Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the living legends in the NBA, ranking as the game’s all-time leader in points scored, minutes played, field goals made and attempted. Upon his retirement in 1989, no 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 than him.
That has changed since then, as Abdul-Jabbar — now 71 — has watched as some of his all-time records have fallen. Last week, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James passed Michael Jordan for fourth on the all-time scoring list. James currently needs 6,011 more points to leapfrog Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, a feat that may still be possible for James to accomplish as his career winds down.
To Abdul-Jabbar, though, the notion of his all-time scoring mark being passed is not one he is fretting over. Quite the opposite, it seems, as Abdul-Jabbar opened up on that topic in a piece he wrote for The Guardian newspaper that was published Wednesday.
“Every time I’m introduced in a public setting, my list of NBA records is announced,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “But whenever someone closes in on one of my remaining records, especially the Moby-Dick as the all-time leading scorer, I’m asked by dozens of media people whether I think they can do it and how I’ll feel if they do. It’s as if people think I’m sitting home watching the games chanting: Miss! Miss! Miss!
“Actually, when I see these talented veteran players’ remarkable athleticism while shooting, blocking and rebounding, I’m cheering them on with “Go, man, go!” … I want them to break my records because doing so is one more benchmark of human progress.”
In his storied career, Abdul-Jabbar was Rookie of the Year, a member of six NBA championship teams, a six-time NBA MVP, a two-time NBA Finals MVP, a 19-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champion and a member of the NBA 35th and 50th Anniversary All-Time Teams. When James passed Jordan last week on the list, Abdul-Jabbar cited his Instagram post on the moment in which he congratulated LeBron.
“Hey LeBron, I just wanted to congratulate you on your most recent accomplishment, passing Michael Jordan,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in his Instagram post. “I know he was your hero, and how much it means to you to pass someone that you admired your whole life. The same thing happened to me, back in 1984, when I was able to pass Wilt [Chamberlain]’s record, someone that I had admired when I was a kid. So I know what that means to you, and it’s a very special day, so congratulations for that.”
Abdul-Jabbar also wrote that seeing a record broken — be it his own in the NBA or in another sport — serves an an inspiration to him.
“Breaking athletic records is important to a society because every time we extend a jump by half an inch or shave a race by a tenth of a second, we’re pushing the boundaries of what we think the human body is capable of. … Each time an athlete demonstrates that a person is capable of more than we thought, they have inspired all of humanity to realize that they are capable of reaching further than they thought possible.
“Everyone who’s ever watched as an Olympic gymnast somersaults impossibly high with unimaginable speed and unprecedented control, shares that tingle of stunned elation and burst of pride that a human being can do that. Followed by the realization: maybe there’s more that I can do, too.”
He also cited how people of color who have broken athletic records have inspired him as well. He also says how his hero, Chamberlain, holds numerous NBA records, but also had his share of dubious records as well.
“A historic aspect of record breaking that can’t be ignored is that people of color have motivated themselves to break records as a way of proving themselves to a predominantly white society,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in The Guardian. “In some sports, it has only been decades since we have been allowed to compete alongside white players: 1950 for the NBA, 1947 for the MLB, 1946 for the NFL. The fame, the money, and the adulation that players of color earn when breaking records adds status to their entire community.
“Sometimes I think people overlook equally important statistics. My basketball hero, Wilt Chamberlain, who retired 56 years ago, still holds 72 NBA records, several of which are considered unbreakable. … At the same time we celebrate record achievements, we need to acknowledge epic failures that make those achievements possible. Our successes make us happy, but our failures make us stronger.”
Should he be around to witness it, Abdul-Jabbar says he will always be cheering for whomever happens to break any of his remaining records.
“What will I be doing the day LeBron – or some little kid on a playground right now chucking up free throws – breaks my record? I’ll be cheering from the stands, “Go, man, go!” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.