The Greatest Lakers of All-Time: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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This is the fourteenth in a series of articles featuring a countdown of the Top 16 Greatest Lakers of All-Time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.

Continuing with number 3 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. We take an in-depth look at the Finals MVP he won with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Captain played 14 of his 20 season career with the Lakers. Playing the first 6 seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks before being traded to the purple and gold in the summer of 1975. As a Laker, he played 43,787 minutes in 1,273 games, scoring 28,246 points (3rd all-time among Lakers) and grabbing 11,804 rebounds (2nd all-time among Lakers).

In October 1974, Abdul-Jabbar requested a trade to either the New York Knicks or Los Angeles, stating that living in the Midwest didn’t suit his cultural needs. Pete Newell (the Lakers General Manager at the time) made a move to acquire the already accomplished big man. Being named a 1-time NBA blocks champion, 2-time NBA scoring champion, NBA Rookie of the Year, 5-time NBA All-Star, 4-time NBA All-Defensive, 5-time All-NBA, 3-time NBA MVP, an NBA Finals MVP, and an NBA champion. All in just his first 6 years in the league.

Even though he had his best scoring seasons as a Buck, Abdul-Jabbar had some truly great moments donning the purple and gold armour. One would come on the April 5, 1984, as he dropped a sky hook over the top of Mark Eaton to become the NBA’s All-Time leading scorer. Totaling 31,422 points to that point, ending his career 5 seasons later with 38,387. Another would be the record-breaking 6th MVP he achieved in the 1979-80 season, averaging 24.8 PPG, 10.8 RPG, and 3.4 BPG, at the age of 32. He thrashed Julius Erving in voting to win yet another award in an already legendary career.

Despite these phenomenal statistical performances, for this review we will be looking at his only Finals MVP with the Lakers. In 1985 the team would face the Boston Celtics in the finals, as Abdul-Jabbar would win the award for the second time in his career, at the age of 37.

Abdul-Jabbar – The Finals Most Valuable Player

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As of the start of the 1984-85 season, the Lakers had made 3 finals appearances in the last 3 seasons. Winning a championship against the Philadelphia 76ers in 1982, before falling at the last hurdle the next 2 seasons. Firstly against the 76ers, 4-0, in ’83 and then against the Celtics, 4-3, in ’84.

The Lakers won 62 games in the ’84-’85 season, finishing 1st in the Western Conference. Led by the dynamic duo of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. As The Captain led the team in points and rebounds, 22 PPG and 7.9 RPG, Johnson helped with the scoring and led the team in assists, 18.3 PPG and 12.6 APG.

Los Angeles stormed their way through the ’85 playoffs, first sweeping the Phoenix Suns in the 1st round, 3-0. It was an easy series for the Lakers, as Abdul-Jabbar only played 24 MPG, scoring 19 PPG. Showtime would then face the Portland Trail Blazers, beating them in 5 games. Abdul-Jabbar averaged 21 PPG and 9.6 RPG. As his partner in crime, Johnson, scored 21.8 PPG and passed 17 APG. They would then advance to face the Denver Nuggets in the Conference Finals, an easy series would follow, as the Lakers beat the Nuggets 4 games to 1. Abdul-Jabbar would average 20 PPG on a team led by Byron Scott‘s scoring of 23.4 PPG. Along with Johnson’s passing, 15.6 APG. The Lakers would advance to their 4th straight finals, facing fierce rivals, the Boston Celtics.

Game 1 would prove to be a great struggle for the purple and gold. After the 1st half, the Celtics would lead 79-49 in a game that already looked over. In the 2nd half, the trend would continue, as Boston tore a hole in the Lakers, winning 148-114. Earning the game its own nickname, the “Memorial Day Massacre”. LA’s defence was no match for the offensive machine of the Celtics, as all 5 starters for Boston scored in double figures, led by Kevin McHale and Scott Wedman, with 26 points each. Abdul-Jabbar would face brawling defence from McHale and Robert Parish in the post as he only managed 12 points, on 6 for 11 shooting from the field.

