While at the NBPA Top 100 Camp, I had the tremendous opportunity to speak with and interview NBA Hall-of-Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar is one of the greatest players to ever play the game and has won six NBA Championships, been named to 19 NBA All-Star games and is the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. He also won three college basketball championships. As you can imagine, media members flocked to Abdul-Jabbar but I was able to get a couple of recruiting-related questions in at the end so check out the interview transcript below.
They’re beautiful. Geez, it’s like a pro-style arena. It’s a very nice facility.
Do you like doing things like this [speaking to kids at basketball camps]?
Yes. It makes me feel good because every now and then I see a light go on. I remember when I got mentored. When I was in the eighth grade, we played an All-Star game at Madison Square Garden and I got to meet the New York Knicks. Just a couple of them — Richie Guerin, Willie Naulls and Johnny Green. Willie Naulls kind of took me under his wing and I got good advice from him. What you learn from the guys ahead of you who you admire and respect can really affect your life in a positive way. So I try and be that person, to a certain extent.
What are your thoughts about the NBA labor situation? It seems like the game is back at its zenith and now they’re threatening that. Is that how you kind of view of it?
Well, yeah, I think it’s kind of unfortunate that from what I can see — the small-market teams are suffering. They’re losing money and the big-market teams don’t want to share the pie. I think that’s something the owners have to settle between themselves. I think the labor issues with the players really aren’t that major — a few percentage points one way or the other. But they’re talking about a couple billion dollars, how to share it — they should be able to do that.
So you think no work stoppage next year?
No, I don’t know. I wouldn’t go that far because greed can rear its ugly head at any point on either side of the table and make that impossible, but I think they should be able to do it. There’s good will on both sides. They should be able to find a compromise.
I’m sure fans can’t be sympathetic… there are a lot of guys who are over-paid. That’s another issue the owners need to deal with because certain people are over-paid and then ballooning the salaries to the point where owners can’t get a return on their investments. So everybody should feel satisfied.
You’re making movies now, right?
I just did a documentary. It’s on the early days of professional basketball. It wasn’t fun until we got it finished but now that we got it finished, I’m enjoying it. It’s gotten good reviews and people are learning from it, which is really the main reason why I did it. I’m very pleased with it… I want to try it again… I’m thinking of doing something on the Underground Railroad.
People still recognize you from “Airplane?”
All the people who work in the airline industry — I think it’s required watching for them. I can’t fly more than three or four times without the pilot saying something.
How did the relationship [with U.C.L.A. head coach John Wooden] change when you went pro and got into coaching.
For a long time I didn’t speak with Coach Wooden because I was in Milwaukee but when I got back into Southern California I saw him pretty regularly and I’m thankful. I’ve found myself doing things with my kids that he did with us. There was a method to his madness, he was a very capable teacher and mentor and was very important.
Were there things that you learned at U.C.L.A. [under Wooden] that helped you when you were entering into the pros?
One of coach Wooden’s favorite statements was, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” so I took that to heart. When I got to the pro ranks, I understood what I wanted to try and do at both ends of the court. I was in shape and I tried to maintain that and a professional attitude throughout my career.
Is there any advice you would give the top players here?
The one thing would be that if they’re going to make it in the NBA they have to be complete players. They have to master all of the fundamentals at both ends of the court and [realize] that their education is very important.
Are you surprised that a guy like Patrick Ewing, who has paid his dues now in the NBA as an assistant coach for all these years hasn’t gotten that head-coaching gig yet, and do you see any parallels between that and your own plight in coaching?
That happens to so many guys — guys that understand the game and know how to teach [but] don’t get opportunities. I feel like I’m in that boat. I haven’t had a head-coaching opportunity. If [Lakers center] Andrew Bynum hadn’t wanted to learn from me, I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity with the Lakers. So I think it’s a common thing. There are a lot more qualified people than there are jobs. That’s just the way it works.
But do you think it’s also a big man-point guard thing, too? It seems like the former point guards are always the ones getting the coaching gigs.
I think it’s because when people watch the game, they see the little guys that run the offense — they expect them to know more about it than everyone else. That’s not the case. But what do they call it — conventional wisdom? Sometimes it’s not that wise.
How much does it appeal to you to have that full-time gig when you have all of that other stuff going on?
It would be fun… I had one head coaching experience in 2002 in the minor leagues and I did okay but it never opened up any doors for me.
Have you ever tried to recruit anybody to U.C.L.A.?
Last time I tried to recruit somebody to U.C.L.A. it actually worked out pretty well — it was [1975 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player] Richard Washington. He played for coach Wooden’s last NCAA Championship team but I haven’t been involved in college recruiting since that effort.
What would you tell recruits to get them to go to U.C.L.A.?
Well, U.C.L.A. is a great academic place… if they go to school there and are serious about getting their education then they’ll have a good experience and the basketball program has been pretty well run most of the time.
We post our interviews with the top prospects, coaches and former players every Monday and Friday so be sure to check back twice a week to see what the best players in America are saying. To find out who’s interview we’ll be posting when, follow us on Twitter at @JoshPaunilNRS.
*All pictures courtesy of National Recruiting Spotlight’s photographer, Daryl Paunil, unless otherwise noted.