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The deadliest shot the NBA has ever seen: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could shoot the skyhook whenever, wherever and however he wanted.
"They give it to Kareem. He'll swing left, shoot right. He swings left, shoots right … the 12-foot skyhook is good!"
Which begs the question: If the scouts told them what the fist play was and Hearn could see it coming all the way from his seat high above the western sideline at the Forum, why couldn't opposing defenders anticipate it and stop it?
For one thing, unlike a jump shot in which the proper technique is to line the shoulders up to face the basket, the skyhook was released with the shoulders perpendicular to the hoop, forcing the defender to come all the way across Abdul-Jabbar's body to get to the ball. As an added deterrent, Abdul-Jabbar extended his left arm to ward off opponents.
Then there was the timing element. To hear Abdul-Jabbar describe it, you'd need a graphing calculator to project the right time and place to be to block the shot.
"When you shoot it, you force people to wait for you to go up," he said, " And if they wait until I started to shoot it then they'd have to judge the distance and time it, and it's gone before they can catch up to it. That's, for me, the beauty of it. You're in control because of when you're gonna release it and where. The defense has to see that and calculate everything before they get an opportunity to block it."
As if that didn't crowd enough thoughts into a defender's brain, he also had to worry about the counter moves Abdul-Jabbar developed. If a defender overplayed him to the right to take away the hook, he would just spin back around to his left to shoot a jump shot or, in later years, a lefty version of the skyhook.
Double-teaming him wasn't an appealing option during his seasons with the Lakers, because he might have had three other All-Stars on the court with him at any given time. Among the options he had to pass to over the years were Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Norm Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes.
"That kinda gave people the choice of 'How do you wanna commit suicide?'" Abdul-Jabbar said. "You want me to get the shot off, or do you want one of those guys to?"
So that meant Abdul-Jabbar faced more single coverage than anyone of his skills had a right to see. And a single defender stood no chance of stopping him.
"I don't recall it ever being blocked by somebody who was guarding me," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Maybe a few people got to it, coming to help where I couldn't see them, but if I knew where someone was, that person was not going to block that shot, because I always got my body in between them and the ball before I released the ball, and it's impossible to get to it. Manute Bol was [five] inches taller than me and I shot a number of them on him and made them without him blocking it.
"Nobody really presented a challenge to me getting it off. Wilt [Chamberlain] was pretty good, too. Wilt tried to time it and he could really leap, but he just couldn't get there in time."
It seemed as if the shot always started the same and ended the same. Yet among the thousands of attempts, there are those that stick out in my mind. That takes a special talent, too. John Stockton set the NBA record for career assists, but it's hard to remember any individual passes among the 15,806.
Not so with Kareem. He managed to mix in some drama and even a little emotion among the repetition. Well, maybe he wasn't so emotional on October 12, 1979, when he made a skyhook near the top of the key to give the Lakers the win in Magic Johnson's first professional game, prompting Johnson to wrap Abdul-Jabbar in a bear hug as if they'd just won the championship. Kareem calmly reminded him they had 81 games to go.
In the first Lakers game I saw in person, on March 28, 1982, Abdul-Jabbar beat the Cleveland Cavaliers with a skyhook at the buzzer. The next year he made a critical skyhook in an overtime playoff victory at Portland, then let out a yell as he ran back to the sidelines, where Magic greeted him with a drawn-out high five.
Two of the greatest basketball players ever
They help create a nearly unbeatable Los Angeles Lakers team (1980s)
PHOTOGRAPHER / CREDIT: © Photo File
2001-2009 Robert McMahan Photography/RMP Archive
There was even more emotion that came with the hook shot that iced the Lakers' Game 6 victory in Boston Garden that delivered the 1985 championship in an NBA Finals that began with the Lakers getting stomped by the Celtics and Abdul-Jabbar being labeled as over the hill.
Abdul-Jabbar's personal favorite came in the same building, 11 years earlier, a dramatic late hook shot that helped the Bucks beat the Celtics in a Finals game.
And, fittingly, it was a hook shot that broke Chamberlain's scoring record on April 5, 1984.
Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook is one of the all-time signature moves, like George Gervin's finger roll or Hakeem Olajuwon's Dream Shake. The modern game has nothing close, not in status or effectiveness. Ironically, the San Antonio Spurs, the team derided as being so style-impaired, have two of the remaining signature shots: Tony Parker's teardrop and Tim Duncan's mid-range jumper off the glass from the wing. (Why do old-school announcers go crazy about the bank shot? Is the game that much worse without it?)
The true test of a signature move is when you can recognize it the moment someone else tries it. (For instance, it's pretty easy to see the influence of Michael Jackson on these dance moves by Usher.) When Abdul-Jabbar took a baseline seat at a 2004 Lakers game during his brief stint as a scout for the Knicks, Shaquille O'Neal noticed him and threw up a hook shot in the lane as an instant tribute, then pointed to Abdul-Jabbar to make sure he picked up on the homage.
O'Neal calls the skyhook "one of the most effective shots" in the history of the game, which makes you wonder why he never adopted it himself.