Thankfully for the Lakers, game 2 would be a different story. They would hold Boston to 46 points in the 1st half, scoring 64 points themselves. They would slightly waiver in the 2nd half as the Celtics won the 3rd quarter by 6 points and then the 4th quarter by 5 points. It would prove too little too late, however, as the Lakers would take the game, 109-102. Abdul-Jabbar had a much better day as he racked up 30 points, pulled in 17 rebounds, and earning himself 8 assists. He was helped by Johnson, winning himself another double-double with 14 points and 13 assists. As well as Michael Cooper putting good minutes in from the bench, scoring 22 points.

Game 3 would follow much of the same pattern as the series shifted across the country to Inglewood, California. Boston ended the 1st half behind, as the Lakers led 65-59. For the Celtics, the deficit would continue to grow in the 2nd half, ending the game with a purple and gold victory, 136-111. Abdul-Jabbar continued to prove that he had put the struggles of game 1 behind him, as he finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds. Along with this, he would earn 7 assists, a virtue mostly gifted to him over the last couple of games by the doubling of him in the post. Passing it out to the open man was all he had to do. Help was of course provided by Hall of Fame teammates James Worthy and Magic Johnson, as Worthy scored 29 points and Johnson totaled 16 assists to go with his 17 points. The Lakers had marched out to a 2-1 lead following the embarrassment they faced on the last Monday in May.

The glory was short-lived as a retaliation would come from the Celtics in game 4. They would buck up their defence and hold the Lakers to only 105 points as they scored 107. They were led by the trio of Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, and Larry Bird. As they each scored 28, 27, and 26 points, respectively. They would hold Magic and Kareem to a combined 41 points (Johnson with 20 and Abdul-Jabbar with 21) preventing them from having too much of an impact on the game. Johnson did his best however as he finished with a triple-double, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. The Celtics had tied the series at 2-2, and were now looking to finish the Lakers in 6 and win the franchise their 16th NBA Championship.

Los Angeles had now been beaten on their own floor, a slight that Abdul-Jabbar seemed to take personally. Game 5 would see him play 42 minutes (at the age of 37), finishing with 36 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists as he would spearhead the attack on the purple and gold’s green foe. Beating them 120-111. Help would of course be lent by his just as impressive supporting cast. Worthy finished with 33 points and 7 rebounds, as Johnson once again put on a passing clinic, totaling 17 dimes to go along with his 26 points. Showtime had regained momentum, playing the beautiful, fast-break style of basketball that Pat Riley had dreamt up.

The series would now return to the parquet floor of the Boston Garden. The Lakers would once again face the fans who had a true hatred of their colours. The Celtics now had their back against the wall, they would have to perform if they wanted to leave with a hope of a championship parade. The 1st half would be a close contest, as it finished with the teams tied at 55. The next quarter would prove the difference, as the Lakers would finish the 3rd with a 9 point lead, 82-73. The final quarter would hold the steady back and forth, similar to the first half. The game finished with a 111-100 victory for the Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar once again played the role of scorer, 29 points, as Magic Johnson earned yet another triple-double, 14 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds.

The Lakers had won their 9th NBA Championship, and their 3rd of the Showtime era. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar averaged 25.7 PPG, 9 RPG, 5.2 APG, 1.5 BPG, and 1 SPG, as he was crowned the Finals Most Valuable Player for the second time in his career. The first coming to a 23-year-old Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor. The second coming 14 years later under his Muslim name, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. A true example to us all that your background and your pears do not define who you are. It’s your actions that define who you are.

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was always destined for greatness in the NBA. Many consider him the greatest college player of all-time. Following his selection by the Milwaukee Bucks with the 1st pick in the 1969 NBA Draft, he went on to achieve a myriad of accomplishments. Including an NBA Championship.

Following his trade to the Lakers in 1975, he would earn an NBA rebounding title, 3 NBA block leader titles, 13 NBA All-Star appearances, 4 NBA All-Defensive Second Team selections, 3 NBA All-Defensive First Team selections, 4 All-NBA Second Team selections, 6 All-NBA First Team selections, 3 NBA MVPs, 5 NBA Championships, an NBA Finals MVP, and later an induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

In 1990 the franchise made it so no other Laker would wear number 33 again. Hanging his jersey in the rafters of The Forum, and now the Staples Center. Becoming the 4th player to have his number retired by the Los Angeles Lakers. All these achievements more than cement his number 3 place as a true Laker great!

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