Tip-Off Timer: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and His Skyhook Own the Record Book
Before Jerry Rice made shambles of NFL marks and before Wayne Gretzky was done tearing up the NHL, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was doing a skyhook on the NBA record book.
The big fellow scored an NBA-record 38,387 points in a 20-year career that spanned from 1969-89.
The number 38 figures prominently in a few other Abdul-Jabbar accomplishments. It was 38 years ago he won his first of six NBA titles, and the 7-foot-2 center was 38 when he won his second of two NBA Finals Most Valuable Player awards.
But the 38,000-plus points Abdul-Jabbar scored remains the most mind-numbing statistic from his amazing
career. When he retired, he had scored nearly 7,000 more points than Wilt Chamberlain, whose record he broke in 1984, and his total remains more than 1,400 ahead of Karl Malone, now runner-up on the list.
"Nobody's going to break that record,'' said Hall of Fame forward and two-time scoring champion Adrian Dantley, who was Abdul-Jabbar's teammate with the Lakers from 1977-79 and played against him often.
Then Dantley paused.
"Maybe LeBron,'' he said.
Indeed the Cleveland sensation has a shot at toppling that record in a dozen or so years. But Dantley believes LeBron James breaking it would come with a bit of an asterisk.
"He entered the NBA right out of high school,'' Dantley said. "He'd have four years (on Abdul-Jabbar who played four years at UCLA), coming in at 18 rather than 22.''
Still, it would take some pretty impressive longevity by James to get there. If James, who has 12,993 points in six seasons, continues at that pace, he would break Abdul-Jabbar's mark late in his 18th season of 2020-21 when he's 36.
But James, who has a career average of 27.5, might slow down with his scoring in his mid-30s. There could be injuries or even another NBA lockout. So perhaps it will take a 19th or 20th season to get there.
Yet will James, who is now heading to Hollywood to do a movie and should have more money in his 30s than the gross national product of some small countries, want to play that many seasons?
"If I continue to get better and stay healthy, that's the main thing,'' James said last season when asked that question. "If you continue to stay healthy in this league, you can play for a long time.''"He was great. He was the greatest scorer ever."
-- Adrian Dantley
Abdul-Jabbar sure proved that. He won his first NBA title in 1971 with Milwaukee and added five more with the Lakers in the 1980s, the last one in 1988 when he was 41. He won a record six MVP trophies.
One of Abdul-Jabbar's most memorable performances came in 1985 when he was 38 and many thought he was getting near the end of the line. In Game 1 of the NBA Finals, host Boston crushed the Lakers 148-114 in the "Memorial Day Massacre,'' and Abdul-Jabbar looked ancient as he was held to 12 points and three rebounds.
But Abdul-Jabbar must have found the Fountain of Youth somewhere near the Charles River. He averaged 28.4 points and 10.2 rebounds in the final five games as the Lakers won the series 4-2, and Abdul-Jabbar became the oldest man ever named Finals MVP.
Abdul-Jabbar didn't stop there. He averaged 23.4 points the next season, when he would turn 39. In 1988, when he was 41, he hit two key last-second free throws to beat Detroit in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, and the Lakers won the series in seven games.
"He was great,'' said Dantley, who remembers the 1988 Finals only too well since he was on the losing end, and is now an assistant coach with the Denver Nuggets. "He was the greatest scorer ever, and he shot the skyhook. That's why I always try to teach people the hook.''
Teaching the type of longevity Abdul-Jabbar had is an entirely different story.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.