Before he was known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, he made immediate waves as a dominant force at UCLA when he was still named Lew Alcindor Jr. He was a can’t-miss talent, shattering numerous NCAA records. As expected, he was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks as the first overall pick in the 1969 NBA Draft.
But unbeknownst to many at that time, Alcindor converted to Islam a year before. He adopted his current Muslim name, which means “Noble Servant of the Powerful One.” But he didn’t make it public right away. He was still known as Alcindor during his rookie year with the Bucks. It wasn’t until his second season that he revealed in a press conference his new name.
In an interview with NBA insider Marc Stein, Abdul-Jabbar opened up about changing his name while playing for the Bucks.
“The Milwaukee fans were always very supportive of me, even when I converted to Islam and changed my name. That had to be a hard transition for them, especially 50 years ago.”
Abdul-Jabbar was also asked about cheering for the Bucks at the Fiserv Forum during the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, reuniting with his former running mate Oscar Robertson and other icons of the squad.
“Being back in Milwaukee was like returning to my place of birth, because that’s where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born. Being there with Oscar was especially rewarding because he’s always been like a big brother to me. I often relied on his wisdom and experience to help me navigate my early career.”
It’s feasible that LeBron James might beat the scoring record of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but the contributions of the Los Angeles Lakers icon to social justice, cultural acceptance, and political empowerment will never be surpassed.