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My thoughts on UCLA in the Final Four

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinking about UCLA in the NCAA final four The last time I attended the NCAA Finals was in 2006 when UCLA played the Florida Gators for the championship. As I was walking down the tunnel with Bill Walton to enter the stadium my cellphone rang. It was Coach Wooden's family calling to let me know Coach was in the hospital in serious condition. I was stunned as I entered the stadium in the midst of almost 80,000 fans. I had to sit and watch UCLA be outplayed while my Coach was in the hospital. To say the least it was an overwhelming moment. I left immediately after the game and flew overnight to be by Coach's side first thing in the morning. Luckily he survived diverticulitis, but his health has been up and down since then. So watching UCLA beat Xavier in the latest round has helped prove to everyone that the program is still one of the best. This has been UCLA's third Final Four appearance in the last three years.

The Xavier game was not as interesting to me as the win over Western Kentucky, because Western Kentucky did an exceptional job in speeding up the integration of college basketball and hasn't been given a lot of credit for it. Although I'm a Bruin in heart and soul, I was rather torn while watching this game. Western Kentucky is my oldest son, Kareem Jr.'s alma mater.  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinking about UCLA in the NCAA final four Another connection I have to WKU is alumni Greg Smith, who was my teammate on the Milwaukee Bucks for two years and the starting forward on our 1970-71 World Championship team. Greg was also a really good friend and my buddy on road trips, where we got to indulge our movie addiction. But my feelings for Western Kentucky go back even further. Western Kentucky was the forefront of the fight to integrate college basketball in the 1960s and early '70s. While head coach at WKU, Coach John Oldham (who took over for previous head coach E. A. Diddle in 1964) dealt with some very ugly situations while the transition took place, and he has not been recognized for his courageous stand. For his part, Coach Diddle had recruited Clem Haskins and Dwight Smith in 1963. Coach Oldham continued that legacy, recruiting black players and eventually starting five African Americans on the WKU team — and staying the course in spite of criticism from some of the fans and faculty. Along the way, he coached his team to four NCAA appearances and probably would have made it to the finals in 1966 if a very controversial call hadn't cost them the semifinal in the NCAA Tournament. In 1967, Clem Haskins broke his wrist, which kept WKU from being at full strength for the season. Nonetheless, college peeps owe WKU a tip of the hat for the positive changes it  helped to promote.

(Photo Credit: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Jr., Sonny Rollins & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Sr.)

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Comments

Kareem, what about a recap on your sick sky-hook of a baseball at the Coliseum on Saturday night!?!?! =)

Karreem,
Our family will support any PAC 10 teams to National Championships except my mother who still holds a grudge against USC only because Reggie Jackson somehow assaulted her favorite player, Sean Elliot in some game probably 20 years ago. WE now have intentionally forgotten the details because we admire Reggie. Though our team is one and done as a 10th seed, and while my mother is not convinved; my sons and I don't believe they should have been allowed to play in this year's tournament since they embarrased us on national television. We watched Western Kentucky play UCLA. One of my sons announced before the tournament began that his money is on the Tar Heels of North Carolina. After watching them play into the final four. I 'll have to agree. Lastly, what a great photo and enjoyed reading aout your son.

Enjoyed the article. A couple of things. UCLA has done a great job in getting back to the Final Four. With the competition as fierce as it is today just to get there is remarkable. Being a Bruin I would like to see them win it all for Mata-Real. He is a great young man who has raised the bar for those who follow him. Optimistically, I gotta stay with my Bruins....secondly, a couple of months ago I had the pleasure to meet Coach at the dedication of a new gym at the Toberman House in San Pedro. He is a great person who commands respect from all. Simply brilliant.

What a great blessing it is to have Kareem blogging for the LA Times...the other bloggers are "tiny" compared to what you are able to write about...who is the trained journalist?

Emotion. History. Reflection. You do it all.

Cal Bear Fan

Kareem,

Just wanted to give thanks to you for blogging. As a long time fan of basketball, I don't think we could ask for a better gift -- a thoughtful giant telling us his thoughts, great stories, and just sharing himself with us. Thank you!

A question, if you don't mind: why do you think nobody uses the sky hook anymore? The hook off of two feet is reasonably popular, but very few players use the sky hook. Just an entire blog post about the hook would be fascinating: who you think uses it best in the NBA, why it's not currently popular, its effectiveness, etc.

My $0.02: John Thompson III may bring it back, at least to the college game.

Kareem,

Your respect and affinity for 'your coach' is heart-warming.

Hopefully others might continue to learn from your tremendous legacy.

Hello:
I have been reading your blog for the last couple of months and I really enjoy it. Thanks for the story and info about WKU. Would of never known about the history. That is what I like about your blog. Your honest stories. Keep it up Kareem! and GO UCLA!
From a Husky fan in Seattle.
NIcholas

Kareem,

UCLA
I have always wanted to tell you how much I admire your success. As a UCLA alumnus ('85), I have always been so impressed by how you handle yourself on and off the court and with the media who can be so critical. I have always been a fan of coach Wooden and the values expressed in his pyramid of success. I was fortunate to represent my school in Ice Hockey and was a true student athlete.

