The Lakers have a proud history of employing the best big men the game has ever seen. Just look up into the rafters of the Staples Center and you’ll see the names Mikan, Wilt, Kareem, and Shaq; these are true titans of the game, the players whose size, strength, and skill made the Lakers one of the most winningest franchises in all of sports.
Wilt and Kareem, specifically, represent not only two of the players who greatly shaped the Lakers’ history, but the history of the league. Both are considered all time greats and their contributions and, thus, their names will live on forever when discussing the NBA. If you rewind to the 70’s, there was a time where those two titans squared off against each other. Kareem, the up and coming Buck and Wilt, the aging but still very effective Laker.
In the video below does a great job of capturing some of those battles. A couple of things that stand out are how skilled Kareem was and how fluid his movements were. He moved like a seven foot gazelle, yet still had the ability to throw down the hammer when needed. Wilt, meanwhile, comes off less polished, but much more powerful. Wilt would bulldoze his man, though he too could slither around the baseline and play a finesse game when needed.
That contrast in style made for some epic battles. Hope you enjoy the clip.
Craig W. says
Kareem and Wilt – truly a battle of the giants. I don’t mind saying Jordan was in their company, but he certainly wasn’t clearly better than either of them.
Thanks for the memories. Loved every second.
The 72 West Final series between the Bucks and the Lakers was truly one for the ages. This link takes you to what could be the most famous photo in NBA history. Jerry West leading the break with the other members of the starting 5. Wilt, Gail, Jim McMillan, and Happy Hairston. They are defended by Kareem, Bobby D, Oscar, and Lucius Allen. 4 guys on our wall in the picture and 5 HOFers. Incredible.
Needless to say, Howard will never be in this conversation. Let’s hope the next great is out there somewhere waiting to be a Laker.
bryan S. says
Epic! I recall Kareem writing in his autobiography (Giant Steps) that some of Wilt’s Laker teammates told Kareem that Wilt, for the first time asked for help in guarding another player in one of his match ups with Kareem. In fairness to Wilt, he was on the decline when the two met on the court. Seeing Kareem putting up skyhooks all over the court really brings home what an unstoppable weapon his trademark shot was. Dwight Howard? Puleeze. . . .
Wilt was just awesome, watch him bully, pass and leap at that age. Geez. He’d wreak havoc on this league today equipped with today’s scouting reports, nutrition, medicine and what not… as for Kareem, he was a real young buck in this footage but dang was his game polished (on offense especially). He has every right to criticize Howard.
Two behemoths waging battle in the paint, that was beastly!
Wilt was a bit older, but determined to not allow Kareem to easily gain the title of the best big in the game, at that time. Oh the carnage, had Kareem been in the league a few more years and Wilt a few less.
Here’s to the next generation of great Lakers centers!! Don’t fret they’re on their way.
Steve Nash interview:
Wow. This is inspirational stuff. At the risk of dating myself, I actually remember seeing the 1972 finals with my Dad and you could sense a very definite passing of the torch.
This footage should be must viewing for every center in the league today. It would show them what to aspire to–Kareem with his elegance, athleticism, and creativity, Wilt, even at the end of his career, with his power, determination, and leaping ability (!).
This also shows how far the center position has declined in recent years. There is no one in the league today–no one–who would even get off the bench playing behind of these two.
Kenny T says
Not nit picking but if Lucius Allen is in that photo, he is the player alongside Jerry West that is obscured by Oscar Robertson. The Buck player with the big Afro on the left of the photo is Wali Jones, who was a former teammate of Wilt in Philadelphia.
Kenny T says
I remember seeing a documentary called “The UCLA Dynasty” that included footage of Lew Alcindor, as Kareem was then known. His speed and athleticism was simply amazing. Similarly, Chamberlain was also a fantastic athlete. Wilt could really, really run! Speed and stamina are a huge part of what made him so dominant.
DHoward has a long way to go to be favorably compared to those two true greats of the game.
Warren Wee Lim says
Continuing the trend of off topics hijacking the threads… Carmelo is once more drawing interest for himself. Before the Dwightmare there was the Melo-Drama.
