In 2018, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar penned an open letter to that year’s NBA Draft class in which he welcomed them to the “rollercoaster ride that is your rookie year.” Abdul-Jabbar, as accomplished a writer today as he was a scorer during his basketball career, warned the newbies about the “rush of confusing paradoxes, conflicting emotions, competing options, and dubious advice from crusty been-there old-timers. Like me.” At which point, Abdul-Jabbar turned his attention toward his rookie season in 1969, when the 22-year-old still known as Lew Alcindor out of UCLA was drafted first overall by the last-place Milwaukee Bucks thanks to the flip of a coin.
“I found that the best way to deal with the jitters was for me to focus on setting personal goals rather than think about the expectations others put on me,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “And, man, were there a lot of expectations: I’d been the first person drafted and the media directed intense attention at me about what I was going to do and how I was going to do it. All the hype left me thinking that this was mine to screw up.”
Of course, Abdul-Jabbar did anything but screw it up: During the 1969-70 season, he led the Bucks to second place in the Eastern Division and was named Rookie of the Year. One season later, he was the league’s scoring leader; the Bucks swept the Baltimore Bullets in the NBA Finals; and Abdul-Jabbar was named the Most Valuable Player for the regular season and in the Finals — of which served as prelude to a legend, as both a Buck and a Los Angeles Laker.
For the first time, Heritage offers in the Nov. 16-18 Fall Sports Catalog Auction a road Milwaukee Bucks jersey worn by Abdul-Jabbar during those historic seasons when the center snagged a league championship and a scoring title — each, the first of many to follow. Photo-matched by multiple third-party experts to crucial moments throughout Abdul-Jabbar’s days as a legend-in-the-making, the jersey serves as a thrilling offering in an auction abounding with palpable reminders of historic achievements and magical memories shaped by titanic athletes.
Resolution Photomatching confirms it was at least worn during an April 1971 Western Conference Finals versus the Lakers and an April 1971 NBA Finals game against the Bullets. Sports Investors Authentication turned up likely matches to several regular season and post-season games, dating from March 18, 1970, to the Game Four title-clinching contest against the Bullets on April 30, 1971. It is graded a MEARS A10 and also comes with a letter of provenance from Patrick McBride, a former Bucks equipment manager.
The jersey is joined in this auction by the 1969 Look Magazine College All-America Basketball Team ring presented to Alcindor in 1969. It hails from The Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Collection.