by Kathy Wolfe

Swish! This week, Tidbits heads to the court to check out these legends of the sport.

• Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor, Jr. was born in 1947, weighing in at 12 lbs, 11 oz.    By age nine, he was already 5’ 8” tall, and when he reached 8th grade, he stood 6’ 8”. He finally topped out at 7’2”. Alcindor attended a parochial high school in New York City, where he set a record for most points scored. His college career began in 1965 at UCLA, where he scored a record 56 points in his first game. He was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1st round of the NBA draft in 1969, and was named Rookie of the Year for the 1969-70 season. Having converted to Islam, Alcindor changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1971.

    Jabbar was traded to the L.A. Lakers in 1975, winning five NBA championships there.    His salary in 1984 was $1,530,000, but had more than doubled by the close of his career. His estimated NBA earnings are $8,560,000.

    After 20 seasons in the NBA, Jabbar retired in 1989 as the highest-scoring player of all time with 38,387 points. He’d been voted NBA’s MVP six times and played a record 57,446 minutes. In addition to appearing in a few movies, he has authored 17 books. Several health problems have plagued him, including severe migraines, a leukemia diagnosis in 2008, and quadruple bypass surgery in 2015.

Larry Bird was known as “the hick from French Lick,” referring to his hometown of French Lick, Indiana. His childhood was not an easy one, as his mother worked two jobs to help support the family’s six children. There were plenty of family problems in the Bird home, including poverty, which motivated Larry to succeed. He escaped from the troubles, which included divorce and his father’s subsequent suicide, by playing basketball, becoming his high school’s all-time leading scorer.

The Indiana Hoosiers offered Bird a basketball scholarship in 1974, but he dropped out after a month, finding the large campus and number of students too overwhelming after life in a small town. He enrolled in a small college near home for a year, then transferred to Indiana State University in 1975. Two years later, the 6 ft. 9” Bird was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the sixth overall pick in NBA’s 1978 draft, but chose to stay in college, graduating with a B.S. in Physical education in 1979. He then signed a five-year, $3.25 million contract with the Celtics, the highest-paid rookie at that time. His entire 13-year pro career, 1,061 games, was spent with the team, securing five NBA finals appearances, and three championships. In a 1985 game, he scored his personal best of 60 points. Bird was a member of the 1992 Olympic basketball “Dream Team,” the first time that NBA players were sent to compete in the Games, games that earned the team the gold medal. He retired in 1992 following back surgery to remove a disc. He was a coach for the Indiana Pacers from 1997 to 2000.

• Can you name the first NBA player to score more than 30,000 cumulative points? It was the 7’1” tall “Wilt the Stilt” Chamberlain, the Kansas Jayhawk alumnus, who joined the Philadelphia Warriors in 1959. Because the NBA did not accept players who had not completed college, after leaving the University of Kansas in 1958, Wilt played a year as a Harlem Globetrotter before becoming a Warrior. He still holds several records, including the most points scored in a season, with 4,029 in the 1962 season, an average of 50.4 points per game.    That was also the year he became the first and only player to score 100 points in a game    In all, Chamberlain holds 72 NBA records.    He moved with the Warriors to San Francisco in 1962, was traded to the Philadelphia 76’ers in 1964 then to the Lakers in 1968. He retired in 1973 after playing in 1,045 games, did some coaching for a year with an ABA team, then moved into business and filmmaking. Chamberlain passed away in 1999 at age 63.

Moses Malone’s pro basketball spanned from 1974 through 1995. The 6’10” center entered pro ball directly from high school, the first to do so, drafted by the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association. The ABA merged with the NBA in 1976. Malone played on 10 teams during his career, during which he was an All-Star 13 times and the NBA MVP three times.   

    Scotty Pippen started his NBA career with the Chicago Bulls in 1987 and ended with the Bulls in 2004. But in between, he also played one season with the Houston Rockets and four with the Portland Trail Blazers. He made the postseason 16 consecutive years. In 2008, at age 42, he had a brief comeback to pro ball, playing a few games for two Scandinavian teams. In 1992, Pippen and Michael Jordan were the first players to win an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal in the same year.

Shaquille O’Neal stands 7’1” tall, and weighed 325 lbs. during his basketball years. As a young person living on a U.S. Army base at Wildflecken, West Germany, where his stepfather was stationed, Shaq first met the coach of the Louisiana State University Tigers, Dale Brown, for whom he would begin playing in 1989. He left LSU in 1992 after being drafted by the Orlando Magic with the first overall pick. He was Rookie of the Year that season, leading the team to the NBA Finals. Over his 19-year career, Shaq played for six teams. Can you name them? After four years with Orlando, he moved to the L.A. Lakers, and three consecutive championships in 2000, 2001, and 2002. From there it was on to the Miami Heat in 2004 and his fourth NBA championship. He was traded to the Phoenix Suns in 2008, then to the Cleveland Cavaliers for the 2009-2010 season, and retired with the Celtics in 2011. He played 1,207 regular season games and 216 post-season games, 15 of which were All-Star games. He was an Olympic gold medalist in 1996.   

    Off the court, O’Neal began to compose rap music, releasing five studio albums, including a platinum certification for his 1993 debut album. He continues to produce electronic music, touring under his stage name, DIESEL. He’s also had a successful movie, television, and video game career, as well as professional wrestling. His net worth is estimated at $400 million.

    Kobe Bryant spent his entire 20-year career with the L.A. Lakers, winning 5 NBA championships, an 18-time All-Star, and the all-time leading scorer in the team’s history. His career-high game was in 2006, scoring 81 points. He added two Olympic gold medals to his achievements in 2008 and 2012. He had an unusual feat for a basketball player in 2018, when he won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film for his work “Dear Basketball.”