Lakers fans have had an embarrassment of riches at the center position. Post-Wilt though, those big men have migrated West because they were lured as much by the Hollywood market as championship potential. That’s why this date in history should stand out as particularly special, the day in 1975 when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got traded from the wastelands of Milwaukee to the Los Angeles Lakers. Dwight Howard, pay your penance. Pau Gasol, praise him. Shaquille O’Neal, thank your lucky stars. Without Kareem, the Pandora’s box of Hollywood-bound big men would not have been opened.
Fresh off a loss in the 1974 NBA Finals to the dominant force that is the Boston Celtics, 28-year old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s wishes to move from Milwaukee to a big-time market were to be granted. It had been narrowed down to three teams; Washington D.C. New York. Los Angeles. All had ties to Jabbar’s past. It was eight-month process filled with off-site meetings and persuasion from each teams, plus Milwaukee’s pitch to the nth degree to stay. The small market couldn’t contain him, so it came down to those three markets.
Unfortunately, Abdul-Jabbar’s Muslim mentor and six others were murdered in a Washington D.C. home Jabbar purchased. That ruled the Bullets completely out, with good reason. The Knicks, Kareem’s hometown team, weren’t offering enough for the Bucks to even consider the trade. The Lakers had put together a package that had seemingly good value for the Bucks, but how could you put a price on getting rid of the most dominant player in the league while he is at the pinnacle of his career? You can’t, but this was no ordinary trade. It sparked a revolution in the NBA.
It was commonplace for a player to want to go to a better team. You want to win championships, right? That’s what you play for. But Abdul-Jabbar had already won one. The Lakers had the potential to do so, coming off a 1974 playoff berth that ended in the first round, AND could provide Abdul-Jabbar with a more culturally rich environment where he live the lifestyle he desired. Milwaukee wasn’t that place. So on this day in 1975, the Bucks sent Abdul-Jabbar to L.A. for Elmore Smith, future Magic coach Brian Winters, Dave Meyers and Junior Bridgeman and established a precedent for NBA trades that were about much more than wins and losses.
Obviously, this trade would prove an extremely successful partnership between KAJ and the Lakers, and helped the franchise finally get past the Celtics in the Finals—something that never happened in the Elgin Baylor era. With the eventual help of a few guys named Earvin and James, it would continue a tradition of successful Lakers big men to move to Hollywood for the fame, fortune, and championship. So, on today, current and former Lakers and anyone who has successfully relocated to a big market and won championships (yes, even you LeBron) should prostrate at the proverbial feet of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar today and give thanks.
Follow me on Twitter @NicholasGrant