Number One

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

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I’ve been honored by being chosen the Number One college player of all time. It is a very special honor for me because I have been picked ahead of some of my heroes and many superb collegians.  When I’ve been asked about my status, I have always deferred to Oscar Robertson and Bill Russell as the greatest players in college ball.  They get that acknowledgment from me because I learned so much from the way they played, and I would not have been as good as I was without their examples to emulate.  So a special thanks to the “O” and Bill for the paths that they blazed.

Another factor has been the more recent trend of college players leaving the game for the professional ranks.  Players in my era had to stay in school or wait for their high school class to graduate college before they could enter the NBA.  That forced us to stay in school and learn the game in a less-intense atmosphere –- something that allowed us to mature and develop a work ethic.  Today’s players miss out on that bonus, and it slows their ability to be at their best when they reach the pro ranks.  But I’m sure they don’t mind being paid the multimillions that are available to them as soon as they decide to go pro.

I’d like to add a few words about the best college game I ever attended.  Being raised in New York, I was so lucky to be able to catch the best college teams at various times in the old Garden on 48th Street and 8th Avenue.  While in grade school I got to see great Providence teams featuring Lenny Wilkens and Vinnie Ernst; Nate Thurmond and Howie Komives from  Bowling Green; and the Bradley Braves led by Chet Walker and Laverne Tart.

During my senior year in high school, Dec. ’64, I attended the Holiday Festival matchup of University of Michigan vs. Princeton.  It was a truly superb contest, with Bill Bradley leading the Princeton Tigers and Cazzie Russell leading the Wolverines.  Both teams were ranked in the Top 10, and the game was exceptionally close.  Bill scored 41 points before fouling out with less than three minutes left in the game.  Cazzie calmly took over from there and Michigan finished with a two-point win over the Tigers.  The Princeton team could not compete without Bill on the court.

For me, that game was the finest example of college ball I had ever seen.  It gave me a great look at what my future could be like if I continued to improve.  I want to say thanks to all the college players and coaches that have given us this incredible sport in which to compete.  Without them, we would be at a loss for our aspirations.  Thank you one and all.

Click here to see at ESPN.

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