INTERESTING BITS: Who Knew? Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Father was a Jazz Musician!
Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. was born in New York City, the only child of Cora Lillian, a department store price checker, and Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., a transit police officer and jazz musician. He was unusually large and tall from a young age. At birth he weighed 12 lb 11 oz. and was 22 ½ inches long, and by age 9 he was already 5 ft 8 in tall. By the eighth grade (age 13–14) he had grown to 6 ft 8 in tall and could already slam dunk a basketball on a regulation 10 ft hoop. He would eventually reach his full height of 7 ft 2 in when he entered the NBA at age 22.
From an early age, Alcindor began his record-breaking basketball accomplishments. In high school, he led coach Jack Donahue’s Power Memorial Academy team to three straight New York City Catholic championships, a 71-game winning streak, and a 79–2 overall record. This earned him a nickname—”The tower from Power”. His 2,067 total points were a New York City high school record. The team won the national high school boys basketball championship when Alcindor was in 11th grade and was runner-up his senior year. Alcindor had a strained relationship with his coach. In his 2017 book “Coach Wooden and Me,” Abdul-Jabbar relates an incident where Donahue called him a nigger.
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Conversion to Islam and 1968 Olympic boycott
During the summer of 1968, Alcindor took the shahada twice and converted to Sunni Islam, though he did not begin publicly using his Arabic name until 1971. He boycotted the 1968 Summer Olympics by deciding not to try out for the United States Men’s Olympic Basketball team. This action was in protest to the unequal treatment of African-Americans in the United States.
He was one of only four players who started on three NCAA championship teams; the others all played for Wooden at UCLA: Henry Bibby, Curtis Rowe and Lynn Shackelford. In sharp contrast to what goes on today, Alcindor did not declare early for the NBA draft. He completed his studies and earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in history in 1969. In his free time, he practiced martial arts. He studied Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee.
[Kareem is now competing on Dancing With The Stars – Athletes – at the age of 71!]