Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Mourned a Loss Far Worse Than Anything He Endured on the Court

For all the fast-paced, high-energy scoring the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers are remembered for, they still boasted the league’s top center in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. While Magic Johnson spearheaded the charge in transition, Kareem was there to pick apart defenses in the halfcourt setting.

Standing at 7-foot-2 and armed with a devastating skyhook, Abdul-Jabbar had an epic 20-year career on the way to the Basketball Hall of Fame. But his low point had nothing to do with anything that took place with the Lakers … or on a basketball court.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a star on the court and reserved off of it

With an NBA-best 38,387 points, Abdul-Jabbar let his play do the talking.

Between the Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers, the big man averaged 24.6 points and 11.2 rebounds across 20 memorable seasons. His career ended with 19 All-Star appearances, 15 All-NBA selections, and an all-time-best six NBA MVP awards.

Best of all, he finished with six rings, five of which came with the Showtime Lakers between 1980 and 1988. He was, by all accounts, one of the league’s GOATs.

Though as big of a star Kareem was on the court, he largely kept to himself off the court. Airplane! cameos aside, Abdul-Jabbar was not one to partake in the extravagant, larger-than-life parties the majority of his Lakers teammates indulged in.

Chances are, Abdul-Jabbar was reading, writing, or listening to music at his Bel-Air mansion when he wasn’t dominating at his actual job.

An electrical fire destroyed Kareem’s mansion, including his most prized possessions

On Jan. 30, 1983, the Lakers traveled to Boston to take on the rival Celtics. Despite scoring 27 points, Kareem and the Lakers feel 110-95 to snap a seven-game win streak.

However, the loss paled in comparison to what happened later that night.

Josh Rosenfield, LA’s media relations director, received a call from the AP in the middle of the night saying Abdul-Jabbar’s Bel-Air mansion was destroyed in an electrical fire. Luckily, Kareem’s girlfriend Cheryl and son Amir woke up during the fire and managed to escape.

Jeff Pearlman’s book Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s explained Abdul-Jabbar’s reaction to this tragedy.

The center could deal with the loss of the structure itself. What crushed him, however, was the incineration of his three prized collections — oriental rugs, irreplaceable Middle Ages Qur’ans, and more than three thousand jazz albums. “My record collection,” [Abdul-Jabbar] said, “was probably the single most important thing that was destroyed.”

Jeff Pearlman

The tragic fire also destroyed the Hall of Fame center’s clothes, childhood photos, and basketball trophies.

Abdul-Jabbar was overwhelmed by support from Lakers fans

Although he was beloved on the court, Abdul-Jabbar earned a mixed reception from fans off the court. Unlike the affable Johnson, Kareem was often considered surly, reserved, and stand-offish.

However, the big man was overwhelmed by fan response to his personal tragedy.

Soon after the fire, Kareem would arrive at the Lakers’ facility and be greeted by jazz albums sent from fans around the country. What started as a couple here and there turned into dozens every day. They would even send records to the hotel he and his teammates were staying at on road trips.

“I remember somewhere in the Midwest, there was a rural Southern couple — white, with a kid,” Rosenfeld said in Showtime. “And as Kareem was walking out to the bus, the kid hands him three old, old jazz albums. And Kareem stops and looks at each one and I could tell … he didn’t just blow by them. He thanked them. You could see those things touched him.”

Kareem may have never been much of a people person. But his faith in humanity was restored at least a little right after hitting his lowest point.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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