Alcindor’s NCAA 3-peat
IN an era where one-and-done (only one year in college then onto the pros) is the norm, basically as a result of the current collective bargaining agreement struck by the U.S. professional league National Basketball Association (NBA) and its player union which states that a player must be at least 19 years old and one year out of high school to qualify for the NBA draft, many prominent roundball athletes rarely complete their four-year varsity eligibility.
Consequently, no NCAA Division I men’s basketball player has ever won four national championships. Add to the fact that freshmen were not permitted to suit up for the varsity prior to the 1972-73 season.If not for the rule, it could have easily been four-for-four in title victories for
Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr., a gangling but dominant center from the University of California at Los Angeles.
An aloof 7-foot-2 man-mountain out of New York City, Alcindor powered the UCLA Bruins to three straight NCAA tournament championships in 1967, 1968 and 1969. He is one of only four players to have started on three NCAA title teams – the others being co-UCLA alums Henry Bibby, Curtis Rowe and Lynn Shackelford.
On all three championship finishes, Alcindor was named the NCAA Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. It’s a feat that has not been duplicated until now by any other player in Division I history.
Had Alcindor been eligible to see action as a frosh in 1966, he most likely would have snared a fourth title ring. Until 1972-73, first-year collegians were barred from competing in the NCAA tournament.
The 1965-66 UCLA squad also claimed the NCAA diadem when Alcindor apprenticed with the Bruins’ junior varsity squad (freshmen who only played exhibition games).
In late November 1965, the Alcindor-powered freshmen team blasted the school’s varsity unit, 75-60, in the first game at the Pauley Pavilion, the Bruins’ home arena. Alcindor racked up 31 points and 21 rebounds in that exhibition contest.
As a sophomore in 1966-67, the tree-like Alcindor became a dominant force with his slam-dunking moves. That spurred the NCAA to ban the dunk after the 1967 collegiate wars. It was not allowed again until the 1976-77 season.
For Alcindor, the ban was a blessing in disguise as he started to develop another potent offensive weapon that later patently became known as the “skyhook.” He was adept at shooting the skyhook with either hand, which made him even more difficult to defend against.
Alcindor said he learned the move in fifth grade after practicing with the Mikan Drill and soon learned to value it, as it was “the only shot I could use that didn’t smashed in my face,” meaning it was hard for his defender to block the shot without being called for goaltending.
In three seasons at Westwood, Alcindor was victorious in 86 of his 88 appearances. He missed a pair of game – both UCLA wins – due to an eye injury.
During Alcindor’s watch, the Bruins registered an 88-2 record overall – 30-0 in 1967, 29-1 in 1968 and 29-1 in 1969.
UCLA dropped a 71-69 decision to the Elvin Hayes-led Houston Cougars at the spacious Houston Astrodome in January 1968 that halted the Bruins’ 47-game winning streak.
Alcindor performed poorly in the loss due to a blurred vision. He had been poked in the eye and suffered a scratched left eyeball in a previous assignment against California and the injury forced him to sit out back-to-back games against Stanford and Portland.
Hayes, the Cougars center who later earned national College Player of the Year honors, tallied 39 points and hauled down 15 rebounds while the injured Alcindor was held to a measly 15 markers in the first-ever nationally televised regular-season college basketball game.
UCLA’s only other setback in the Alcindor era came during a 46-44 reversal at the hands of the University of Southern California in the Big Fella’s senior campaign.
Alcindor, whose 61 points vs. Washington State on February 25, 1967 remain the Bruins’ all-time single-game scoring record until now, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in history from UCLA in 1969.
That same year, he was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks with the first pick in the entire NBA draft.
A former Catholic, Alcindor legally changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the summer of 1971 after leading the Bucks to their only NBA title so far.
Abdul-Jabbar, who subsequently won five more NBA championships (1980-82-85-87-88) with the Los Angeles Lakers, turns 72 today (April 16).
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