Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, formerly known as Lew Alcindor in college, is one of the greatest basketball players ever. In his legendary career, he nearly went undefeated in college, playing a critical role in the John Wooden-era dynasty at UCLA and winning three national championships in as many years.
Here’s everything you need to know about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s college career.
The vitals for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Weight: 225 pounds
Years active: 1966-69
NCAA tournament record: 12-0
Career averages: 26.4 points per game, 15.5 rebounds per game, 63.9% shooting
When did Lew Alcindor change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
Lew Alcindor publicly announced in 1971 that he would like to be called Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his Islamic name, when he was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player with the Milwaukee Bucks. He said he took the name in the summer of 1968 after converting to Islam and it was first reported by Sports Illustrated in 1969.
What was Lew Alcindor’s record in college?
UCLA went 88-2 in the three seasons that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played with the Bruins. UCLA went undefeated in 1967, going 30-0 and winning the national championship, then 29-1 in each of the next two seasons.
UCLA’s first loss with Abdul-Jabbar didn’t come until his 44th game with the Bruins, when they fell by two points to No. 2 Houston.
What kind of prospect was Lew Alcindor in high school?
The Associated Press once described Alcindor as “a towering and talented youngster who is the most celebrated schoolboy basketball star ever developed in this teeming hotbed of basketball,” regarding New York City. “There is no doubt the lean, agile center is a prize catch — a sure-bet standout and drawing card at any college.”
Alcindor was 6-feet tall by the time he was 11.
Reports at the time suggested Alcindor had more than 100 scholarship offers but his coach Jack Donohue at Power Memorial High School set the record straight: “Actually, any college with a basketball team would want him. But there have been about 60 or 70 letters from schools showing some interest, including about 17 or 18 outlining the advantages of their scholarships.”
He averaged 30 points and 20 rebounds as a senior, shooting 75 percent from the field, while playing just half the game, or roughly 16 minutes, as a rule. Power Memorial once won 71 games in a row with Alcindor.
When Alcindor was a senior in high school in 1965, St. John’s coach Joe Lapchick said Alcindor would be the U.S.’s starting center in the 1968 Olympics.
What was Lew Alcindor’s game like?
As a center who arrived at UCLA at 7-1 and later added another inch, Alcindor’s game was what you might expect for someone that tall: lots of activity around the basket. “Almost all his shooting is inside, hooks, stuffers and tap-ins,” reported the Associated Press when Alcindor was a senior in high school. “His ability to leap high, and his height, make him almost unstoppable in close and also make him a formidable defender.”
But Alcindor had much more to his game than just a tall frame. Height alone doesn’t make one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
“Although he towers over his opposition, Alcindor has much more than height,” reported the AP. “The 235-pounder is supple and moves well, and is a good passer. Handling the basketball like a softball, he often sets up a score by whipping the ball the length of the court after taking a rebound — a la Bill Russell.”
The Detroit Free Press once wrote, “His most spectacular move is supposed to be a whirling leaper that starts closer to the foul line than the basket and ends with Alcindor’s long right arm jamming the ball through the net from above.”
Alcindor’s offensive arsenal also included dunks, a fadeaway jumper and towering hook shots. He could shoot well with either hand, too. Some observers at the time noted that Alcindor’s offensive game was actually more polished than his defense as a freshman.
The Newspaper Enterprise Association reported that Wilt Chamberlain admitted Alcindor was a better shooter than him when Alcindor was just a sophomore in college.
The dunk was outlawed after Alcindor’s sophomore year, with the national rules committee citing player injuries and damage to equipment. Just imagine how many more points Alcindor may have scored as a junior and senior if he was allowed to dunk!
What were some of Lew Alcindor’s best games?
When Alcindor arrived on campus, freshmen weren’t allowed to compete. So his first “game” was a matchup between the Bruins’ freshmen and the rest of the UCLA team, which by the way, had won the last two national championships, going 58-2 and entered the 1965-66 season ranked No. 1 in the country.
