FROM THE SPORTS IMMORTALS COLLECTION
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Photomatched 1968-1969 UCLA Championship Warmup Jacket$16 / SHARE
Boasting college basketball's ultimate photomatch to the cover of Sports Illustrated, this iconic warmup jacket represents an iconic artifact from one of the best big men of all time - during a historic stretch of UCLA Bruins dominance.
“I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.”
A 7’2” center whose legendary skyhook had a softness never previously associated with a big man, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (born Lew Alcindor) led the UCLA Bruins to an astounding 88-2 record and three consecutive NCAA Championships, a run that features an unimaginable 72-game winning streak. As a pro, Jabbar won six combined NBA titles as a member of the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers.
This former NBA Rookie of the Year (1969-70) won a record six league MVPs, two NBA Finals MVPs, and was named to the All-Star team 15 times. Jabbar retired in 1989 as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer—a title he currently holds—and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.
ABOUT THE ASSET
Collectable is offering shares of a 1968-1969 UCLA Bruins jacket from the famed Sports Immortals collection. The jacket is Sand Knit, eight-button, size 46, and blue colored, with the UCLA vertically arched across the front in gold and outlined in white tackle twill. Abdul-Jabbar’s number “33” is on the left sleeve in gold, outlined in white tackle twill. Both sleeves have a gold and white stripe. Sleeve ends, collar, and hem are all trimmed in four-color blue-white-gold-blue sewn-in elastic knit. Sand-Knit size 46 manufacturer tag is sewn into the inside back collar. The jacket is properly tagged, lettered, and numbered, and is consistent with known exemplars.
The jacket shows signs of a season of extensive wear. The tackle twill has puckered from repeated washings, and there are slight stains on the front. There are no signs of any repairs or alterations to the jacket, and it is in very good condition.
Abdul-Jabbar wore this UCLA jacket throughout the 1968-1969 season, including the game on March 22, 1969 against Purdue when the Bruins clinched the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament, as verified by two of the industry’s leading photo matching companies.
ABOUT THE ASSET
The jacket boasts the collecting industry’s ultimate photo match: An image of him wearing it on the March 31,1969 cover of Sports Illustrated. Of the match, Sports Investors Authentication wrote, “We used multiple photos from different angles to conclusively match this jacket to being worn by Alcindor [sic] on this date.”
Resolution Photomatching, another leading authentication company, also matched the jacket to the December 30, 1968 ECAC Holiday Basketball Festival Tournament title game in which UCLA defeated St. John’s. Alcindor scored 30 points and was named the game’s MVP.
The jacket comes with a letter from Joel Platt, founder of Sports Immortals, Inc., who obtained it from his longtime friend and former equipment manager of the Los Angeles Rams, Don Hewitt. Mr. Hewitt was friendly with the equipment manager of the UCLA basketball team and secured it for Mr. Platt.
In 2017, SCP Auctions sold Abdul-Jabbar’s 1966-67 game worn UCLA Bruins home jersey for $137,849 without any definitive photo match.
Abdul-Jabbar’s 1969 Topps rookie card is one of the hobby’s most popular basketball cards. In the past six years, examples in mint condition have more than quadrupled, from $9,000 to more than $38,000.
Resolution Photomatching, another leading authentication company, not only matched Alcindor’s use of the jacket to the 1969 title game, but also matched the jacket to the December 30, 1968 ECAC Holiday Basketball Festival Tournament title game in which UCLA defeated St. John’s. Alcindor scored 30 points and was named the game’s MVP.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was and is a legitimate writer, not just some celebrity who’ll bang out a bunch of random thoughts, send it to an editor, and say, “Whip this into something.” No, the man known alternately as Cap and Big Fella has written or co-written a whopping 16 books. (As somebody who’s also written 16 books while not having to deal with the pressure of being an international celebrity, I very much salute him.) We’re talking some memoirs, some African-American history titles, some hoops deep dives, and some best-selling young adult titles for good measure.
Kareem-watchers weren’t surprised with his publishing industry success. For Abdul-Jabbar, the writing thing had been a thing for decades, as witnessed by his 1969 article for Sports Illustrated.
Some backstory: In 1968, the United States was dealing with upheaval galore, much of which was spurred on by the battle for civil rights. President Bill Clinton called ’68, “[A] terrible year. I think it was the worst year for American society since the Civil War.” You can’t say he was wrong. In April alone, Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, and Oakland police killed a 17-year-old Black Panther as he was attempting to surrender.
It was against this backdrop that a handful of young Black athletes were considering a boycott of the Summer Olympics in Mexico City. One of these athletes was Abdul-Jabbar. As he wrote in his aforementioned Sports Illustrated piece:
“The proposal to lay a black boycott on the whole Olympics first came up in November of my junior year. On Thanksgiving Day black athletes from the West Coast met with Harry Edwards, the sociology professor from San Jose State who masterminded the whole boycott idea. We agreed that a boycott might be a good idea, and we agreed that we had to do something. We didn’t want any more of that stuff where Cassius Clay walks into a restaurant with his Olympic gold medal around his neck and can’t get a glass of orange juice. If white America behaved that way, then white America could win the Olympics on its own.”
Once word of the boycott went mainstream, Abdul-Jabbar was lambasted by both the public and the media. During one particularly contentious interview in which he was asked what he personally would do to, “…solve the racial problem in the United States,” he was unable to hold back his tightly-wound emotions, and justifiably so.
