For whatever reason, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is frequently overlooked in the GOAT discussion, but if you look at his resume, he has a compelling case to be considered the greatest basketball player of all time.
Six NBA titles, Six MVPs, two Finals MVPs, 19 All-Star appearances, Rookie of the Year, two-time NBA scoring champion, jersey retired by three different teams (two pro, one college), three NCAA Championships and three Final Four Most Outstanding Player Awards. Indeed, Abdul-Jabbar might be the most dominant player in both college basketball and NBA history.
The 68-year-old dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Tuesday to discuss how the NCAA Tournament has changed over the years and why he was never a head coach, among other topics.
“Well, I think the Final Four is much better now because they’ve expanded the tournament and they include a lot of teams that wouldn’t have made it back when I was playing college basketball,” Abdul-Jabbar said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “When I was playing, you had to win a conference in order to get invited so there was a lot fewer teams. I think they started out with 16 teams and that was it. So now that they’ve expanded it to 64, they get to include all the teams that have improved during the season and now at the end of the season they might have four or five losses but they’ve improved a lot and they deserve to be in the tournament. They couldn’t get in (when I played). Now they can get in. I think that’s good. I think it’s a big improvement. The bigger the dance, the more people are interested in it. College basketball has a grip on the psyche of sports fans in our country. I think it’s still a great game. It’s too bad that they lose all their best players going into the NBA. If they could keep their players there for three years, it’d be a lot better.”
Abdul-Jabbar would like to see the NBA raise its minimum age to 21, or wait until a prospect completes his degree – whichever comes first.
“That would force these young men to think about college a little bit and deal with it for some amount of time,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Just that whole process of having to go to class and be responsible for something that has nothing to do with basketball really helps make the players mature and understand that they have a responsibility more than just to the game. They have a responsibility to themselves to educate themselves and I think making it 21 instead of 18 forces them to deal with that. The college experience usually is of great benefit to athletes because it forces them to think in larger terms than just, ‘I’m going to be a wonderful athlete. Where’s my $30 million?’ It expands it beyond that.”
Those are wise words from a wise basketball man. And yet, for someone reason, Abdul-Jabbar never got the chance to be a head coach in the NBA.
“I think by the time that people saw that I could do it and had some facility at it, I was turning 60,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I had missed my opportunity, and they weren’t going to give me another opportunity. That’s the way that goes. It’s very political. So because of that, sometimes you don’t get to know exactly what the reasons are, but I think that has a lot to do with it. I hung around for a long time and they got tired of me and didn’t think I could do it as a coach.”
Still, Abdul-Jabbar said he didn’t harbor any resentment for the people who never game him a chance to be the head man.
“No, no, I didn’t,” he said. I got certain opportunities to work with people. I was an assistant coach with the Lakers for six years and won two world championships (in 2009 and 2010). I had a pretty good coaching experience but I never got to sit in the lead chair. That’s something that was a disappointment, but it doesn’t beat me down. I had such a wonderful experience with the game that I can’t hold grudges or be bitter about that. The game was a great place for me to chase my dreams, and I achieved so many of them. I’m not going to complain about the one that I missed out on.”