"My father made me shoot it all the time," O'Neal said. "Being a hip-hop kid, I didn't want to do it.
"We're different. We like to be a lot cooler."
Abdul-Jabbar concedes "it's not a macho shot," and realized it was going out of style even when he first learned it in the 1950s. But he doesn't understand the reluctance of the modern-day player to incorporate it into his game.
"I used it to become the leading scorer in the history of the NBA," Abdul-Jabbar said. "There has to be something about it that works."
There's a lot to be said about a journey being made easier by having a set destination. One reason Abdul-Jabbar always seemed to be a step ahead of the defense is that he knew exactly what he was going to do with the ball. Michael Jordan incorporated elements of this when he came to increasingly rely on his fallaway jumper, and in the past couple of years you've seen Kobe Bryant become more adept at getting to his preferred spots, then pulling up to shoot.
LeBron James seems to improvise every time, and there's a sense of wonder as we discover his capabilities right along with him. But LeBron and Kobe are perimeter players, almost destined to shoot lower percentages. Kareem was a 56 percent shooter for his career and had only one season -- his last, in 1988-89 -- in which he failed to make at least half of his shots.
So even while the latest generation has found more exciting ways to score, they haven't found anything more effective. The skyhook will continue to belong to Abdul-Jabbar. And, not coincidentally, so will the scoring record.
(By J.A. Adandea at ESPN.com)
A teenage Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, proudly displays his "Most Valuable Player" trophy after leading his team to victory in the Catholic High School AA championships in New York City, 1965.
(c) Kareem-Lakers.com 2008
During his college career he was twice named Player of the Year (1967, 1969), was a three-time First Team All-American (1967-69), played on three NCAA Basketball champion teams (1967, 1968, 1969), was honored as the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament (1967, 1968, 1969), and became the first-ever Naismith College Player of the Year in 1969. In 1967, 1968 he also won USBWA College Player of the Year which later became the Oscar Robertson Trophy. Alcindor became the only player to win the Helms Foundation Player of the Year award 3 times. Note: Freshmen were not eligible to play, so Alcindor only had 3 years to play, not four. The 1965-1966 UCLA Bruin team was the preseason #1. But on November 27 1965, the freshmen team led by Alcindor defeated the varsity team 75-60 in the first game in the new Pauley Pavilion. This defeat had no effect on the varsity's national ranking. It was still number one the following week. Alcindor scored 51 points in that game.
UCLA became the first school to have a top winner in both basketball and football in the same year with Gary Beban winning the Heisman Trophy and Abdul-Jabbar winning the U.S. Basketball Writers Association player of the year award in 1968.
The dunk was banned in college basketball after the 1967 season, primarily because of Alcindor's dominant use of the shot. It was not allowed again until 1976.
While playing for UCLA, he suffered a scratched left cornea on January 12, 1968 at the Cal game when he got struck by Ted Henderson of Cal in a rebound battle. He would miss the next two games against Stanford and Portland. This happened right before the momentous game against Houston. His cornea later would be scratched again during his pro career and he would then wear goggles for protection.
Abdul-Jabbar had an outstanding career at UCLA.
As of the 2007-2008 season, Abdul-Jabbar still holds a number of individual records at UCLA — remarkable, in part, because at the time freshmen were ineligible for varsity basketball:
Highest career Scoring Average: 26.4
Most career Field Goals: 943
Most season Points: 870 (1967)
Highest season Scoring Average: 29.0 (1967)
Most season Field Goals: 346 (1967)
Most season Free Throw Attempts: 274 (1967)
Most single game Points: 61
Most single game field goals: 26 (vs. Washington State, 2/25/67)
(© 2009 Macrovision Corporation)
The December 5, 1966 issue of Sports Illustrated celebrated Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and his first season at UCLA.
(Neil Leifer/Sports Illustrated)
Published December 6, 1966
The first cover was shot by Neil Leifer. Kareem hadd great conversations with Neil about photography. H was amazed that Neil could get a job at SI without a college degree. This magazine was publilshed on his mom's birthday so it was a great present for her. Pretty soon Kareem was seeing a lot of kids on campus reading this issue and herealized how big of a deal basketball was at UCLA.
(From 2008 Union Productions)
A young Lew Alcindor, later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, blocks a shot during a high school basketball game in 1964.
April 1, 1968 issue of Sports Illustrated shows Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor) playing for UCLA against Houston.
(Rich Clarkson/Sports Illustrated)
This is Kareem's favorite cover from his college career. The photo shows him shooting his favorite shot against a team that cannot defend it and Elvin Hayes is on the ground watching helplessly with a couple of his team-mates, hoping that he would miss. This game also showed the fans how much trouble the UCLA full court press could cause for a team trying to get back into a game.
(From 2008 Union Productions)
AKA Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor
Birthplace: Harlem, NY
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Nationality: United States
Executive summary: NBA records for most minutes, most points
Father: Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Sr.