“I tried to give a serious explanation, but there was so much interrupting and so much derision and negativism that I finally blew my cool. I said, “Look, man, why do you ask me these questions? Why don’t you ask a sociologist? I’m not a sociologist or an anthropologist or a politician. Go ask the right people. I’m not qualified to talk on this. These men in front of me didn’t care about racial problems. If they had cared they’d have been out talking to the presidents of AT&T, Ford, General Motors, the representatives of the power structure. Why put it all on me, a 20-year-old basketball player? Of course, they were putting it on me because they wanted to exploit my name. They weren’t interested in relieving my suffering. What they wanted was some kind of story they could pin my name on. And they were being very self-righteous about it, very pompous. When they couldn’t pin me down to anything positive, because there really wasn’t anything positive to say, they started getting annoyed and nasty and acted as though I was lying to them.”
In today’s society, we can have a rational (or semi-rational) discussion of race, but in 1968, not so much. This irked Abdul-Jabbar to no end, so much so that in the article, he declared that he didn’t consider himself a patriot, noting,
“Very few blacks are patriotic; we’re too busy just keeping the food on the table to go around hollering about the land of the free and the home of the brave. I’m not knocking my native land, either. I think in most ways it is the greatest country in the world. But not in every way. Not by a long shot.”
All of which led to his decision to take a pass on the Olympics
“I found it hard to understand why I should mess up my school year and lose my whole summer for the purpose of going all the way to Mexico City to win a gold medal for the United States in a basketball tournament. I was right on schedule at UCLA, maintaining a B-minus average, and going to the Olympics would have cost me at least a quarter, and maybe two, and I’d have had to postpone my graduation. In the second place, the United States was not going to lose the Olympic basketball gold medal, and we all knew it. There was no way. My going there would only have been redundant. How many times can you win the same games?”
The most important aspect of the article, however, was Abdul-Jabbar’s explanation of his conversion to Islam. He’s told the tale time and again, but this piece, thanks to its immediacy and youthful fire, is its most essential telling. One section that stood out in particular was when he broke down why he chose to follow the ancient religion of Islam rather than the newly-created Nation of Islam.
“I could not go the route of Muhammad Ali and join the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad. You will never hear me put the knock on another black man—black people already have enough burdens to bear—but let me just say that I found Elijah’s religion too narrow, too negative, and in my opinion not truly Muslim at all. The genuine Muslim bears witness that there is one God, that His name is Allah, and that all men—black and white—are brothers. There is no room in Islam for racial hatred of any sort, and I had come to realize that this was exactly the way I felt in my heart. I had worked past the age of rage. I could still become angered at individual acts of hostility and at the whole pattern of racial hostility. But I could no longer believe that the white man was inherently evil and cruel and black men inherently superior, as some of the other blacks are teaching [in 1968]. That is just the flip side of the old racism. I realized that black was neither best nor worst; it just was. I could no longer hate anybody. I could no longer afford to be a racist. If racism messed up a lot of people who had to take it, then it must also mess up those who had to dish it out. I did not want to be that kind of narrow man.”
Muhammad Ali had converted in 1964, so the public—having already sort of accepted that a professional athlete’s personal religious choice was, y’know, their personal religious choice—handled Abdul-Jabbar’s high-profile conversion with a tad more tolerance. This didn’t mean Kareem became a beloved figure amongst the public, and the public became a beloved entity by Kareem. For that matter, the big man was hyper-aware of the sad state of race relations in America, which understandably soured his attitude towards a percentage of the general populous.
While he was scoring points and winning championships with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers, Abdul-Jabbar never achieved the cult status bestowed upon more commercially-friendly NBA stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan. This lack of embracement created a feedback loop that made him more closed off, which alienated fans, which made him more closed off, which alienated fans, et cetera.
But as is the case with those classic UCLA teams, we now look back on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with respect, admiration, and—yeah, I’ll go ahead and say it—love.
Here’s what we love about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:
We love his skyhook. We’ve seen it a million times, but whenever we watch it—even decades later—we marvel at its grace, originality, and consistency. It’s like the Beatles of basketball shots: Somebody would’ve figured out how to do it eventually, but Kareem did it first, and if you try and duplicate it, no matter what, his will always be better.
We love his ability to lead quietly. His nickname, Cap, was short for Captain, a role he played for a segment of his Lakers tenure. Most outsiders believe that it was Magic Johnson who drove the Showtime Lakers car, but the fact of the matter is that without a low-key Kareem holding it down in both the middle of the paint and in the locker room, the Los Angeles dynasty would’ve been a whole hell of a lot less dynastic.
We love his love for jazz. Jazz is a uniquely American music and Abdul-Jabbar is a uniquely American figure, so they go together like skyhooks and baskets. When it came to the music, Cap put his money where his ears were: In 1985, he made a deal with MCA Records to run his own jazz imprint, Cranberry Records. The label didn’t make much of a mark in the music world, but the fact that he used a significant chunk of his limited personal time to give it a go speaks volumes. (As a jazz fanatic myself, it broke my heart when he lost his world-class jazz record collection in a 1983 home fire.)
We love looking back on his exploits with a better-trained eye. What he did at UCLA? Nobody can touch that. What he did in Milwaukee? In a sense, the franchise hasn’t recovered since he was dealt to L.A. What he did in Los Angeles? Dude all but single-handedly turned Lakers games into An Event. What he did to the NBA record book? Maybe LeBron James will overtake him in the points category, and maybe not, but Kareem held the title for decades—neither Michael Jordan nor Kobe Bryant could catch him—and nobody will ever be able to take that away.
And finally, we love his charitable work with his Skyhook Foundation, a think-out-of-the-box group that helps children in an outside-of-the-box manner. And this isn’t a figurehead sort of thing. Kareem is heavily involved with the organization, and explains why on their website:
“I can do more than stuff a ball through a hoop. My greatest asset is my mind.”
A noble stance, but I will respectfully disagree. Taking into account the Foundation’s work in the community—its camp, its STEM program, and its general positivity—as well as his uplifting bibliography, I’ve come to believe that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s greatest asset is his heart.