NEW YORK (AP) — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar likes experienced players, part of the reason he picked San Antonio to knock off Golden State.
And it’s one reason he thinks John Wooden wouldn’t have the same enjoyment or success if he were coaching today. His coach at UCLA would have disliked how the one-and-done era has changed the college basketball game that the Bruins ruled under Wooden.
“He wouldn’t have been able to do it now,” Abdul-Jabbar said Monday in an interview at The Associated Press headquarters. “It’s a totally different circumstance now. Kids aren’t going to college to get an education and play ball. It’s one or the other.”
The NBA’s draft lottery is Tuesday and the team that gets the No. 1 pick will likely use it on a freshman, such as point guards Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball. They might become All-Stars but they won’t arrive in the NBA with anywhere near the resume of Abdul-Jabbar, who won three championships in three seasons from 1967-69 — freshman were ineligible at the time — and was the Final Four Most Outstanding Player each time.
“They’re there less than six months. It’s not even six months and they’re gone,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It’s a travesty, I think. They’re just using the college system as a stepping stone to the NBA and that’s really unfortunate. I think an education is vital to having a good life and these guys aren’t getting that opportunity. It’s sad.”
Dressed in a dark blazer, blue tie and khaki slacks, the goateed Abdul-Jabbar spoke in conference room about his relationship with Wooden in his new book “Coach Wooden and Me: Our 50-Year Friendship On and Off the Court.” The book details Wooden’s influence on his life as a player in college and years later as they became closer when Abdul-Jabbar returned to Los Angeles to play for the Lakers.
Wooden won 10 national championships, most by a men’s coach, but Abdul-Jabbar hopes readers will see that many of Wooden’s best lessons weren’t about sports.
“I hope that they get an understanding of the man, what he was all about and what he gave us in terms of an understanding of how to be good citizens, good husbands, good fathers,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “That was really what he was all about. He used basketball just as a metaphor to teach us about life and he did a great job.”
Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s career scoring leader, is now 70 and does some work for ESPN. He picked the Spurs to beat the top-seeded Warriors in the Western Conference finals.
“I went with the Spurs because they have a more veteran team and the way that they play the game will work because they can play an inside game and an outside game,” he said. “Golden State is more of an outside shooting team and they’re very good at it. So that’s why they play the games. We get to go see them and find out if our speculation was accurate or way off base.”
It appeared it was going to be right on, at least for Game 1, when the Spurs built a 25-point lead. But they lost Kawhi Leonard to an ankle injury in the third quarter and Golden State rallied for a 113-111 victory.
“I think San Antonio can challenge them but they’re going to need Leonard if they’re going to take it all the way,” Abdul-Jabbar said.