Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar shared a lot of similarities. Both are among the best centers in NBA history, if not the two very best. Each legend donned the Purple and Gold as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Yet the two had a sometimes contentious relationship involving petty insults in addition to political and philosophical differences away from the floor. Wilt and Kareem also battled on the hardwood, though they were at very different parts of their respective careers.
When Chamberlain’s Lakers met Abdul-Jabbar and the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1972 playoffs, Cap (formerly known as Lew Alcindor) was coming off an NBA title and rapidly establishing himself as the sport’s next great star. Conversely, Wilt had the aura of an aging star still trying to prove he belonged in the same conversation as Bill Russell.
However, Chamberlain still had some gas in the tank. He responded to an underhanded comment from Jabbar with one of his most outstanding performances in the Purple and Gold.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated Wilt Chamberlain in the first four games of the 1972 Western Conference Finals and let Wilt know all about it
The Lakers and Bucks were an even match for one another early in the 1972 Western Conference Finals. As for the individual showdown between Wilt and Kareem? Totally lopsided.
Abdul-Jabbar averaged over 34 points and 16 rebounds through the first four games. On the other hand, Chamberlain averaged a mere eight points, shot 33% from the field, and went a 15-of-46 from the free-throw line.
Having easily gotten the better of Wilt The Stilt, Kareem slighted Chamberlain after Milwaukee’s blowout win in Game 4. He said (h/t SB Nation) that The Big Dipper “tries to come up on me now,” adding, “Of course, that isn’t very successful.”
Keep in mind that Wilt is still regarded as one of the most imposing offensive forces in NBA history, and certainly of his era. Abdul-Jabbar’s comments appeared to take aim at Chamberlain’s legacy, with the Bucks star taking his spot as the league’s alpha dog.
Cap felt Chamberlain was essentially washed up. But though he could no longer dominate the game as he did in his youth, Wilt responded like a champion.
Chamberlain had his “greatest game” in the Purple and Gold as LA eventually won the NBA championship
With the series hanging in the balance, Chamberlain finally asserted his will.
The Big Dipper scored 12 points and went 8-of-8 from the charity stripe in Game 5, adding 26 rebounds and six assists. He also played a pivotal role in holding Abdul-Jabbar to 13-of-33 shooting. Having given the Lakers the advantage, Wilt elevated his play in Game 6.
Chamberlain scored 20 points and 24 rebounds to help LA to a 4-point win and series triumph. Former Lakers general manager Fred Schaus went so far as to say call Game 6 Wilt’s “greatest game as a Laker,” per SB Nation.
The last two games of the Conference Finals appeared to galvanize The Stilt in the NBA Finals. He averaged 19.4 points and 23.2 rebounds in a five-game victory over the New York Knicks, shooting 60% from the field and racking up MVP honors.
Sure, Chamberlain was in the twilight of his career. But he proved to Kareem and the rest of the basketball world that he could still play at a high level and reminded everyone why he is one of the top players in NBA history.
Wilt and Kareem are forever entwined in the annals of NBA history
Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a timeless association that extended well after Wilt retired in 1973.
Cap took up The Big Dipper’s mantle as the best center in the NBA and ultimately broke Chamberlain’s all-time scoring record, though he took no pleasure in doing so. For his part, Wilt put aside past animosities between the two (for the time being) and said Abdul-Jabbar deserved the honor.
When Chamberlain died in 1999, Kareem hailed him as one of the most indomitable figures in the game’s history. The two greats might have pushed each other’s buttons through the years, but they also motivated one another to be better on the court.
Indeed, though Abdul-Jabbar’s era came rapidly in the early 1970s and lasted throughout the 1980s, he inspired Wilt to give the Lakers one final hurrah.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.