During his time on the hardwoods, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar built an impeccable resume. He stormed the scene in high school, shone in college as part of the UCLA Bruins dynasty, and didn’t slow down in the Association. The big man simply knew how to win.
And in addition to his incredible talent, Abdul-Jabbar also knew how to make his way through a match. While that may sound like coaching language, you can see a clear example of Kareem’s intelligence in an anecdote from his early days with the Milwaukee Bucks.
At that time, the center began reading some Sherlock Holmes mysteries. That, in turn, led to some amateur detective work and insights into Bob Lanier’s weakness.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar turned some mystery novels into knowledge of his opponent’s bad habits
Since childhood, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had an appreciation for reading and learning. During his first season in the NBA, that habit helped him gain some important insights on the court.
“Just before his rookie season with the Bucks, in 1969, someone gave Alcindor a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,” explains an old Sports Illustrated story. “He devoured it on the team’s first long road trip, and the experience turned him into a detective fiction enthusiast.”
The big man wasn’t just content to read along, though. Before long, he took a page from the novels and saw what insights he could get from the world around him.
“Inspired by how Holmes eavesdropped on the Baker Street irregulars, the hedgehogs who picked up bits of information on the street, he listened to the NBA’s ball boys and locker room staff for anything that might give him an edge — let’s say Pistons center Bob Lanier secretly took a cigarette during halftime, prompting Abdul-Jabbar to run him late in the games.”
While it’s not clear when Kareem learned that lesson, it seems to be paying off. The Bucks met Detroit seven times during the 1969-70 campaign. Abdul-Jabbar’s team won six of those encounters.
That mentality suits the side of Abdul-Jabbar we see today
While reading Sherlock Holmes stories and doing some sleuthing to learn about his opponent’s weaknesses may sound a bit unconventional, it shouldn’t be all that surprising given what we know about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The big man has never had a problem doing things his own way and tensing his mental muscles.
For example, during college, the great man learned about Islam and publicly converted before finally changing his name. Abdul-Jabbar also studied martial arts under Bruce Lee and boycotted the 1968 Olympics in protest at the way African Americans were treated in the United States.
Even today, Abdul-Jabbar’s efforts out of court continue to loom large. He has spoken and written eloquently on issues related to race, religion and discrimination, served as a cultural ambassador to the United States, served on the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
So whether we’re talking about those modern columns or his willingness to read detective novels and do a little digging of his own, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar only does things one way: his own.
That’s a big part of what makes him a legend, both on and off the pitch.
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