Milwaukee Bucks: All-Time Greatest 15 Man Roster

7 of 17

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) – Center

Words by Ti Windisch

Whether you first knew him as Lew Alcindor or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, there is no denying the greatness of one of the best centers the NBA has ever known. It’s easy to forget how great Kareem really was considering the what have you done for me lately nature of the modern NBA, but being easy doesn’t make forgetting Kareem any less foolish.

Kareem’s list of accomplishments puts him in a different category of NBA greatness due to his insane longevity. I mean, the man totaled six championships on two different teams over a 17 year span, won Finals MVP twice, league MVP six times, was an All-Star 19 times, made the first or second All-NBA team fifteen times, made one of the All-Defensive teams eleven times, won three titles in college and leads the entire NBA (and the Bucks franchise) in scoring.

Chew on that one for a second. Kareem took home Finals MVPs fourteen seasons apart— once during year three of the Nixon presidency, once during year five of the Reagan presidency. -Bill Simmons

So you could say he was pretty good. Or that he’s the greatest player in NBA history, a claim you don’t hear too often despite Kareem having a solid case. But this piece isn’t about comparing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to other legends, it’s about what he accomplished in his own right.

And he accomplished quite a bit. Kareem managed to average 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.7 blocks, and 3.6 assists per game over 20 NBA seasons. He managed a (rounded) average of 25/11/4/3 over two freaking decades!

Those would be crazy numbers for a player’s peak! Kareem’s peak is absolutely otherworldly, by the way–from his rookie season until 1980 he averaged 28.3 points, 14.4 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals per game. Those numbers speak to the pure domination that was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his prime.

“Why judge anymore? When a man has broken records, won championships, endured tremendous criticism and responsibility, why judge? Let’s toast him as the greatest player ever.” – Pat Riley

Nearly everything Kareem did would eventually become iconic. His signature skyhook is perhaps along with Hakeem Olajuwon’s Dream Shake the most legendary and unblockable move in NBA history. His acting cameo helped make “Airplane” one of the best comedies the world will ever know.

He gave the Bucks their first and to this point only title, and began the era of Lakers championship basketball that has only ended with the decline of Kobe Bryant in the past few seasons. Kareem, like Michael Jordan after him and Bill Russell before him, was the NBA for most of his career during it.

Did he have great teammates and legendary competition? Of course. But Kareem was both literally and metaphorically bigger than anyone else in terms of impact on the game, despite his well-documented dislike of the press.

“You know, Kareem dominated our league for two decades.” – Isiah Thomas

Any lists that attempt to rank the top five or ten players in NBA history and leave Kareem Abdul-Jabbar off of the top five have immediately lost their credibility in my opinion–Kareem is just too great to be ignored. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Other NBA legends seem to feel the same way, and some even more strongly about Kareem’s legacy. Isiah Thomas thinks leaving Kareem off of a top one list is foolish:

"“If they say the numbers don’t lie, then Kareem is the greatest ever to play the game,” Thomas said. “And I’m a big proponent of that. … No disrespect to Jordan, but he won in the ’90s. And if the ’80s are the golden era, then the person who dominated the NBA in the ’80s and the ’70s was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.”"

Julius Irving feels similarly about Abdul-Jabbar’s legacy and place at the top of the NBA pantheon:

"“In terms of players all-time, Kareem is still the number one guy. He’s the guy you gotta start your franchise with.”"

Mind you, these aren’t quotes from Kareem’s last season or within a few years of his retirement. Thomas shared that sentiment with the Chicago Tribune in 2012 and Dr. J made his claim in a Grantland interview in 2013.

So even though both of those certified NBA legends had a decade to reflect on Jordan’s legacy, they still firmly believe that Kareem comes in on top. (I know I said I wouldn’t get caught up in rankings before, but seriously, if you think Kareem isn’t on basketball’s Mt. Rushmore then you don’t know basketball).

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a career like no other. He managed to achieve the rare trifecta of having the championship trophies, the untouchable statistics and the unbelievable longevity that no other NBA player since Bill Russell has really reached before or after.

Kareem needs to be recognized as not just the greatest Bucks but as one of the greatest NBA players to ever suit up in the Association. He’s earned it.

Next: Sam Cassell