Wife: Habiba Abdul-Jabbar ("Janice Brown", div. 1978)
Girlfriend: Cheryl Pistono
Girlfriend: Pam Grier
High School: Power Memorial High School, New York, NY (1962-65)
University: University of California at Los Angeles (1967-69)
Academy of Achievement (1989)
Bill Bradley for President
Naismith Award (male) 1969
NBA Rookie of the Year 1969/70
NBA Most Valuable Player 1970/71
NBA Most Valuable Player 1971/72
NBA Most Valuable Player 1973/74
NBA Most Valuable Player 1975/76
NBA Most Valuable Player 1976/77
NBA Most Valuable Player 1979/80
Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year 1985
NBA Top 50 Players 1996
Endorsement of Apple
Endorsement of Walt Disney World 1988
Draft Deferment: Vietnam 4-F (too tall)
Converted to Islam
SPORTS FRANCHISE HISTORY
Los Angeles Lakers (1975-89)
Milwaukee Bucks (1969-75)
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
Church Ball (17-Mar-2006)
BASEketball (28-Jul-1998) Himself
Rebound: The Legend of Earl "The Goat" Manigault (23-Nov-1996) Himself
Slam Dunk Ernest (20-Jun-1995)
Forget Paris (19-May-1995) Himself
The Stand (8-May-1994)
D2: The Mighty Ducks (25-Mar-1994) Himself
Troop Beverly Hills (22-Mar-1989) Himself
Purple People Eater (Dec-1988)
Fletch (31-May-1985) Himself
The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (21-Nov-1979) Himself
Game of Death (23-Mar-1978)
(©2009 Soylent Communications)
(c) 2008 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born Ferdinand Lewis 'Lew' Alcindor on April 16, 1947) is an American retired basketball player, widely considered one of the greatest players of all time. During his 20-year professional career in the NBA, from 1969 to 1989, he scored the highest points total of any player in league history (38,387), in addition to winning a record six Most Valuable Player Awards and six NBA championships. He was known for his "skyhook" shot, which was famously difficult to block because it put his 7'2" body between the basket and the ball. Abdul-Jabbar's success began well before his professional career; in college at UCLA, he played on three championship teams, and his high school team won 71 consecutive games.
©1996 - 2009 American Academy of Achievement
1970: Lew Alcindor Sr. congratulates his son on being named NBA Rookie of the Year. In his first season as a professional, Lew Alcindor, Jr., the future Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, led the Milwaukee Bucks from last place to the Eastern Division playoffs.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shoots over the head of the Philadelphia 76ers' Caldwell Jones in the 1980 NBA finals.
(Manny Millan/Sports Illustrated)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shoots a sky hook in a game against the Utah Jazz in Las Vegas, 1984.
(Associated Press/Lennox McLendon)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes a hook shot for the L.A. Lakers in this 1988 game, while Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Pistons tries to block.
(Richard Mackson/Sports Illustrated)
In 1978, Abdul-Jabbar translated his popularity into a film career by appearing as a hulking foe to Bruce Lee in Game of Death. The ensuing battle royale between the diminutive martial arts master and the agile seven-foot hoopster remains a highlight of martial arts cinema. Other film appearances include a memorable turn as a co-pilot who tires of being mistaken for Abdul-Jabbar in 1980's Airplane. In most of his subsequent films, Abdul-Jabbar has stuck to making cameo appearances as himself; he did however have a supporting role in the television pilot for the Robert Mitchum series Jake Spanner, Private Eye in 1989, the year he retired from professional basketball. Since then, his film and television appearances as an actor have been increasingly sporadic. Abdul-Jabbar has, however, continued to use his legendary status as an example. He is a tireless worker for various philanthropic causes and has devoted a large amount of time to helping children and steering them toward getting a good education.
(© 2009 Macrovision Corporation)
When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left the game in 1989 at age 42, no NBA player had ever scored more points, blocked more shots, won more Most Valuable Player Awards, played in more All-Star Games or logged more seasons. His list of personal and team accomplishments is perhaps the most awesome in league history: Rookie of the Year, member of six NBA championship teams, six-time NBA MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP, 19-time All-Star, two-time scoring champion, and a member of the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary All-Time Teams. He also owned eight playoff records and seven All-Star records. No player achieved as much individual and team success as did Abdul-Jabbar.
Despite his incredible success on the court, it wasn't until the twilight of his career that Abdul-Jabbar finally won the universal affection of basketball fans. He was a private man who avoided the press and at times seemed aloof. "I'm the baddest among the bad guys," he once told The Sporting News.
But late in his playing days Abdul-Jabbar began to open up, and as his career wound to a close, fans, players and coaches alike expressed their admiration for what he had accomplished in basketball. During the 1988-89 season, his last, Abdul-Jabbar was honored in every arena in the league.
Miami Heat Coach Pat Riley, who coached Abdul-Jabbar for eight seasons in Los Angeles, once said in a toast recounted in Sports Illustrated, "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."
(Copyright 2009 NBA Media Ventures, LLC)
In this Nov. 21, 2007 file photo, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar smiles as he is honored during a halftime ceremony of an NBA basketball game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers in Milwaukee. During his playing days, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seemed to avoid the spotlight whenever possible. Now at age 61, the formerly reticent Hall of Famer doesn't shun attention _ even from reporters.
(© 2009 The E.W. Scripps Co)