FILE – In this Jan. 20, 1968 file photo, UCLA’s Lew Alcindor, right, grabs a rebound as University of Houston’s Elvin Hayes (44) makes a leaping attempt to snag the ball while UCLA’s Edgar Lacey looks on during an NCAA college basketball game at the Astrodome in Houston. Hayes led the second-ranked Cougars to a 71-69 upset over Alcindor and top-ranked UCLA in what was billed as the “Game of the Century.” (AP Photo/File)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn’t realize what impact that game 50 years ago was going to have on college basketball. All he wanted to do was play in it.
Then a junior known as Lew Alcindor, UCLA’s All-American center spent a week nursing a scratched cornea before his team’s marquee matchup against Houston in the Astrodome. It turned out to be one of his worst performances of his UCLA career in one of the most important games in college basketball history.
“When you’re like 19, 20 years old, you’re just thrilled to be involved in such an important game,” Abdul-Jabbar said this week. “You don’t really have an understanding the implications in terms of the impact of the entertainment industry, but that’s what it was.”
Saturday is the 50th anniversary of the “Game of the Century,” UCLA’s game against Houston in the Astrodome on Jan. 20, 1968. It was the first nationally televised college basketball game in prime time and 50 years later, the impact of the game still resonates.
At this time, Abdul-Jabbar would like to thank his surgical team and the medical staff at UCLA, his alma mater, for the excellent care he has received. He is looking forward to getting back to his normal activities soon.
He asks that you keep him in your thoughts and, most importantly, cherish and live each day to its fullest.
For those wanting to send well wishes, he thanks you in advance and asks that you support those in your own community who may be suffering from various health issues.
Sports Illustrated tried to name the best college athletes of all time, ranging from names like Bennie Oosterbaan and Red Grange to Brittney Griner and Tim Tebow. No surprise that the school with the most NCAA championships made a strong appearance. UCLA led with six selections on the 50-person listing.
Lew Alcindor — Plenty of stats to back him up, but forcing the NCAA to outlaw dunking is still the best evidence of his dominance. Lisa Fernandez — Four-time All-American, three-time national player of the year, two titles. Career 0.22 ERA, .382 batting average. Currently a UCLA assistant coach. Jackie Joyner-Kersee — Two-time champion in heptathlon, and Olympic silver medalist while still a student. Four-year basketball starter. Jackie Robinson — First UCLA athlete since Cap Haralson to letter in four sports: baseball, basketball, football, track. More importantly, broke baseball’s color barrier. Bill Walton — Three-time Naismith Player of the Year. Puts the color in commentary. Natalie Williams — Four-time All-American in volleyball. Two-time All-American in basketball. First woman to earn both honors in the same year.
An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the athletes were ranked, rather than listed alphabetically.
Last night, Jimmy Kimmel asked former UCLA great and Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was asked about the job opening at his alma mater. Skip to around 1:50 in the above clip to watch.
“I certainly would be interested in coaching the team,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It would be great to have an opportunity to restore the program to what it was. Not in terms necessarily of winning, but having the guys learn, get their degrees, and learn about how to play the game of basketball. I think that’s really important. UCLA is still putting out fine scholars, but the basketball program has suffered a little bit.”
Recently fired head coach Ben Howland said in his final press conference that every player who stayed with him for four years graduated with a degree. Abdul-Jabbar’s chances at the job are also close to zero.