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50 Years Ago This Week: Can Basketball Survive Lew Alcindor?

Published: January 11, 2017

On January 14, 1967, the Saturday Evening Post published an article about rising basketball phenomenon Lew Alcindor, who at the time was a sophomore at UCLA playing under coach John Wooden. Author Rex Lardner predicted that college basketball was entering the Alcindor Era.

Lardner was dead right. The 7’1 3/8” Alcindor led Wooden’s Bruins to three consecutive victories, and then steered the Milwaukee Bucks to an NBA championship in 1971. The day after the win, Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and then went on to break a list of records as long as his arm.

As this article clearly illustrates, his greatness was evident even at 19. Alcindor’s many honors that 1967 sophomore season included Associated Press College Basketball Player of the Year, First Team All-American, Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament, Oscar Robertson Trophy winner, and Helms Foundation Player of the Year. His playing style made most games so lopsided that it led to the NCAA banning the slam-dunk until 1976.

Some thought Alcindor was foolish to go to college instead of turn pro. Bill Sharman, then coach of the San Francisco Warriors, commented that “He could be earning $100,000 a year for the next three years.” (In fact, his first year salary with the Bucks was $1.4 million.)

In the 1967 article, even the normally understated Wooden saw potential greatness. When asked what he thought of his new player, Wooden simply said, “Awesome.”

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