Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had one of the most famous relationships in sports history. They were teammates on the Philadelphia Warriors for six seasons, but their relationship turned sour when they both joined the Lakers.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain had a relationship that started with My Hero but ended up with them being called Crybaby And Quitter.
Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are two of the all-time great basketball players. Chamberlain dominated the NBA to the point that the league had to alter the rules to maintain balance between him and the other players. Jabbar, on the other hand, went on to become the NBA’s dominating big man, succeeding Wilt and Bill Russell. During his career, Kareem won six MVP awards and six NBA championships.
When they were both in the league at the same time, it seemed that they had mutual respect and regard for one another. However, as time passed, we witnessed the relationship in the public light deteriorate to a considerable extent. Their relationship deteriorated until Chamberlain’s untimely death in 1999. But how did things come to this position in the first place? We get an in-depth look at the connection between two all-time greats thanks to an analysis by Reddit user u/factcheck.
Lou Alcindor is taken under Wilt Chamberlain’s wing (1962-1969)
For that, we must travel back to 1962, when a 13-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lou Alcindor) met Wilt Chamberlain on a Harlem basketball court. Meeting his idol was a life-changing event for Chamberlain, who took to Alcindor right away. Chamberlain appointed Alcindor as his protégé, but even Alcindor acknowledged that he didn’t understand why Wilt did what he did.
“On the original Rucker court, I met Wilt Chamberlain for the first time. I was in eighth grade at the time, and I was nearly as tall as he was. It was finally time for me to meet my idol…. He took me under his wing in a way. Some of Wilt’s actions upset me at times (laughs). I boarded an elevator with Wilt, and as the elevator descends, a man enters and asks Wilt, “Oh wow, how’s the weather up there?” Wilt spat on him and replied, “It’s raining.” ‘Oh my goodness!’ I exclaimed. ‘What is the point of it all?’”
As Kareem began to establish himself as a player, the two obviously had a close bond. After becoming the best high school athlete of his day, he went on to represent UCLA. He was a sensation at UCLA, where he played some thrilling college basketball. During this period Chamberlain dominated the NBA at the time, establishing and breaking many records. Chamberlain ultimately joined the Los Angeles Lakers after leaving his first club, the Philadelphia 76ers.
In the NBA, Kareem and Wilt go head to head (1969-1974)
Kareem eventually made his way into the league amid a lot of fanfare. He had a fantastic career at UCLA, where he established himself as one of the all-time best college players. Wilt Chamberlain was beyond his peak and approaching the conclusion of his career at the time. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks faced up against Chamberlain and the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. Jerry West and Elgin Baylor, Chamberlain’s teammates, were also injured. Kareem, on the other hand, had Oscar Robertson on his side. With a 4-1 lead in the series, the Bucks emerged victors. Kareem and the Bucks went on to win the NBA Finals, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets, and Kareem was voted Finals MVP.
The two teams faced again in the WCF the following season, but this time Wilt was backed up by Jerry West. Wilt was a great defender. The Lakers eventually defeated the Bucks to go to the 1972 NBA Finals, where they defeated the New York Knicks. Wilt’s matchup with Kareem and the Bucks was hailed as one of the best ever.
Taking on a superb athlete like Kareem, particularly at the age of 35 for Wilt, was a grueling experience that is remembered as one of the greatest fights in history. Wilt’s Game Six effort in the WCF, when he helped the Lakers comeback against the Bucks and overcome a 10-point hole in the fourth quarter to help the Lakers win 106-100, is arguably the most memorable.
Wilt’s effort was hailed by his Lakers colleague Jerry West as “the best ball-busting performance I have ever witnessed.” “In the NBA’s Western Division Title series with Milwaukee, he [Chamberlain] thoroughly outplayed basketball’s newest big superstar…” said Time Magazine about Chamberlain. (With thanks to Bleacher Report.)
As a result, when pitted against each other, both stars were deadlocked 1-1. Fans anticipated a third Bucks-Lakers WCF the following season, in 1973. The Bucks, on the other hand, were shocked to lose to the Warriors in six games. The Lakers, on the other hand, were able to return to the NBA Finals to play the Knicks. However, the Knicks defeated the Lakers this time, and Chamberlain’s NBA career came to an end.
A Word War Breaks Out Between Chamberlain And Abdul-Jabbar (1974-1990)
Kareem would follow Wilt’s lead a few years later, joining the Los Angeles Lakers following a six-year run with the Milwaukee Bucks. But, when he began a new chapter in his career, he saw that his hero had changed his mind about him. Wilt Chamberlain was a vociferous opponent of Kareem’s. Some of his critiques of Kareem were on his failure to completely realize his potential, his need to improve on specific areas of his game, and his failure to end his career sooner.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never reacted to these critiques and remarks throughout his playing days. But, as he drew to a close to his famous career, Kareem wrote a caustic open letter to Wilt in his book, in which he addressed his old master. He likened Wilt’s success to Bill Russell’s and his own, but Wilt was never able to equal them in terms of achievements. Wilt was also accused of avoiding hardship, according to him. Despite his legacy, he labeled Wilt a crybaby and a quitter at the conclusion of his speech.
Wilt Chumperlame: An Open Letter
Wilt, you’ve been attacking my career with your pals in the press for many years now. Given that this trend seems to have no end in sight, I believe I should speak out about the issue. Someone who has accomplished as much as you have seems to be content with his work. After all, some of the things you accomplished during your time were very commendable and left an indelible mark on history. So, what’s the big deal with all the envy and jealousy?
