He was born in New York City in 1947 and his original name was Ferdinand “Lew” Alcindor Jr. The son of a transit cop and a department store price checker, he was destined to play basketball as he grew to a lanky 7’ 2” tall. He led his NYC high school team – Power Memorial Academy – to 71 straight victories over three years that included three straight NYC Catholic High School championships. His catchy nickname was well-deserved: “The Tower at Power.”
He was recruited to play center at UCLA in 1966 and his talent eventually shined even brighter at Pauley Pavilion. Since the NCAA’s “freshman rule” was in effect when he arrived, he could only play for UCLA’s freshman squad his first season. But from his sophomore year through his senior campaign, Alcindor was college basketball’s worst kept secret. Playing for legendary coach John Wooden, he led the Bruins to an 88-2 record and three consecutive NCAA titles. He was also named MVP of the NCAA Tournament all three seasons.
To no one’s surprise he was selected No. 1 overall in the 1969 NBA Draft by the recently christened Milwaukee Bucks. In 1971, teaming with newly arrived future Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, Alcindor was pivotal in leading the upstart Bucks to the franchise’s first and only NBA title in just his second year. He eventually converted to Islam during the summer of 1968, but didn’t start publicly using his Arabic name – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – until 1971, shortly after the Bucks won the title.
In 1975, Abdul-Jabbar was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and that’s where he stayed until he retired following the 1988-89 season. During his tenure in L.A., Kareem helped the Showtime Lakers win five NBA titles, perfected his skyhook to the point where it could no longer be defended, and accumulated more points than other player in history: 38,387, a number that still stands tall today. Both the Bucks and Lakers retired his jersey No. 33.
Let’s celebrate Kareem’s magic on the hardwood by looking at four key cards from his 16-card Basic Set checklist.
This is the official rookie card of Alcindor/Abdul-Jabbar. The key card in the 1969 Topps Basketball release, it’s a must-have RC for any hoops aficionado’s card collection. The set marked Topps’ foray back into the basketball card market after an 11-year hiatus. Each of the set’s 99 cards measure 2-1/2″ wide by 4-11/16” tall. Each card front features a posed, pseudo-action shot set within a colorful oval. The remainder of the white-bordered card houses the athlete’s name and position stacked at the top and team’s city positioned at the bottom.
Alcindor’s oversized rookie is vulnerable to more general wear due to its size, is often difficult to find well-centered, and its white background can be a haven for visible print defects. The card has a rather low PSA Population Report of 2,431, of which only two examples have ever earned PSA Gem Mint 10 status, garnering tremendous trading card value (APR average: $240,000). Just 17 other submissions have been labelled as PSA Mint 9 versions (APR average: $38,976).
In trying to put together Lew/Kareem’s 16-card Basic Set checklist on the PSA Set Registry, this is the most heavily weighted card (10.00) of them all. Weights are determined by the card’s secondary market value using a scale from 1.00 to 10.00 with 10.00 being the most expensive. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $203.34
PSA Excellent 5: $427.11
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $6,473.50
The 1970 Topps set consists of 175 cards, each one measuring 2-1/2” wide by 4-11/16” tall. Each of the card fronts boasts a color photo of the player set against a colorful backdrop with an oversized basketball positioned at the lower right corner bearing the player’s name, position and team city.
Alcindor’s second-year card (#75) is considered one of the set’s anchors, along with Bill Bradley (#7), Wilt Chamberlain (#50), Elgin Baylor (#65), Oscar Robertson (#100), Walt Frazier (#120), Jerry West (#160), and the rookie cards of Pat Riley (#13), Calvin Murphy (#137) and Pete Maravich (#123). The Alcindor card has a PSA Population Report of 1,290 with only one example earning PSA Gem Mint 10 billing and another 34 being deemed PSA Mint 9. It’s the second most heavily weighted (7.00) card in his basic set checklist and is not an easy one to find with 50/50 centering.
PSA Good 2: $42.00
PSA Excellent 5: $60.00
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $302.80
The 1971 Topps set consists of 233 cards, each 2-1/2” wide by 3-1/2” tall – a smaller size than the company had issued the previous two years. Card fronts bear a color image of the player set against a colorful backdrop. The white-bordered cards identify a player’s team city in large letters across the top center with his name, team name and position notated at the bottom.
The Alcindor (#100) and Wilt Chamberlain (#70) cards anchor the set, as do the rookie issues of fellow Hall of Famers Dave Cowens (#47), Bob Lanier (#63) and Rick Barry (#170). Alcindor’s card has a PSA Population Report of 860 with just seven examples earning PSA Gem Mint 10 status and another 95 being deemed PSA Mint 9. It’s not the easiest card to find with perfect (50/50) centering and because of its white borders is highly susceptible to marks.
PSA Very Good 3: $27.00
PSA Excellent-Mint 6: $48.20
PSA Mint 9: $819.00
The 1972 Topps set consists of 264 cards, each 2-1/2” wide by 3-1/2” tall. The card fronts bear a posed color image of the featured player set against another colorful backdrop outlined in black. The otherwise white-bordered card identifies the team name below the player image in incrementally larger letters, just above the player’s name and position across the bottom. Centering issues and occasional black print marks on its white borders provide grading obstacles.
This is also the first Topps card ever to use his Islamic Arabic name: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. His card (#100) has a PSA Population Report of 860, of which just seven have been labeled as PSA Gem Mint 10. Another 95 examples have been graded PSA Mint 9, while 328 more have been graded Near Mint-Mint 8. This card is tied as the fourth most heavily weighted (5.00) one within his Basic Set checklist. Using three different PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Excellent-Mint 6: $29.00
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8:$88.10
PSA Gem Mint 10:$1,953.60
(with PSA Weights)
- 1969 Topps Lew Alcindor #25 (10.00)
- 1970 Topps Lew Alcindor #75 (7.00)
- 1971 Topps Lew Alcindor #100 (5.00)
- 1972 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #100 (5.00)
- 1973 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #50 (4.00)
- 1974 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #1 (6.00)
- 1975 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #90 (2.00)
- 1976 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #100 (4.00)
- 1977 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #1 (3.00)
- 1978 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #110 (1.00)
- 1979 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #10 (1.00)
- 1980 Topps Jabbar/Thompson/Taylor (1.00)
- 1981 Topps Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #20 (1.00)
- 1986 Fleer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #1 (4.00)
- 1987 Fleer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #1 (2.00)
- 1988 Fleer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar #64 (2.00)
Browse through images of the entire set within the image gallery section of the Set Registry.
When Abdul-Jabbar finally hung up his sneakers following the 1988-89 campaign, he had accumulated more accolades than anyone in his sport. In 20 NBA seasons, he was named league MVP six different times, an All-Star 19 times, a 15-time All-NBA selection, and an 11-time NBA All-Defensive Team member. In 1996, he was named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history.
He averaged 24.6 points and 11.2 rebounds per game during his professional career. His famous skyhook shot was indefensible and his mark on the game is indelible. Incredibly, many of the 16 cards found in his basic set remain surprisingly affordable, depending on condition, of course. For someone looking to conquer a basic set of one of the league’s all-time giants, the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar collection is a great place to start. Go ahead and give it a try on the PSA Set Registry.
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