UCLA’s freshman team featured four high school All-Americans, led by Alcindor, and they beat their older counterparts 75-60 behind Alcindor’s 31 points and 21 rebounds. A UPI wire story about the game noted, “UCLA’s Bruins open defense of their national basketball title this week, but right now they’re only the second best team on campus.”
“This looks like the year to get at UCLA in basketball or wait for four more seasons,” noted the Corvallis Gazette-Times. “Now what do the pollsters do? Can you rate the UCLA freshmen as one of the nation’s top teams?”
As a freshman, Alcindor averaged upwards of 33 points and 21 rebounds, while the Wisconsin State Journal noted that most of UCLA’s freshman team’s wins that season came by 50 to 75 points. Alcindor was immediately receiving comparisons to Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell. In one game he was 21-of-23 from the field, going 17-of-20 in another.
Later, while it wasn’t one of Alcindor’s biggest statistical games, the showdown between UCLA and Houston in January 1968 was one of the ages. Alcindor finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks — by no means a bad game — against Houston’s Elvin Hayes in a 71-69 defeat against the Cougars. “If you weren’t among the 52,693 at the Astrodome that night or were watching something else on TV,” wrote UPI’s Milton Richman, “then you not only missed the beat but also the most exciting college basketball game in the past 10 years. Maybe the past 20.” A UCLA ophthalmologist noted that Alcindor was suffering from vertical double vision and impaired depth perception at the time of the game, according to UPI.
In the 1967 national championship against Dayton, Alcindor scored a team-high 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting, along with 18 rebounds. “The Bruins romped into a 20-4 lead during the first 11 minutes,” reported The Tennessean. “During this streak, it was the towering Alcindor who smothered Dayton’s attack time and time again. He blocked four of their shots, and when he didn’t have his hand spread across the battle, the Flyers obviously were looking for him. The Dayton players were off-balance with their shots and missed the first eight they attempted.”
In the next season’s title game, he put up 34 points on an efficient 15-of-21 shooting performance, plus he had 16 rebounds. No other player in the game scored more than 14 points.
In a pivotal, 85-82 win against Drake in the 1969 Final Four, Alcindor had 25 points and 21 rebounds as he scored almost a third of his team’s points and grabbed almost half of the Bruins’ rebounds.
Watch the second half of the game below.
Alcindor saved his best championship game performance for last, putting up 37 points and 20 rebounds in the 1969 final.
What awards did Lew Alcindor win in college?
Here are some of the awards that Lew Alcindor won in college.
- 1967 West Regional Team
- 1967 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
- 1967 All-Tournament Team
- 1967 consensus First Team All-American
- 1967 national champion
- 1968 West Regional Team
- 1968 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
- 1968 All-Tournament Team
- 1968 consensus First Team All-American
- 1968 national champion
- 1969 West Regional Team
- 1969 Final Four Most Outstanding Player
- 1969 All-Tournament Team
- 1969 consensus First Team All-American
- 1969 national champion
- 1960s All-Decade Team
- NCAA Tournament All-Time Team
- Named a top-15 player in NCAA tournament history in the 75 Years of March Madness Celebration
What records did Lew Alcindor set in college and where does he rank among historical greats?
Here are some of the records Alcindor set in college, along with where he ranks on all-time statistical lists.
