ABDUL-JABBAR, 59, who scored an NBA-record 38,387 points, was cover material
well before his first pro game. Last Saturday at UCLA he was feted for his
starring role on the 30--0 Bruins team of 1966--67. Here, Abdul-Jabbar, a
special assistant coach for the Lakers, talks to SI's Arash Markazi about eight
of the 22 SI covers he has landed on.
DEC. 5, 1966
"My first cover [a two-page foldout] was shot by Neil Leifer," recalls
Abdul-Jabbar, who was then 19-year-old Lew Alcindor and is referencing a
photographer whose work has appeared on more than 170 SI covers. "I had
great conversations with him about photography, and I was amazed that he could
get a job at SI without having a college degree. The issue came out on my mom's
birthday, so it was a great present for her. Soon I was seeing a lot of kids on
campus reading this issue and I realized how big a deal basketball was at
JAN. 29, 1968
"This commemorates the most disappointing loss of my college career,"
he says of the 71--69 Houston win that ended UCLA's 47-game winning streak. The
matchup became known as the Game of the Century. "People were quick to jump
on the Houston bandwagon. I used that cover as a motivating tool by placing it
in my locker so I saw it every day before and after practice. I knew I would be
reminded to be at my best if we got a shot at Houston." Two months later
UCLA routed Houston in the Final Four and won the national title.
MARCH 31, 1969
"The headline THE MILLION DOLLAR FINISH says it all. The look on my face is
of pride and relief. We were expected to win; that was a lot of pressure. I
could have signed a pro contract a couple of years before my senior year but I
felt my value would increase if UCLA could win consecutive NCAA titles. Winning
three in a row put my value even higher." He got a five-year, $1.4 million
deal with the Bucks.
OCT. 27, 1969
"This marks my passage into the pro ranks. Some writers felt I might not be
physical enough, but I used my strengths: speed and agility. The centers who
wanted to use roughhouse tactics were at a disadvantage because they couldn't
run the court consistently. I remember a Detroit center asking me to slow down
so his coach wouldn't get on his case for not keeping pace."
APRIL 27, 1970
"The Bucks gave it their best, but the Knicks had the better team," he
says, recalling how New York beat Milwaukee in the Eastern Division finals.
"The writers tried to say the Knicks were better because Willis Reed was
more dominant than I was. Over the next few seasons I would blow that myth out
of the water. That led me to become the villain in New York. But the pleasure
of beating the Knicks later on was always special for me." ( Abdul-Jabbar
played for Manhattan's Power Memorial High.)
OCT. 14, 1974
"This reminds me of the connection I had with Bill Walton. I played against
him in his first exhibition game [in '74] and his last playoff game [in '87],
with a lot of intense competition in between. When he retired, we weren't on
speaking terms. That lasted a couple years. Then we were at a function and Bill
offered his hand. I took it and we laughed. I'm happy to call Bill my friend
MAY 5, 1980
"This was a great year for me," says Abdul-Jabbar, who won his sixth
league MVP. "And it was a great year for the team because it became clear
that Magic Johnson would be a superbly dominant player. Magic's presence took
pressure off me because he was so good on the court and was equally great with
the press. His performance made us world champs."
DEC. 23, 1985
"What a great honor it was to be chosen as Sportsman of the Year," he
says. Abdul-Jabbar received the award in a year he was named MVP of the NBA
Finals, averaging 25.7 points as the Lakers beat the Celtics in six games.
"I always thought that award went to someone in horse racing or sailing or
golf. Winning it really made it sink in as to how far I had come as an athlete.
It's a special moment when you are honored in the same fashion as your
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