NBA 75: At No. 3, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a record-breaking phenom on the court and a dynamic social icon off of it

Jason Lloyd Feb 16, 2022 66
Welcome to the NBA 75, The Athletic’s countdown of the 75 best players in NBA history, in honor of the league’s diamond anniversary. We’ll conclude our countdown of the game’s greatest players on Friday, culminating with the man picked by a panel of The Athletic NBA staff members as the greatest of all time.

The morning after one of the most miserable nights of his career, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the first to arrive at the film session. He sat in the front row, center chair, right in front of the television. It was an odd seat selection, and not just because this 7-foot-2 giant was now blocking the view. It was an area usually left vacant during these tape studies, but Abdul-Jabbar was about to be a witness to his execution.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Pat Riley began by scribbling general points of emphasis on the board.

Rebound. Stop Bird. Don’t double too early.

Then Riley locked eyes with Kareem.

“I’ll never forget this. He didn’t say it to me, but I know what he was thinking: Don’t hold back on me today,” Riley said. “He knew how I was, how I could get gnarly in film sessions. The whole film session was about him, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. He took it, and he showed great leadership. And then we went on the practice court.