at St. Jude School in Inwood, New York, and Power Memorial High School, in New York City, where he was outstanding in basketball. He went on to play the sport at UCLA and earned his B.A in 1969.
Kareem married Habiba Abdul-Jabbar (aka. Janice Brown) on May 28, 1971, but they later divorced in 1978. Together they have two daughters, Habiba and Sultana, and a son, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Jr. He also has two other sons, Amir and Adam, with other women.
Previously known as Lew Alcindor, the Roman Catholic-raised star changed his name in 1971, several years after converting to Islam. Addressing his thoughts behind his name change, Kareem stated to Playboy magazine, “I was 'latching' on to something that was part of my heritage because many of the slaves who were brought here were Muslims. My family was brought to America by a French planter named Alcindor who came here from Trinidad in the 18th Century. My people were Yoruba and their culture survived slavery. My father found out about that when I was a kid and it gave me all I needed to know that, hey, I was somebody, even if nobody else knew about it. When I was a kid, no one would believe anything positive that you could say about black people and that's a terrible burden on black people because they don't have an accurate idea of their history, which has been either suppressed or distorted.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar began his record-breaking basketball achievements at an early age. The tallest kid in the Harlem school system, he led the now defunct Power Memorial High School to three consecutive New York City championships, a 72-game winning streak. As a college student, Abdul-Jabbar played for the UCLA Bruins under the direction of John Wooden, and still holds many of the school's individual records, including the highest career scoring average (26.4) and the most career field goals (943). In 1968, a year before he turned professional, he and his team faced the Houston Cougars in the first-ever nationally televised regular season college basketball game, which ended up in Houston's 71-69 win.
Abdul-Jabbar entered the National Basket Association (NBA) in 1969 when he was first picked in the years' NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, and immediately became a star. In the 1969-1970 seasons, he successfully led the Bucks to second place at the NBA's Eastern Division. He was named NBA Rookie of the Year. The following season saw the Bucks achieve even more victory with a league-best 66 wins, thanks in part to the addition of Oscar Robertson. In 1971, Abdul-Jabbar picked up his first of six NBA Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards and for the first time was named Finals MVP. After the Bucks won the NBC Championship, he legally changed his name from Lew Alcindor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which means “noble, servant of the powerful one (Allah).”
1972 saw Abdul-Jabbar repeat as scoring champion as well as receive his next NBA Most Valuable Player. He also helped the Bucks to again be the division leaders for four consecutive years. By 1973, he had added one more NBA MVP title to his accomplished resume and been among the top five NBA players in scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and field goal percentage. Following an injury that broke his hand in a pre-season game in 1974, he missed the first 16 games of the season and when he returned, he started to wear protective goggles. After several seasons with the Bucks, in October 1974, Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade to either Los Angeles or New York and cited being in Milwaukee did not fit his cultural needs.
Officially joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 1975, Abdul-Jabbar proved himself a dominant player during his first season with his new team. He achieved 27.7 points per game on average and led the league in rebounding, blocked shots and minutes played. He also netted his fourth MVP award. He won his fifth MVP honor in the 1976-1977 seasons, during which time he also helped the Lakers reach the best record in NBA. For the next two seasons, Abdul-Jabbar remained a strong player and was named to the All-NBA Second Team twice, the All-Defense First Team once, and the All-Defense Second Team once. On the other hand, the Lakers failed in the playoffs and did not experience a Renaissance until they acquired Earvin “Magic” Johnson in the late 1970s.
With the addition of Johnson, the Lakers resurfaced as a strong team during the 1980s, competing in the finals eight times and becoming NBA Champions for five. Abdul-Jabbar achieved his sixth MVP award in 1980, two more All-Defense First Team assignments, four more All-NBA First Team assignments and the Finals MVP in 1985. On April 24, 1984, he broke the Wilt Chamberlain record for career points. After twenty professional seasons, Abdul-Jabbar retired from basketball on June 28, 1989.
While playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar had the opportunity to branch out to acting. In 1978, he made his feature acting debut in Bruce Lee's posthumous film “Game of Death,” in which he was cast as a hulking foe to the legendary martial arts’ star. He went on to have a notable starring turn as co-pilot Roger Murdock, who tires of being mistaken for Abdul-Jabbar, in the hilarious film “Airplane!” (1980). He also appeared as a guest star in TV shows like “Diff'rent Strokes” in 1982 and 1985, as well as had a supporting role in the TV pilot “Jake Spanner, Private Eye” in 1989, the same year he announced his retirement from basketball.
Abdul-Jabbar continued to pursue a career as an actor, although his film and TV appearances have been increasingly infrequent. He had guest spots in television series like “21 Jump Street” (1990), “Uncle Buck” and “Amen” (both 1991), “Matrix” (1993) and “Martin” (1996). He was featured in the TV miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's “The Stand” (1994) and in 2006 had a supporting role as Hank in the drama film “Whitepaddy,” alongside Lisa Bonet and Sherilyn Fenn. He also appeared as himself in a number of projects, including the direct-to-video “Slam Dunk Ernest” (1995), the films “The Mighty Ducks II” (1994) and “BASEketball” (1998), as well as the series “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” (1994) and “Scrubs” (2006), among many others. He also served as co-executive producer of the 1994 TV film “The Vernon Johns Story.”
Outside acting, Abdul-Jabbar is known as an author and for his coaching activities. He has published several books, such as “Kareem” (1990), “Selected from Giant Steps (Writers' Voices)” (1999), “Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement” (1996, co-written with Alan Steinberg), “A Season on the Reservation: My Sojourn with the White Mountain Apaches” (2000, co-written with Stephen Singular), “Brothers In Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion” (co-written with Anthony Walton) and “On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance.” In 2000, Abdul-Jabbar served as assistant coach for the NBA Los Angeles Clippers before joining the Oklahoma Storm in 2002 as their head coach. He led the team to the league's championship that season, but the following season he failed to get the head coaching position at Columbia University. After a stint as a scout with the New York Knicks, in September 2005, he eventually returned to the Los Angeles Lakers as a special assistant to Phil Jackson. Since 1998, he has been a volunteer coach at Alchesay High School on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Whiteriver, Arizona.
National Basketball Association: Six-time NBA Champion, 1971, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988
National Basketball Association: Most Valuable Player, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980
National Basketball Association: Sporting News NBA MVP, 1971, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1980
National Basketball Association: Finals Most Valuable Player, 1971, 1985
National Basketball Association: Rookie of the Year, 1970