This Day In Throwback: Lew Alcindor Sparks A Dynasty At UCLA

The sports world has come to a halt. The global pandemic known as COVID-19 has postponed live sports scores. This time of year, the NCAA would be having its basketball tournaments. March Madness would be headed into its second weekend, and I’m sure there would be crazy games, upsets and individual performances to remember.

Repeat champions are hard to have in college basketball—let alone, dynasties. Because players leave early and have a finite time at a school, a program will have a rough time winning titles year after year. Sure, there are programs that always seem to have top-tier talent more often than not. But there hasn’t been a repeat champion since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Think of all the consistently great programs that haven’t won one championship. And now that elite talent is younger and more spread out, chances of repeating are harder than ever. But let’s go back to a time, back to the dynasty, where a run was so impressive that it expanded beyond an average student’s matriculation through college.

The year is 1967. The place is Westwood, California. UCLA is gearing up for a Tournament run. Texas Western (now UTEP) had famously upset Kentucky the year before and UCLA won the titles the two years before that. But 1967 was the start of something that will never be seen again.

Lew Alcindor, the young man who would go on to be Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (he had converted while in college but didn’t change his name until 1971), was the talk of the basketball world. His first year on the team was his sophomore season. He was so dominant at over seven feet, that dunking was banned because of him. This had little impact on his effectiveness, as Alcindor averaged 29 points a game—still a UCLA single-season record.

Alcindor, under the tutelage of legendary college coach John Wooden, led the Bruins to a 30-0 record. The Bruins earned a No. 1 seed in the West region, which had five teams in its portion of the 23-team bracket. Nine schools received byes and the brackets were geographically separated by region, hence the odd numbers. Alcindor and the Bruins moved through the Tournament with relative ease. UCLA defeated Houston in the National Semifinal and Dayton in the Championship Game to win the first of seven straight titles. Alcindor was named Most Outstanding Player, his first of three straight as he finished his tenure in Westwood.

Kareem’s accomplishments are more than well-known. He still sits atop the career scoring list 30 years after retiring. He won six MVPs and six championships. He has a legendary basketball move and is unquestionably one of the best NBA players of all time. But where his ascension up the pantheon of greats begins is in college, where he was so dominant that a shot was outlawed because of him and he still went on to be the best player and catalyst for a dynasty. Some great players have worn UCLA colors, and they all—as the entire basketball world does—owe a ton of homage and respect to Lew Alcindor gracing the halls of Westwood.

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