When most discuss the greatest players in NBA history, the names Michael Jordan and LeBron James almost always come up. After that? There are a variety of different players that come next, depending on the person making the argument.
Some talk about Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Others bring up more recent greats like Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan. What not enough people do, in the eyes of former player and current LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers, is discuss Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (via the “Go Off” podcast):
“The guy that I think that people don’t give enough due to is Kareem. I don’t think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar gets enough credit when you think about (that) he was on the All-Defensive team I think 11 straight years. A 19-time All-Star. He has a shot that every kid that’s over 6’6 has tried to do, and no one has been able to do it. He was lethal. I don’t think he gets enough due.”
We don’t say this often on this blog, but Doc Rivers has a point. In fact, Abdul-Jabbar being under-appreciated is something I wrote a profile about during our “Let’s Appreciate a Laker” series, because Abdul-Jabbar’s numbers are staggering for someone who barely gets a mention in modern-day discussions of the best players ever.
In addition to the accolades Rivers mentioned, Abdul-Jabbar scored more points than anyone in NBA history, and is a 15-time member of the All-NBA team who led the league in blocks (which weren’t even recorded during Abdul-Jabbar’s first three seasons) six times. That’s also how many times he won MVP (still a league record), and he also won Finals MVP twice during his six championship runs. That’s just a borderline-unbelievable resume.
Part of Abdul-Jabbar not getting his proper due is the simple passage of time. The reality is that many basketball discussions today are held between people who didn’t really see him play in his prime. All those people — like myself — have to go off are scattered historic games, grainy highlights and his incredible stats. That’s something, but doesn’t replace the familiarity that comes with watching someone dominate in real-time.
But that context is no reason for Abdul-Jabbar to not get his proper due. He has an argument as the greatest center (and player) ever, and we should all continue to remember to bring him up when having such conversations.