It gives me a great deal of pleasure to advise you that, on March 2nd., lawmakers in Washington honored Jackie Robinson with the Congressional Gold Medal for his early role in the civil rights movement. His wife, Rachel, was handed the prestigious award on behalf of her husband. Jackie lived those times first-hand, but we should never forget the immense contribution Rachel made to that movement by being Jackie’s strength and support in the background through those most stressful years for both of them. Jackie Robinson died in 1972, and upon his passing, Rachel founded the Jackie Robinson Foundation to provide funds for the advanced education of minority youths who would not otherwise be able to attend college. For those of you who would like to contribute to the Foundation, its website is www.jackierobinson.org. And for more about Jackie Robinson, please refer to my very first article on this website dated 8-9-01. Jackie was an extraordinary man; Rachel was and is an extraordinary woman.
Story of the Week
When it comes to selecting the greatest basketball team in college history, few will argue with the pick of the Lew Alcindor-led UCLA Bruins. That team lost but two games in three full seasons. Alcindor led that team to the promised land three consecutive years. He was one of the two greatest impact players ever to play college basketball, the other being the great Wilt Chamberlain.
Alcindor brought with him to UCLA some complexities for John Wooden to deal with. Sure, he could score at will, and dunk at will, and sweep the boards at will, and block shots at will. But the challenges presented were his Afro hairstyle and his fiercely independent spirit. Alcindor was a daunting challenge for a dogmatic coach ala Wooden, who demanded absolute conformity from his tightly-controlled team.
But it ultimately proved to be a blessed marriage. That team achieved the "triple crown" of NCAA titles. They were an incredible 88-2 during the three years of Lew Alcindor in the late-60’s. And then, just as he was the focal point of college recruiting, he would become the center of attention once again as a pro recruit.
The summer of 1969 found the ABA and the NBA in a bidding war to sign Lew Alcindor. His ABA rights were owned by the New York Nets, while his NBA rights were coin-flipped to the Milwaukee Bucks. He insisted that both organizations provide a single sealed bid for his services. He ultimately opted to play in the NBA for the expansion upstart Milwaukee Bucks despite the fact that he was from New York and could have played in his hometown.
What happened in Milwaukee? Rookies Alcindor and Bob Dandridge improved the Bucks by 29 games. The following year, the great Oscar Robertson was added to the mix, and the Bucks became a dominating NBA championship team.
Alcindor, later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is basketball’s monument to longevity with 20 NBA seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and later the Los Angeles Lakers. He played in Milwaukee from 1969-1975. He moved on to the Lakers in 1975, and retired in 1989. The Lakers years were so memorable as he teamed with "Magic" and "Big Game James" to produce one of the greatest teams in league history.
He played in 1,560 NBA games. He scored 38,387 career points; he is the all-time career NBA leader for points scored. He had 17,440 rebounds; that’s an average of 11.2 boards per every game he played. He was obviously very durable, and his record 57,446 NBA career minutes speaks to that fact. He played in 18 NBA All-Star games. He retired as the NBA leader in nine statistical categories, and is the proud owner of six NBA team titles, and six league MVP honors. The 7’-2" Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was one of the two best-ever post position players in NBA history, the other being Wilt.
Last Week’s Trivia
The oldest MLB player ever to hit a grand slam homer was Atlanta’s Julio Franco in 2004. At age 45 last season, Franco not only became the oldest ever to accomplish that feat, but he became the oldest ever to hit a pinch homer as well. Thanks to my long-time good friend, Pat Ross of So Cal, for the bonus answer. (Talk about strange, Pat cheers for USC’s football team and UCLA’s basketball team; he is terribly confused. Talk about sad, he and I, both avid Lakers fans, have stopped talking about that team as that subject warrants very little discussion these days.)
Trivia Question of the Week
Let’s see how well you really know football. Who was the Manassa Mauler? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.