- A member of the 2,000-point, 1,000-rebound club (2,325 points, 1,367 rebounds)
- Most points in NCAA history in his first career game (56 points)
- First nationally in field goal percentage in 1967 (66.7%)
- Highest scoring average in the 1967 NCAA tournament (26.5 points per game)
- First nationally in field goal percentage in 1969 (63.5%)
- Highest rebounding average in the 1969 NCAA tournament (16.0 rebounds per game)
- Second nationally in scoring average in 1967 (29.0 points per game)
- Second in NCAA tournament history in career rebounds (201 rebounds)
- Tied for second, seventh in NCAA history for most double-doubles in a season (28 double-doubles, 27 double-doubles)
- Tied for second, tied for seventh in Final Four history for rebounds in two games (41, 38)
- Tied for third in national championship game history with 15 made field goals (twice)
- Fourth in NCAA history for most consecutive double-doubles in a season (26 double-doubles)
- Fourth in national championship game history with 37 points
- Tied for fourth in national championship game history with 20 rebounds in a game
- Tied for fifth in national championship game history with 75 percent shooting (min. 10 field goals made)
- Tied for sixth in NCAA history for most double-doubles in a career (78 double-doubles)
- Tied for sixth in NCAA history for most consecutive double-doubles (28 double-doubles)
- Seventh in NCAA tournament history in career points (304 points)
- Eighth in NCAA tournament history in rebound average in a single NCAA tournament (18.8 rebounds per game)
- Tied for eighth in Final Four history with 21 rebounds in a game
- Tied for ninth in Final Four history with 15 made field goals in a game (twice)
- 10th in Final Four history with 62 points in two games
- Tied for 15th in NCAA history for the most points in a game (61 points)
- Tied for 21st in NCAA history for highest career field goal percentage (63.9%)
What did people say about Lew Alcindor?
Like several star players back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, access to Alcindor was limited. “When a high school basketball player becomes less accessible to the public than the President of the United States, then it is logical to assume the athlete is extraordinary,” reported the Newspaper Enterprise Association.
The column below details one reporter from The Daily Oklahoman and his attempt to reach Alcindor by phone. The column ends with the line, “But tomorrow we will try to telephone the Easter Bunny.”
Even if reporters and fans rarely heard from Alcindor himself, his larger-than-life stature and his impressive game spread around the country, especially in basketball circles.
Chicago Tribune: “Did you hear about Lew Alcindor chopping down the cherry tree and then confessing to the Establishment, ‘Father, I cannot tell a lie!’? Did you hear about Lew Alcindor driving the snakes from Ireland? Have you heard about Lew Alcindor, the boy, splitting rails in downstate Illinois? You probably have listened to all these tales, and more, too, because Lew Alcindor — star sophomore on the University of California at Los Angeles basketball team — is the most publicized athlete of our time.”
Wilt Chamberlain on Lew Alcindor when Alcindor was a senior in high school: “He’s tough, plenty tough. A tremendous player who’ll go far.”
New York Knicks General Manager Eddie Donovan on Lew Alcindor when Alcindor was a senior in high school: “We could use him right now. He can do everything. The best high school boy I ever saw.”
High school coach Jack Donohue: “Lew is a nice, quiet kid, no trouble to anybody. Just the way we want all our boys to be. We like to think of him as average.”
Unnamed high school classmate of Lew Alcindor: “Lew’s our weatherman. When we see his head is wet, we know it’s fixing to rain.”
UCLA coach John Wooden: “He’s a remarkable young man, forgetting his basketball, he’s remarkable. For instance, he can discuss three or four religions quite intelligently. How many of us can do that? I can’t. He reads a lot, particularly philosophy. He’s a very intelligent youngster.”
UCLA teammate Kenny Heitz: “Of all the super stars who ever played in college, Lou has to be the best to play with. He’s terribly unselfish. He makes passes (Wilt) Chamberlain doesn’t see and he blocks shots Russell can’t reach. And offensively, he can score anytime he wants. It’s just like having the trump card in your hand every time.”
Former Washington State coach Marv Harsham: “Unfortunately I saw the UCLA freshman play lat night. What can you say? Alcindor is simply great. He can hold you off with one hand and put the ball in the basket with the other.”
Quad-City Times’ John O’Donnell: “Coach John Wooden, the former Purdue University great, has things going for him at UCLA. He has a fine team, without Lew Alcindor. With him, the UCLAns are unbeatable … If Coach Wooden ever gave him the order to go out and make as many points as possible, I wonder just what the total would be.”