Carmelo Anthony, realistically, should be the Lakers target. He is a pure scorer and a superstar if/when committed. He has a history of becoming a black hole on offense but its something that comes with the package. His time with the Knicks has peaked as well as the team has peaked that they can no longer improve much the talent around him.
Meanwhile, in Lakerland…
The Lakers are pegged to have over 50 million in cap space. With Nash, Sacre and possibly Nick Young on board. However, as extensively discussed in many writeups, the real cap space amount is dependent on the Lakers’ plans w/ regards to Kobe Bryant (tied up to his health) and Pau Gasol. These 2 own cap holds which by itself would nullify whatever cap space the Lakers have. So in order to optimize the use of talent already on your team plus the amount you are free to spend on the free market, roster spots and players that are considered the Lakers’ own free agents need to be resolved.
In a vacuum, the Lakers are free to renounce Bryant and Gasol (among others) in order to get that 51 million. This move however is not the wisest as it would alienate talent thats already within the organization. The best course of action will be to discuss with them the intricacies of the salary cap so that they may set up the future with more ease and clarity.
Kobe mentioned he is not taking a paycut. Believe that if you would but no one would offer Kobe close to what he is making this year in the open market. He cannot command that amount unless its from the Lakers. But the Lakers wouldn’t do that, that as much is clear. Eric Pincus of the LA Times has floated the idea that Kobe take the veteran’s minimum and retain his bird rights. In this manner, Kobe retains the ability to ask for however much he wants within the salary cap restrictions the year after. Again, this idea, while possible, is highly improbable.
Determining Kobe’s next contract is as big a question mark as his health. Be it 30 million or 1 million your guess is as good as mine’s. However, whats unquestioned here is Kobe’s desire for a 6th ring therefore it is my belief that the propensity would lean toward 1 million rather than 30. But that decision has to come from Kobe and I as the head of an organization would not dare offer that to Kobe and risk insulting him.
In a perfectly balanced world, whats in between those 2 numbers make the most sense. It is the proverbial “meeting halfway” and the most reasonable bet. From that figure, it then becomes Mitch job to explain to Kobe how a lower amount would benefit his quest for further greatness.
Pau Gasol is in the same pickle. While I contend that his situation is a much easier proposition to resolve, its something to do due diligence nonetheless. If we would accept a contract that of Tim Duncan’s… would be awesome. Anything lower would be a huge coup.
Exploring the Free Agent market of 2014, barring several unknowns, this as much is clear: the Lakers are going to get better talent around Gasol and Kobe. Nash, according to his contract is with the team as well. Thats 3 of your starting 5 at PG, SG and PF or C depending on where you play Pau. That said, the crop of guards and forwards that abound this class is very encouraging. Rudy Gay, Luol Deng, Danny Granger and Carmelo Anthony just to name a few. These 4 names could very well be our next starting SF. The best part about it is that these guys are also versatile enough to be a stretch four if need be. Considering D’Antoni is the coach, its a dream scenario.
I could go on with the other free agents, and I will try to propose them in a different post. But this is, as far as I’m concerned, the top priority.
Craig W. says
Wilt was a high jumper in college – yes he could really jump.
Kenny T: That is awesome that you are looking that closely. You are correct. In any case, how did he get in the photo anyway? : ) You got the starting five of the greatest team of all time coming up the court against Kareem, Bobby D, the Big O, and Wali Jones. I guess I mentally substituted Lucius Allen, because he seemed like he more so belonged in that company : ) Kareem averaged 35 and 17 that year for the Bucks.
bryan S. says
Craig: Wilt also ran the 400 meters for Kansas. As Jerry West said of Wilt, “he was a man for the ages.”
What a great clip. Power versus skill. Beautiful in both cases and not mutually exclusive of course but related to each of these guys hallmark trait. Epic indeed!
Several commenters have inserted Dwight into the discussion and found him wanting. Something that is not really debatable. But if D’Antoni found Howard’s decision to leave the Lakers “puzzling” the fact that Bynum only worked with KAJ briefly and Howard not at all is simply mind blowing. Kareem’s greatness on offense and an unappreciated effectiveness on defense are both on full display in this clip.
Thanks for posting this Darius.
