Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s signature skyhook is the deadliest and most prolific shot in basketball history. It has been somewhat imitated but never duplicated. The skyhook not only enabled Abdul-Jabbar to become the greatest scorer in basketball, but it also made him the greatest winner in the sport.
The former Lew Alcindor never lost a game at New York City’s Power Memorial High School. He won three NCAA titles at UCLA with coach John Wooden and six NBA titles.
On Friday night, Nov. 16, the skyhook and Kareem were immortalized outside Staples Center as the Los Angeles Lakers unveiled a nearly 16-foot-tall statue of the top scorer in NBA history. Kareem joins fellow Lakers greats Magic Johnson and Jerry West with bronze statues at Staples Center.
“Having lived my life and had the experiences I’ve had, I can understand now what a man like Lou Gehrig means when he considers himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth,” the 65-year-old Abdul-Jabbar said.
Abdul-Jabbar is depicted in his signature goggles, wristbands and the standard 1980s short-shorts below his No. 33 jersey. The 7-foot-2 center pulled a braided cord to drop a curtain revealing the statue to hundreds of cheering fans, who gathered under threatening clouds for the ceremony.
“I’m glad we got here before the pigeons got to it,” he said with a smile.
By any measure, Abdul-Jabbar is among the most significant figures in basketball history. His 38,387 points are the most in NBA history, and he spent two decades in the league with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Lakers, winning a record six MVP awards while setting records at the time for games played, total minutes, field goals, blocked shots, defensive rebounds and fouls.
The No. 1 pick in the 1969 draft won an NBA title with Oscar Robertson and the Bucks, who traded him to Los Angeles in 1975. The Lakers didn’t break through until Johnson arrived in 1979, immediately teaming up for the first of five championships in nine seasons with the advent of Showtime.
“Thank you for taking us on a ride with you,” Johnson said. “It was all because of your great leadership.”
Pat Riley recalled his first conversation with Abdul-Jabbar after he became the Lakers’ coach.
“He said, ‘Pat, you won’t have to worry about me,'” Riley said. “He was great, and he has been there for us his whole career. He was our protector, and he was the one who carried us.”
Abdul-Jabbar did much of his scoring with the famed shot depicted in his statue — including the basket with which he passed Wilt Chamberlain to become the NBA’s career scoring leader on April 5, 1984, in Las Vegas. Former Milwaukee radio play-by-play announcer Eddie Doucette attended the statue unveiling and recounted the night he coined the term “skyhook” while Abdul-Jabbar played for the Bucks.
Julius Erving, Bill Walton, Bill Sharman, Jamaal Wilkes, Kurt Rambis, A.C. Green and James Worthy also attended the ceremony. NBA Commissioner David Stern, former President Bill Clinton and Abdul-Jabbar’s son, Amir, sent congratulatory videos.
“Kareem was the most selfless super player that I’ve ever seen in my life,” West said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.