Anyone who followed the NBA in the 1970s and 1980s is familiar with the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The six-time NBA champion is also the all-time leading scorer and the only six-time MVP. With long-time stints for both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks, no one would argue that Abdul-Jabbar is one of the GOATs (greatest of all time).
While basketball put Kareem’s name on the map, cinephiles might remember him from cameos in classic movies like “Airplane!” and even playing opposite Bruce Lee with a fight scene in “Game of Death.” Considering his storied athletic career and expansion into activism, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a legend. Just how much is this storied icon worth these days?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Early Life
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. in 1947 in Harlem, a famous neighborhood in New York. His mother migrated to New York after relocating from North Carolina while his father was a Trinidadian immigrant. Although born in Harlem, his family moved to Inwood (a borough in the Manhattan, New York area) in 1950. He notes that he was always tall for his age, weighing 12 pounds, 11 ounces and 22.5 inches long at birth.
Basketball Comes Early
Abdul-Jabbar’s size made him a natural for sports. By the time he was in his late elementary school years, he was already playing basketball. In the eighth grade he was even able to dunk (on account of the fact that he was already six feet, eight inches tall). But people really began to notice his athletic abilities when he entered high school.
As a student at Power Memorial Academy, Kareem helped the basketball team win three consecutive New York City Catholic championships. While at the academy he earned his nickname, “The Tower of Power.” He also led the team to win the national high school boys basketball championship his sophomore and junior years in school.
After high school, he attended UCLA after he was recruited by the then assistant coach, Jerry Normal. He remembers that at the time that he was being actively scouted while in high school, many southern schools were so interested in his abilities that they were willing to break color lines for previously segregated teams.
While he initially played on the freshman team his first year, he was promoted to the varsity team in 1966 and was dubbed “The New Superstar” by Sports Illustrated after scoring 56 points during his first game. At that time, he broke the UCLA single-game record held by Gail Goodrich. During his tenure at UCLA, he helped the team achieve a three-year record with 88 wins and only two losses.
Conversion to Islam
During his time in college, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar converted to Sunni Islam after previously having been catholic. It was at this time that he adopted his Arabic name — although he wouldn’t publicly start using it until 1971.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Joins the NBA
After earning a Bachelor of Arts with a major in history from UCLA in 1969, Kareem was drafted in the first round by the fairly new Milwaukee Bucks, that were just starting their second season. He continued to show his dominance on the court, helping the Bucks advance to second place in the Eastern Division and a final record of 56-26 as opposed to the previous season’s 27-55. Abdul-Jabbar even became an overnight sensation after he scored 51 points for a 140-127 win over the SuperSonics.
A year later he would help the team clinch their first championship by sweeping the Baltimore Bullets during the 1971 NBA Finals. Abdul-Jabbar was also named the Finals MVP because he averaged 27 points per game and had a 60.5 percent shooting average throughout the series.
Transitioning to the LA Lakers
In 1975, Abdul-Jabbar came to the LA Lakers, dominating during the first season with an average of 27.7 points per game. He led in rebounds, blocked shots, and total minutes played. Abdul-Jabbar would continue to play with the Lakers until 1989, acquiring six championship rings during his tenure with the team. Until Lebron James broke his record in 2023, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the all-time record holder for the most minutes played (57,446), most points scored (38,827) and the most field goals made (15,837).
Shifting to Coaching
After retiring from playing, he decided to become a basketball coach. While he wanted to be a head coach, his sometimes unfriendly attitude he had acquired from years of tense media interviews made this difficult. Ultimately, he served as an assistant coach for both the Los Angeles Clippers and the Seattle SuperSonics. He was also the head coach for the Oklahoma Storm from the United States Basketball League in 2002 and even led them to victory. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar eventually served as a special assistant coach under Phil Jackson for the Lakers.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Acting, Writing and Activism
While Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wasn’t a prolific actor, he had a few notable roles in iconic movies, including playing co-pilot Roger Murdock in the movie “Airplane!” and Hakim in the Bruce Lee flick, “Game of Death.” He had several cameos in other movies like “Troop Beverly Hills” and even television shows including “Scrubs,” “21 Jump Street,” “New Girl” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” He was also a writer for the revival version of the series “Veronica Mars.”
Since his childhood years, Abdul-Jabbar has always been an activist — writing about current events. From attending the Cleveland Summit in 1967 to publishing several books about African-American history, he also contributed op-eds for topics on race, religion and more.
In 2012, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appointed Abdul-Jabbar as a cultural ambassador to the United States. He was also appointed to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition by former President Barack Obama alongside Gabrielle Douglas and Carli Lloyd. In 2017, he was appointed to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee by then Secretary of Treasury, Steve Mnuchin.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Current Net Worth
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s current net worth is estimated at $25 million as of the time of publication for this article. While this number might seem low given what current NBA stars earn, it’s important to remember that during his era (1969 to 1989), large paydays weren’t the norm for athletes. Some sources note that he earned roughly $8.5 million combined in his final years as an NBA player.
It can be assumed that his numerous best-selling books, as well as appearances in movies and shows have also helped to increase his nest egg. Additionally, he’s also earned money from real estate sales, with multiple properties selling for several million dollars between 2013 and 2017.