Craig W. says
Thanks! Wilt was an over-all track and field man, but that statement would seem overwhelming to most today. The combination of track and field and basketball for a 7′ man is really not even considered today. People think of Shaq as an athletic marvel, but Wilt was more dominant in his day. There were plenty of good competitors then in both track and basketball, but Wilt was simply a man among boys.
Does anyone have access to the box scores from the 1972 Finals? As I recall, neither Wilt nor Kareem went to the bench very much…if at all. I know that Wilt was very accustomed to playing 48 minutes a game, a fact that still boggles the mind. And yet, you can see that both players are going all out. Neither one is pacing himself.
No one in today’s game has that kind of motor. These two seem almost super-human. They just don’t make them like that any more.
Back then players were paid to do what they love, instead of doing what they are paid for. Far more pride than sound ‘business decisions,’ as nowadays athletes must save their body as another year will add millions to their bank account. While I advocate smart decisions (take your time with rehab, Kobe), I also want players to give their best while on the court… an equilibrium that is admittedly difficult to reach.
In sports (like track) where results are tangibly measured we don’t have this glamorizing of the past. But in any era Wilt would be a superior athlete.
Chris J says
I agree with Aaron. Wilt would have been dominant in today’s NBA, as would have been Kareem.
It’s amazing how far the talent pool has fallen for the center position. It wasn’t that long ago that there were Hall of Fame big men up and down the league’s rosters. It’s a different style of play these days… we won’t see anything like this video created again anytime soon.
In your scenario, can we contend for a championship?
Upon a second read, I am really liking your scenario.
Mid-Wilshire, great name by the way. Anyway, I did a quick look around the web for ’71-’72 Lakers/Bucks playoff box scores, found some but w/o individual minutes played.
However, NBA.com has something close to what you are asking about . They have Wilt playing 703 minutes in 15 playoff games, an average of 47 minutes per game. That same playoff season KAJ played 510 minutes in 11 playoff games, an average of 46 minutes per game.
So, your recollection that ” … neither Wilt nor Kareem went to the bench very much…if at all.” is spot on.
without needing special shoes…
Craig W. says
For the record:
Wilt: came into the league @23yrs old (Harlem Globetrotters for 1 year) and played 13 years.
Kareem: came into the league @22yrs old and played 20 years.
It is interesting to note that when Magic started his NBA career Kareem was 32 years old. Today we would say he was on the ‘downside’ of his career and should think of turning over his dominance job to someone else – of course he then won 5 titles and also MVP awards with Magic.
When Wilt and Kareem first met, Wilt was 32 years old and had only 4 years left in his career.
Warren Wee Lim says
Everything would depend on health. I am not looking at a pipe dream, I’m just looking at the realistic scenarios.
Danny Granger would be asking for a big contract, somewhere around 12M up. Indiana will be hard-pressed to give him that coz Paul George is up for his next contract, David West and Roy Hibbert also occupy a big chunk. Then there’s Lance Stephenson too.
Rudy Gay might forego his 17M to earn about 4-5M less but on a 4-year deal. He realizes he is not a superstar and this is his big chance to lock himself up with a contract w/ the Lakers. He would complement Gasol and Kobe big time as a secondary star.
Luol Deng is the least likely to move to LA. He has a good thing going in Chicago. He likes Thibs and the Bulls like him. However, do not underestimate the lure of money. Unlikely, but possible nonetheless.
Lastly, Carmelo. NY is capped out, tapped out and maxed out. They cannot trade, they don’t have assets and they are way up there in age. Considering that Melo will be 30 next year he might not be willing to wait 1 more year for the Knicks to be able to do what he can do in LA immediately. Sort of the Howard situation, Melo would look at playing in LA beside Kobe and Pau and Nash as the biggest motivator. He would have fun, this is LA after all, and make money and movies for himself and LaLa (wife). All things point to this happening and its not even as painful as Dwight’s.
Wow. Thanks for the research. Just as I suspected. Wilt and Kareem were real iron-men, weren’t they? Again, thank you. Great detective work.
I grew up watching Kareem with Magic. Kareem was a truly great center. I never saw Wilt play but, I remember hearing the league would keep changing rules because of things Wilt would do. I cannot think of any other player who had an impact like that.
Thanks for the clip Darius-
Robert, awsome picture you dug up –