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From protege and mentor to rivals: When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar surpassed Wilt Chamberlain

By Tom Webber

Los Angeles, April 6: It was April 5, 1984, and it could barely have happened in a more fitting way.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar posted up 7ft 4in Utah Jazz center Mark Eaton and received a pass from Magic Johnson on the right wing.

Rickey Green sped across for the double team and blocked Abdul-Jabbar's path into the lane, though he was unable to steal the ball at the same time.

The Los Angeles Lakers star then pivoted towards the baseline and sent a trademark sky hook over Eaton to send the Las Vegas crowd crazy.

With that bucket, Abdul-Jabbar surpassed the great Wilt Chamberlain's career haul of 31,419 points and became the NBA's all-time leading scorer.

Speaking on court after the game, NBA commissioner David Stern said: "Kareem, you are one of the greatest athletes ever to play our game."

A difficult relationship

When he was just 14 years old, Abdul-Jabbar was a protege of Chamberlain during the latter's time with the Philadelphia Warriors.

When Abdul-Jabbar entered the league with the Milwaukee Bucks as the first overall pick from the 1969 draft, his former mentor was in his twilight years with the Lakers.

It was an era when the league was dominated by big men, and the pair rapidly became on-court rivals. Competitiveness brought an end to their intertwined history.

Asked to explain why they were no longer close in a 1987 interview, Chamberlain said: "Well, I would say that athletes are really tough people, they have a lot of pride, they're very, very competitive and him and I are natural rivals. Even though we grew up together in one way, we still are rivals.

"I would love to be more friendly with Kareem, but maybe he's in a different world than I am right now."

Wilt at a loss

Chamberlain had hoped to be in attendance when Abdul-Jabbar surpassed his points haul against the Jazz but claimed he had been detained in Los Angeles.

Speaking to the Los Angeles Times the following day, he was baffled by the furore Abdul-Jabbar's landmark moment had caused.

''It's curious. It's really quite strange. If I had received half the fanfare that Kareem's getting at this time, I wouldn't know what to do with myself," said Chamberlain.

"It doesn't make sense. And there are a few things that are bothering me about it. If this is so great, well, it's only one of about 90 [records] I held. I must be in a world by myself.''

One of the all-time greats

Those records Chamberlain spoke of? Well, to name but a few, they include:

- Averaging the most points per game in a season with 50.4 in 1961-62. He also holds the next three spots on the all-time list.

- Being the only player to score 100 points in a single game.

- Having the most career rebounds in the NBA (23,934) and the most in a single game (55).

Criticism of Kareem

It is therefore understandable that Abdul-Jabbar had his detractors when he set a new scoring record.

They pointed to it taking him 15 seasons to reach a points total that Chamberlain managed in 14.

Then there was the fact he had played 121 more games, although Chamberlain racked up over 2,000 more minutes.

Incredible longevity

However, there can be no doubting that after scoring that sky hook against the Jazz, Abdul-Jabbar cemented his place in NBA history.

He went on to play 20 seasons in the league, which at the time was a record, take MVP honours on six occasions and win as many rings before retiring at the age of 42.

By the time he called it quits, Abdul-Jabbar had scored 38,387 points in the NBA – averaging 24.6 per game across an illustrious career.

Karl Malone sits second on the list with 36,928 points, with the closest active player LeBron James sitting 4,300 away from Abdul-Jabbar's historic mark.

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Story first published: Monday, April 6, 2020, 0:00 [IST]
Other articles published on Apr 6, 2020
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