LAKERS
I have always been a fan of the Lakers and the Showtime years were so special and yet I have only been to a few games since tickets are so expensive. But I do remember one night in particular when I was invited to a game at the Forum by a friend. He got us courtside seats in the front row and I sat in stunned silence to be so close to the game and Magic, James, Kurt, and yourself. But the thing that impressed me the most was not the final score or the outcome of the game, it was how you smiled and waved at us on your way off the court. As a Valley kid and a starving student at UCLA, I could not comprehend how I could be so lucky to attend a Laker game and watch it courtside. You really made my day and I will always be grateful for the opportunity to witness in person the excellence that was a hallmark of your career and the Showtime Lakers.

ADVERSITY
I also really admire your perseverance in overcoming adversity: the fire at your house, Migraine attacks, bogus business manager etc.

UCLA/NCAA
As UCLA closes in on the Final Four again, thank you for helping to establish the legacy of excellence and sportsmanship that is UCLA Basketball. As an alumnus, I appreciate a return to greatness that coach Howland has brought to Westwood, but more important to me is that the program represents the school in a positive way with good sportsmanship, no NCAA violations, and students who attend class and graduate. I am really bewildered that the NCAA can't do a better job of requiring students to complete degrees instead of leaving early to take a shot at the NBA. Why can't athletic scholarships be linked to graduation rates so programs have an incentive to recruit students who want and education and will stay in school? Also, why can't the NCAA loosen the rules so athletes in school are not forced to choose between a vow of poverty and an agent promising big contracts and endorsement deals?

Best Wishes,

Kevin Crilley
UCLA 1985

Kareem,
I really enjoy your blog, funny that the above article references Greg Smith, my father, George Perry, coached him in High School and often spoke highly of him. One my father's greatest thrills was being invited by Greg to a Milwaukee game and being able to go into the locker room with him after the game, not to mention the two all time Greats who were in that same locker room.

I really thought that was incredible and you could tell he was honored to have experienced it.

Thanks,

Joe

Wow! I don't mean to be star-struck at 48 years of age. But I grew up with the Bruins and the Lakers, and so reading Abdul-Jabbar's blog and being able to respond is kind of personal. I'm all choked up. Not really, but I am pleased to be responding here.

Kareem is a encyclopedia of knowledge, and it's past the time when he should be given the forum to share his views about whatever he chooses. I look forward to reading his insights and analysis of the Renaissance, and I'm sure I'll be just as pleased as when I saw him launch the sky hook over the Chief, over Lame-beer.

Kareem,
Before I read this post, I was unaware of Western Kentucky's role in the integration of college basketball. Thank you for the history lesson.

I have lived in Bowling Green, Ky all 59 yrs of my life.

I believe it was 1985 when I saw you in person entering the arena in Dallas, Tx. pre-game and got to see you guys play live, was a very close game but LA won.

I have been a WKU fan since 1955. I am sure you remember how great of a team we had in 1970-71. I think in one pole we were ranked as high as # 2, UK # 5 and UL #7 this was the yr we gave UK it's worst loss in their NCAA history 108-83 which still stands today, we beat Kansa and Ohio St.

Excluding the NIT this was our first and only NCAA Final 4 to date. I had read news paper clippings how UCLA had not heard alot about WKU but what they had hear they would have rather not played us. My question I have always wanted to ask for 37 yrs is your personal oponion on this and what your GREAT coach John Wooden thoughts were back then on WKU.

Thanks so much and may God bless you, Jerry

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Captain Kareem

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is considered by many fans and sportswriters to be the greatest basketball player of all time. The 7-foot-2 Hall of Fame center, famous for his indefensible skyhook, dominated the NBA for 20 years, first with the Milwaukee Bucks then with the Los Angeles Lakers. Before that he was the star of the UCLA Bruins teams that won three consecutive NCAA championships. Kareem was the NBA's MVP six times, a 19-time all-star and set the NBA all-time records in nine categories. He is the NBA's all-time leading scorer with 38,387 points, a record that may never be broken.

Since retiring as a player in 1989, Kareem has balanced his love of basketball with his love of history. In 2002 he led a USBL team, the Oklahoma Storm, to a championship. Since 2005, he has been the special assistant coach for the Lakers, working with Andrew Bynum.

In 2008 he was chosen The Greatest Player in College Basketball History.

Kareem also remains intellectually active, authoring six bestselling history books intended to popularize the contributions of African-Americans to American culture and history. His books include "Black Profiles in Courage: A Legacy of African-American Achievement"; "Brothers in Arms: The Epic Story of the 761st Tank Battalion, WWII's Forgotten Heroes"; "A Season on the Reservation," which chronicles his time teaching basketball and history on an Apache Indian reservation in White River, Ariz.; and the current New York Times and Los Angeles Times bestseller, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Journey Through the Harlem Renaissance."

His audio adaptation, "On the Shoulders of Giants: My Audio & Musical Journey through the Harlem Renaissance," is a four-volume compilation read by Bob Costas, Avery Brooks, Jesse L. Martin, and Stanley Crouch, and features private and fascinating conversations with dozens of icons, including Coach John Wooden, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Samuel L. Jackson, Maya Angelou, Quincy Jones and Billy Crystal. He has also been written to L.A. Times, under the Sports section.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been appearing on various radio stations and TV shows, as well as the most relevant websites talking about his life and his new audio book, On the Shoulders of Giants.

All images are property of www.iconomy.com unless otherwise stated. All info copyrighted and owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is not replicated without permission.

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