Liam Day remembers why he admired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar so much when he was growing up.
I tend to root for individual players and coaches more than teams. Today, that isn’t a problem for me. I am a great admirer of Kevin Garnett and so I root for the Celtics, as I should, being from Boston, and I would say my admiration for Bill Belichick borders more on adulation, and so I root for the Patriots.
This, however, was not always the case when I was growing up. Until about the age of ten my favorite football player was Bob Griese, in part because he wore glasses and I was embarrassed that I had to, and so my favorite football team was the dreaded Miami Dolphins, who tormented the lowly hometown Patriots for decades, the Orange Bowl a house of horrors for the team in red.
More egregious, though, was the fact that I also rooted for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics’ historic rival for most storied franchise in NBA history, this at the dawn, no less, of one of the two great eras in the rivalry’s history, the decade of the 80s, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would lead their teams to the NBA finals it would seem almost every year.
You see, my favorite basketball player then was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the all-star center who would go on to set the record for most points scored in a career before he retired.
I liked Kareem for any number of reasons. I liked him because he was good. I liked him because he, too, also wore glasses, well, goggles to be more precise. I liked him because of his amusing turn as the co-pilot in Airplane! I liked him because he had attended Power Memorial High School in New York, of one of whose sister schools, Catholic Memorial, my father had just become head basketball coach. In fact, in 1965, during Kareem’s senior year in high school, when he was still known as Lew Alcindor, CM had traveled to Madison Square Garden to play Power. They were considered the two best high school basketball teams in the country that year.
But mostly I liked Kareem because he was smart and, as Yago Colas pointed out in his great piece about growing up watching the NBA during the 1970s, Kareem evinced in his public persona something of the philosopher. He seemed to transcend the sport, even though he had come as close as perhaps any other player had in perfecting that sport in the form of his sky hook, a shot that simply could not be blocked or defended in any way. The best a defender could hope to do was push Kareem far enough off the low block before he caught the ball in the post that he might be past the range of the shot’s effectiveness.
Why am I reminded now of my admiration for Kareem, some three decades later? Because yesterday, as I perused Huffington Post, there was Kareem’s head shot appearing above a review he had written of Lena Dunham’s show, Girls. I’m not sure which surprised me more, that Kareem was writing in Huffington Post or that he watched Girls. What I was not suprised about was how perceptive, generous and well-written his review was. He had always been perceptive, generous and well-spoken.
I will leave you with one last story about Kareem. For my ninth birthday, my brother Luke, in one of the nicer gestures he ever made toward me, sent Kareem my copy of his basketball card and asked him to sign it. In return, Kareem sent back not only the card signed, but a 5 and ½ by 8 and ½ glossy, black and white photo, also signed, and a hand-written note wishing me a happy birthday.
A happy birthday, indeed. You cannot imagine how excited I was to receive such individual attention from one of my heroes. Perhaps somewhat belatedly, I would just like to say thank you.
Photo: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill