As a kid, I was an NBA nut. And because it was the 1980's, I watched the Lakers. Chances were always good they were in the playoffs or the Finals. But I watched them, the Pistons, the Bulls and the Rockets when I could (I would become a real Rockets fan when I moved back to Houston in 1990) all season long.
I liked most of the guys you think of from that era, but my favorite Laker was always Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I made the crucial mistake of trying to imitate his play as a 6'3" kid, but I did play center and I wore glasses, and it all made sense in my head. But my skyhook was not Kareem's skyhook. And my defense was not his.
Of course, Kareem is one of the intellectuals of the NBA. And that had an impact on me as a kid. I understood that, like Muhammad Ali, he had abandoned his birthname of Lou Alcinder. I understood why. Those are both big things when you're a kid, but also helps frame it in a way that's understandable and something you're keen to appreciate when you know that's part of the story of someone you look up.
I knew Kareem was a reader and a smart guy, and I have delighted in his post NBA career as a sort of wise elder. I mean, no one is going to Bill Laimbeer or Dennis Rodman to get their take on current events. They aren't writing excellent think pieces that show up in the news.
If I met Kareem today, though, I'd probably just ask him about making The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh, and if he'd rewatched it lately.
Anyway, I had a lot of sports heroes as a kid, but Kareem was always the top of the list.
Its been wild watching the current series Winning Time about the people and forces that combined to become the Lakers you know and love, and to see Kareem dramatized by Solomon Hughes in a way that feels like maybe it could be right (but you'd have to ask the man himself).
Anyway, happy 75th to one of the best in the game.