A Center's Issues

March 05, 2007

KAREEMABDUL-JABBAR, 59, who scored an NBA-record 38,387 points, was cover materialwell before his first pro game. Last Saturday at UCLA he was feted for hisstarring role on the 30--0 Bruins team of 1966--67. Here, Abdul-Jabbar, aspecial assistant coach for the Lakers, talks to SI's Arash Markazi about eightof the 22 SI covers he has landed on.

DEC. 5, 1966
"My first cover [a two-page foldout] was shot by Neil Leifer," recallsAbdul-Jabbar, who was then 19-year-old Lew Alcindor and is referencing aphotographer whose work has appeared on more than 170 SI covers. "I hadgreat conversations with him about photography, and I was amazed that he couldget a job at SI without having a college degree. The issue came out on my mom'sbirthday, so it was a great present for her. Soon I was seeing a lot of kids oncampus reading this issue and I realized how big a deal basketball was atUCLA."

JAN. 29, 1968
"This commemorates the most disappointing loss of my college career,"he says of the 71--69 Houston win that ended UCLA's 47-game winning streak. Thematchup became known as the Game of the Century. "People were quick to jumpon the Houston bandwagon. I used that cover as a motivating tool by placing itin my locker so I saw it every day before and after practice. I knew I would bereminded to be at my best if we got a shot at Houston." Two months laterUCLA routed Houston in the Final Four and won the national title.

MARCH 31, 1969
"The headline THE MILLION DOLLAR FINISH says it all. The look on my face isof pride and relief. We were expected to win; that was a lot of pressure. Icould have signed a pro contract a couple of years before my senior year but Ifelt my value would increase if UCLA could win consecutive NCAA titles. Winningthree in a row put my value even higher." He got a five-year, $1.4 milliondeal with the Bucks.

OCT. 27, 1969
"This marks my passage into the pro ranks. Some writers felt I might not bephysical enough, but I used my strengths: speed and agility. The centers whowanted to use roughhouse tactics were at a disadvantage because they couldn'trun the court consistently. I remember a Detroit center asking me to slow downso his coach wouldn't get on his case for not keeping pace."

APRIL 27, 1970
"The Bucks gave it their best, but the Knicks had the better team," hesays, recalling how New York beat Milwaukee in the Eastern Division finals."The writers tried to say the Knicks were better because Willis Reed wasmore dominant than I was. Over the next few seasons I would blow that myth outof the water. That led me to become the villain in New York. But the pleasureof beating the Knicks later on was always special for me." (Abdul-Jabbarplayed for Manhattan's Power Memorial High.)

OCT. 14, 1974
"This reminds me of the connection I had with Bill Walton. I played againsthim in his first exhibition game [in '74] and his last playoff game [in '87],with a lot of intense competition in between. When he retired, we weren't onspeaking terms. That lasted a couple years. Then we were at a function and Billoffered his hand. I took it and we laughed. I'm happy to call Bill my friendand colleague."

MAY 5, 1980
"This was a great year for me," says Abdul-Jabbar, who won his sixthleague MVP. "And it was a great year for the team because it became clearthat Magic Johnson would be a superbly dominant player. Magic's presence tookpressure off me because he was so good on the court and was equally great withthe press. His performance made us world champs."

DEC. 23, 1985
"What a great honor it was to be chosen as Sportsman of the Year," hesays. Abdul-Jabbar received the award in a year he was named MVP of the NBAFinals, averaging 25.7 points as the Lakers beat the Celtics in six games."I always thought that award went to someone in horse racing or sailing orgolf. Winning it really made it sink in as to how far I had come as an athlete.It's a special moment when you are honored in the same fashion as yourheroes."

ONLY AT SI.COM Tosee every cover in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED history, go to SI.com/covers.

PHOTONEIL LEIFER (12/5/66) PHOTONEIL LEIFER (10/27/69) PHOTOJAMES DRAKE (1/29/68) PHOTORICH CLARKSON (3/31/69) PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR. (4/27/70) PHOTOHEINZ KLUETMEIER (10/14/74) PHOTOPETER READ MILLER (5/5/80) PHOTOLARRY RIVERS (12/23/85) PHOTODONNA WARD/GETTY IMAGES (ABDUL-JABBAR HEADSHOT)

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
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