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October 19, 2019

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Thomas & Mack Turns 25:

No. 1: A sky hook for the history books

Abdul-Jabbar sets NBA career scoring record in Mack’s first year

Sky Hook

Justin M. Bowen

A photo depicts Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s sky hook that set the NBA all-time scoring record in a game between the Lakers and the Utah Jazz played at the Thomas & Mack Center on April 5, 1984.

Abdul-Jabbar sets NBA scoring record

Beyond the Sun

The pressure of trying to catch Wilt Chamberlain atop the NBA career scoring chart turned into a race for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

A race with a finish line inside the Thomas & Mack Center.

The drama of the eventual moment so weighed on Abdul-Jabbar that the gangly, goggle-wearing, sky-hooking 7-foot-2 center saw Chamberlain in his sleep.

“I dreamt about it; just competing with Wilt,” Abdul-Jabbar told “It was weird. The way I saw it in my dream, it was like a foot race. In my dream it was like he kept getting closer as I pulled up behind him.

“I remember dreaming that one night. I was running behind him and catching up to him.”

Abdul-Jabbar caught Chamberlain on April 5, 1984, barely six months after the Thomas & Mack Center had opened.

Improbably, the Los Angeles Lakers and Abdul-Jabbar were playing against Utah in a Las Vegas “home” game for the Jazz.

The Jazz weren’t faring so well in Salt Lake City, so its brass decided to play 11 games in Las Vegas during the 1983-84 season. A crowd of 18,389 – mostly Lakers fans – gathered to witness history.

Chamberlain had tallied 31,419 points in his incredible career. Abdul-Jabbar entered that game 23 points shy of “The Big Dipper.”

Abdul-Jabbar, 37, was greeted with a 45-second standing ovation. He gave the crowd twin thumbs-up and a smile. His first four shots were three dunks and a 14-foot fade-away jumper.

Entering the fourth quarter, he had 19 points. Whenever he touches the ball, there is a buzz of anticipation. He often passes out of double-teams.

Lakers coach Pat Riley wants to bench him in the final quarter, so he could break the record at home in Los Angeles at the Forum. “No,” Kareem says, “let’s get it over with.”

With 8 minutes, 53 seconds remaining, Earvin “Magic” Johnson feeds Abdul-Jabbar the ball on the right side. He turns right, faking a pass. Then he spins left, sinking his indefensible sky-high hook from 12 feet.

“There it is!” yells legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn. Celebrations explode. NBA commissioner David Stern praises Abdul-Jabbar in a half-court ceremony.

Abdul-Jabbar thanks the crowd, all of his fans, his family and Allah.

When the game finally resumes, the Lakers win, 129-115.

Abdul-Jabbar had played 45,625 minutes when he launched that unforgettable shot, which will forever highlight the building in which the milestone basket was scored.

Chamberlain had established his scoring standard in 47,859 minutes.

“To me it was kind of amazing because I never thought that I would get close to breaking Wilt’s record,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I had seen Wilt play when I was in grade school and high school.

“I saw him play a lot during the times that he was averaging 50 points per game. I never thought I would approach his record.”

Abdul-Jabbar, who retired in 1989 at the age of 42, finished his 20-year career with 38,387 points.

“It can be broken,” he said. “If I can do it, someone else can do it. (But) I don’t think there are a whole lot of people left that are going to be playing long enough to break it because of the incredible wealth that they make.”

Karl Malone is second in career points with 36,928.

Michael Jordan, who took a year off to play baseball and retired for three years before coming back to play two seasons for Washington, retired at 40 with 32,292.

Chamberlain is fourth.

Kobe Bryant, the latest Lakers star, is most mentioned as a candidate to catch Abdul-Jabbar.

Bryant, 30, has scored 21,838 points in 13 seasons. He has averaged about 2,500 in each of the past three seasons.

(Jordan, by the way, had six seasons of at least 2,500 points; Bryant has had one.)

At that rate, Bryant, at 37, will catch Kareem in the second half of the 2015-16 season. Maybe, courtesy of some scheduling quirk, that particular game will be played in the Mack.

And Bryant will have dreams about catching Abdul-Jabbar in a foot race.

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