Childhood Of A Big Man
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. on April 16, 1947, in New York City, the only child of Lewis Sr. and Cora Alcindor. As a child and as a young man Jabbar went by the name of Lew Alcindor. Jabbar was 22" inches long at birth, and even as a very young boy he seemed to be following in the much larger footsteps of his forefathers. His grandfather, a native of Trinidad, was 6-feet-8-inches tall. Lewis Sr., at 6-feet-2-inches tall, went by the nickname "Big Al." Even Jabbar's mother, who was of Cherokee descent, was herself 5-feet-11-inches tall.
Lewis Sr., a Julliard-trained symphony conductor, supplemented the family income as a bill collector and worked also for the New York Transit Authority Police. Jabbar was born in Harlem where the family lived at 111th Street and Seventh Avenue. They later moved to Inwood, a diverse section of Manhattan. Jabbar was
raised in the Catholic Church and attended parochial schools. In grade school he was one of only two African American students enrolled at St. Jude's Elementary. Outside of school he spent his time with his friends, shooting baskets at a playground called the Battlegrounds at Amsterdam and 151st street.
In the fourth grade Jabbar transferred to Holy Providence Boarding School in Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania, where the student population numbered 40 boys, all of whom were African American. It was a motley crowd at Holy Providence, which was mainly a reform school. Jabbar, who was an honor student, hardly fit with the crowd, and when he completed the school year his parents brought him back to New York City.
The year at Holy Providence was not a total loss, however, because recess periods and free time there were spent in playing peach-basket basketball. He developed new skills during his year in Pennsylvania, and four years later when he finished eighth grade he was well-honed in the sport. What is more, he stood a most impressive 6-feet-8 inches tall by that time. Not surprisingly he was widely recruited by high school basketball coaches.
On scholarship at Power Memorial High School from 1962-66, he played with the varsity team for four years. Under the direction of coach Jack Donahue Jabbar led his team to a 78-1 record and two national championships. He lettered and made the all-city team for each of his four years of high school, and set a New York City record for the most points scored by a high school player. He set a record also for the most rebounds.
Although a war raged in Vietnam and a draft was in force for U.S. males, Jabbar received a 4-F status from the draft board because he was far too tall for the military to accommodate. With his choice of college scholarships available he accepted an offer to play for Coach John Wooden's Bruins at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). While still on the freshman team, in 1966 Jabbar immediately attracted a great deal of attention by averaging 33 points per game and leading the team to an undefeated season with a record of 21-0. As a sophomore he was offered a lifetime contract with the Harlem Globetrotters a professional exhibition team—but turned it down.
On the UCLA varsity squad Jabbar brought the school to three consecutive national championships, from 1967 until he graduated in 1969. He was named College Player of the Year in 1967 and again in 1969. Jabbar's unusual height advantage caused the National College Athletic Association (NCAA) to institute a ten-year ban on the dunk shot in college basketball, beginning with Jabbar's junior year at UCLA. Not to be quashed, Jabbar perfected a variety of the dunk, a new straight-armed shot called the skyhook, which became his signature shot for the duration of his career.
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