During farewell ceremonies for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that were spread over the entire five-month regular season, each of the 25 teams in the National Basketball Association lavished gifts on the retiring superstar. By the time the round of formal goodbyes ended in April, the 42-year-old Abdul-Jabbar had been given, among other things, a Harley-Davidson motorcyle by the Milwaukee Bucks and a mounted six-inch-square portion of the Boston Garden floor, where the Los Angeles Lakers star centre sometimes collected boos during games against the Boston Celtics. As Abdul-Jabbar participated in the NBA playoffs for the last time, the league’s all-time highest scorer was returning to top form after playing listlessly during the regular season. Last week, he helped lead the defending NBA champion Lakers to three victories over the Seattle SuperSonics in the best of seven conference semifinals. Said Lakers coach Pat Riley: “He knows
the stakes are high, and his antennae are out.”
It was a triumphal conclusion to a spectacular career. Born Lewis Alcindor Jr. in New York City, the seven-foot, two-inch athlete emerged as a star of college basketball at the University of California at Los Angeles and made his professional debut with Milwaukee in 1969. He changed his name to Abdul-Jabbar in 1971 after adopting the Moslem faith and in the same year won the first of six NBA mostvaluable-player awards. Traded to the Lakers in 1975, Abdul-Jabbar, with his trademark “skyhook” shot and his awesome ability to score on rebound shots, went on to chalk up more than 38,000 career points. And his extraordinary skill on the basketball court helped the once-hapless NBA to become one of the most successful professional sports leagues in the world, with revenues of more than $300 million last year.
Still, Abdul-Jabbar—who earned $3 million this year—averaged only 10 points per game during the regular season, leading some sportswriters to claim that he should have retired sooner. There was no evidence that the Lakers shared that sentiment. The team’s farewell present was a $195,000 white RollsRoyce. Earvin (Magic) Johnson, the team’s current superstar, thanked Abdul-Jabbar for helping him to become not only “ the player I wanted to become, but the man as well.” It was a suitable tribute to an athlete who many say is the greatest player in NBA history.
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