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YouTube Gold: Prime Kareem

Young Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was quite a different player than the Show Time Kareem.

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
MILWAUKEE - 1972: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #33 of Milwaukee Bucks dunks the ball over Wilt Chamberlain #13 of Los Angeles Lakers during a game circa 1972 at the MECCA Arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Photo by Vernon Biever/NBAE via Getty Images

Because his career lasted so long - from 1969 to 1989 - most people remember Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as an older player.

And at that point in his career, even though he was slower and bigger than he had been as a younger man, he had refined the skyhook into an unstoppable weapon.

But he was very, very different as a younger player, as this video shows.

First, he was quite thin. He didn’t really intentionally bulk up until the Celtics began to beat him up in the ‘80s.

And second, he was unbelievably agile. Not surprisingly, he lost that over the years.

You’ll also note that in this clip anyway, he shot a lot more jumpers than he did later. He also takes a few finger rolls.

And he blocks shots like...well, not like Bill Russell, but maybe a bit like Hakeem Olajuwon. He just covers space. He gets where he is going fast.

What’s really striking though is how, relatively speaking, undeveloped the skyhook was. He was clearly not comfortable doing it with his left hand, for one thing.

What you see here is a guy with huge talent and immense potential. What’s amazing is that even when he began to slow down, his skills were so refined, his skyhook - right or left-handed - was so unstoppable - that he remained keenly dangerous until the very end.

Everyone now focuses on either Michael Jordan or LeBron James as the GOAT (James less so lately, but still), but it’s foolish to ignore Kareem. The talent was one thing. The commitment to his craft and the many, many years that he remained at the top of the game should put him in any conversation about the greatest.

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