In attempting to figure out what you’d be envious of, I began looking for things you’d be envious of, and that’s when the image started to come together. Many people recall your disappointment when your team failed to win the NCAA tournament. Your skill and talents were so impressive that everyone thought you owned the NCAA. Kansas, however, fell despite a fantastic triple-overtime game. You grumbled about the refereeing, your teammates, and other issues before quitting and joining the Globetrotters on tour. For you, it appeared to establish a pattern. You blamed people around you and resigned after every difficult exam in which you performed poorly.
Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics offered you an annual lesson in true competitive skill and teamwork in professional basketball. All you could say was that your teammates were terrible, that you had done all you could, and that the referees had never given you a break. Wilt, oh, Wilt.
Your squad eventually cracked through in 1967. That 76er squad set marks that have stood the test of time. However, the Sixers lost the next season, and you, as expected, left. You moved to Los Angeles and joined a dream team. That team’s main shortcoming was a lack of leadership at the center. In 1969, Bill and the Celts stole one from you, and the Knicks did the same in 1970. In that series, people are still trying to find out where you went. You left after the Knicks defeated the Lakers in the 1973 NBA finals, and you haven’t been seen on the floor since.
You came out every now and again to take a cheap shot at me, of course. “Kareem should have retired five years ago,” you said during the sixth game of the world championship series in 1988. I understand why you said it now. It would have been appropriate after a disheartening defeat to the 76ers if I had left as you recommended. And that would have been a normal getaway for you.
But, after that setback, I realized I had more to offer. I persevered with it because I believed in myself and the Lakers. Between 1985 and 1988, we won three of the four world championships. The two world championship teams on which you played, in 1967 and 1972, never repeated. They never had the same level of consistency as the Lakers of the 1980s. You didn’t want me to be a part of it, did you?
That makes sense, given your jealousy. Now that I’m gone, one thing will remain in my legacy: people will remember how hard I worked with my teammates to help us win. Statistics and all, you’ll be known as a whiny crybaby and a quitter.
The constant critiques from the guy he grew up admiring and idolizing clearly took their toll on him. And in his open letter, Kareem retaliated vehemently. After years of criticism and no reaction, Kareem felt compelled to reply in the long-form way that he did.
Both players take a step back and soften their positions (1990-1999)
Wilt Chamberlain eventually replied a year later in an interview with Bob Costas. During the interview, he mentioned Kareem, but in a more positive light. He seemed to backtrack on his previous critiques, stating that only the negative parts of his remarks about Kareem were highlighted. None of the flattering things he said about him were highlighted. Wilt did, however, respond to Abdul-accusations Jabbar’s that he was a quitter, stating that he persisted through circumstances in his career when most other players would have given up.
Kareem has the right to express himself. He went above and above the bounds of being critical, in my opinion. First and foremost, let’s speak about how Kareem’s critique came to be. I’d be interviewed by the LA Times and we’d speak about the Lakers and Kareem. I have nine good things to say about Kareem. Give it to Kareem if I had to go to such and so in the last play of the game. He’s after it, and he’s going to get it. The eleventh thing I might say is, ‘but I don’t believe he bounces back very well.’ I don’t believe he’s performing the job he could and should be doing there.’ The following day’s headlines said something like “Wilt chastised Kareem for not completing his job rebounding” or something like. As a result, Kareem started to believe that I was tearing him apart towards the end of his game…
And I have to say this now, and I have never said it in public before: I respected Kareem, and I had a lot of people in sports that I admired, like Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Mays, and a few of us Muhammad Ali, who I felt should have retired two, three, or four years earlier. And I think they lost a lot of respect for not doing so. I felt the same way about Kareem, and I’m not sure whether I was unconsciously saying things about him to encourage him to quit up because I believed it was time. That was my personal view, which may or may not have been shared by him, and he has every right to be surprised. However, I never went to his measures to discuss, you know, ‘quitter.’ I mean, I’ve participated in sports and circumstances that I’m sure many athletes would never participate in. I don’t believe 14 years in the NBA makes you a quitter…
But, Bob, what does it tell you? I believe he was just a bit angry and misinformed, and, like Bill Russell before him, was just venting his rage and saying something he didn’t intend… As far as I’m concerned, I believe I’ve made peace with Kareem. I have no genuine hatred against Kareem if he were here now. I’m not sure he believes anything he says.
As a result, it seemed like Wilt was not taking Kareem’s words seriously. He did, however, deny some of the allegations leveled against him. In 1994, ten years after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar overtook him in the all-time NBA scoring records, Wilt remarked on how excellent Kareem had to be on a regular basis to establish that type of record, recognizing the excellence his former protégé had accomplished in his career.
“Kareem deserves full credit for shattering my single-season scoring record. It’s a track record with staying power, not a one-hit wonder. The significant records are the ones that an athlete accumulates over a number of games or years. A fantastic game may be played by anybody, but having 1,000 excellent games is more significant… Now that there are more records to aim at, recordings become more important. Some recordings seem to be created from thin air. Who knew about double and triple doubles when I was a kid? They had no weight, no importance. Every night, I got quadruple doubles, and they didn’t even keep count of blocked shots back then.”
Wilt Chamberlain, however, died just a few years later. “Wilt was one of the best ever, and we will never see another one like him,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said in a eulogy. While their partnership had its ups and downs, there was clearly a great deal of mutual respect between them. Their path together, from proteges to competitors, rivals, and legends in their own right, was a lengthy one. Kareem and Wilt demonstrated how difficult it was to have two of the best players of all time be contemporaries, and how thin the line between friend and adversary was. Their duels (as shown in the video above) were usually heated, with both players attempting to outsmart the other at every round.
Frequently Asked Questions
Did Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem play together?
Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are not the same person.
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Kareem and Wilt were not friends.
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