The Tipoff to a Meaningful Relationship

In the 1967 men’s basketball title game, Dan Obrovac of Dayton won the opening tip from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of U.C.L.A. Cancer brought the men together again decades later.

Comments: 38

  1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of the finest people this country has ever produced and one of the most significant Americans of the last 50 years. And he would be even if he'd never picked up a basketball. He is one of my heroes. Great man, great story and there are literally hundreds of them like when he came to the Navajo Nation and coached kids here for an entire season. But you'll never hear about that because that's not why he does anything. He does them because they're the right thing to do and he can do it. A great man.

  2. @Lou Good I recently read some of Abdul-Jabbar's writing about television and was blown away by how thoughtful and feminist it was. It's not just that he's multi-talented; there's also a level of insight, balance, and humanity to his criticism that's very hard to come by.

  3. Jabbar is indeed one of the greatest Americans of all time. His basketball prowess, bold acts in support of racial equality, every day actions such as those described in the article, Coupled with literary works spanning the lives of the buffalo soldiers to Sherlock Holmes’ older brother— his affection for jazz and art — there has been no other like him in my lifetime and perhaps the nation’s.

  4. @Lou Good Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,a brilliant basket ball player,scholar,of impeccable character,has never gotten a job as an NBA coach. This is because he is not a warm & friendly guy who provides quotes to writers & does not answer dumb questions. We have seen many people hired as coach with far less credentials.

  5. That stained glass mural from the university library may be the coolest thing I have ever seen.

  6. I thought it would be bigger!

  7. Dan was funny and kind, a hail fellow well met. He was a very good player for the Flyers, and in his later years, was at all the games having fun with the fans.

  8. ‘... a hail fellow well met.’ I haven’t heard that phrase in years. Well done,kind Sir. Well done.

  9. When I was 13 years old, my father took me to see that game at Freedom Hall in Louisville. I remember seeing Kareem (Then Lew Alcindor) towering over the other players. It was an amazing sight.... And I can remember being amazed when he didn't control the tipoff. This brings back a lot of memories for me, and makes me very sad for Mr. Obrovac's illness and also for the thousands of college players, who worked so hard to earn a place in this year's NCAA tournament, only have their hopes and dreams dashed on the rocks by the current virus outbreak. And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout, But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.

  10. This story reminds me of why I love the sport of college basketball. Always loved it and always will. That UCLA program put the NCAA tournament on the map of American culture. Not taking anything from the Dayton Flyers, but that UCLA-Houston Cougar match-up on January 20, 1968 a year later left an indelible mark on the public's consciousness. Kareem Abdul Jabar, then Lew Alcindor, and the Bruins lost to the Houston Cougars and Elvin Hays. Great game and a great sport. Thanks for telling the story of Jabar and Dayton's Dan Obrovac is a classic. New York Times. Loved it.

  11. @Jean W. Griffith Great memory. Of course, Alcindor/Jabbar was playing with a scratched cornea ... but the Big E took full advantage, blocking three of Alcindor's shots. I was 15 that year, living in upstate NY--the game meant everything to me: a measure of your point. Still, stories like the one Mr. Longeman gracefully provides here are at the deeper core of one's love of this sport--indeed, of all good competitive sports.

  12. @refudiate I grew up in Houston and turned 15 later that year. UH had a great team and that game meant a lot to people in Houston, but UCLA clearly had an even greater team and it’s doubtful the Coogs would have won but for Kareem’s injury. (They clobbered us in the Final Four later that season.) In the years since I’ve noted how unfailingly gracious the UCLA players have been whenever they’ve been asked to talk about that game, and even today that means something to me. I’ve been interested in what Bill Russell has to say about basketball, effort, teamwork, and life since about 1965. Kareem is next on the list of sports legends whose opinions I value.

  13. @Jack I'll never forget that game. Of course Houston beat UCLA in that game 69-71. The the Bruins came back and won the national championship. Thank you for your commentary.

  14. If a list were commissioned of the greatest athletes of the 20th century, Kareem would certainly be on it. However, it's not just his athletic prowess that makes him notable. Michael Jordan may be considered one of the very best of all time at the game of basketball, but it's Kareem's grace, intelligence and empathy that mark him as great. Jordan sold a lot of sneakers, but on and off the court, Kareem has demonstrated an exceptionalism that makes him hard to top.

  15. @SNA I agree with your point. Some people get painted with a "bad brush"- Kareem, Wilt, Joe Frazier to name a few. Kareem is a giant of humanity. Aloof, shy? It doesn't matter. Kind, generous for certain. But athletes are entertainers so let's not make them devil or saint. Bill Gates or Jean Venier they are not. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/07/obituaries/jean-vanier-dead.html

  16. Three cheers for Mr Jabar, not only a great basketball player, but a fine gentleman.

  17. thanks for this fine story on this awful day. RIP Dan and Kareem has shined beyond basketball and is a great men. That was the first college final I ever saw and never missed one since

  18. Kareem is a brilliant man who could probably step in and run the country right now. And isn't the Dayton player wearing 21 Don May, the former Knick?

  19. @Tony Cooper No. 21 is indeed Don May.

  20. It's quite telling that Abdul-Jabbar did a nice thing for a nervous cheerleader, and it was so natural for him to do it that he doesn't even remember it. But she does.

  21. I was a TREMENDOUS NBA fan growing up in 1970s Seattle. But our sense of sportsmanship was marred by the "sportswriters" of the day who encouraged local fans to actually hate Abdul-Jabbar and boo him mercilessly whenever he came to town to play the SuperSonics. I grew to respect him deeply when as a 14-year old I read that in the off-season he took history and philosophy classes at some of the finest universities in the U.S. He's been misjudged and mistreated by the public and peers at times. He deserves to be revered for his athletic accomplishments, his intellect and courteous ways.

  22. Nice piece, very touching. And believe me, if I'd won a point of any kind against the greatest ballplayer in history, I'd never stop talking about it!

  23. Jeré Longman - a good story very well told. Kudos!

  24. I have read several of Mr. Abdul-Jabbar's books, including the outstanding "Brothers in Arms" the never-previously-told history of an African-American tank corps in World War II. He is a gentleman and a scholar, not to mention a mensch.

  25. Kareem Abdul Jabbar is a Man in Full. Ask him about history, ask him about Jazz, ask him about the struggle of African American to achieve full equality, ask him about politics and you will get a informed, nuanced answer. Basketball is just a small portion of the man. He had some times stormy relationship with the press during his playing days because they could not handle a man who would not just restrict himself to sports. And he did not suffer fools. And he had the most unstoppable shot in the history of basketball, the Abdul-Jabbar skyhook.

  26. A class act. In basketball and in life.

  27. Dan Obravac won the opening tipoff against Lew Alcindor of UCLA in the championship game of 1967. He did not adopt the name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar until 1971.

  28. @njheathen Didn’t read the article, did you?

  29. I really needed to read this story of good will between good men. The world is a depressing place right now but stories like this lift your hopes.

  30. My first memories of the wonderful Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are from his CHSAA-championship battles, as Power Memorial's star, with St. Francis Prep and its star, Lloyd ("Sonny") Dove. The 1967 NCAA title game presented a dilemma for me ... I still root today for the Catholic Schools as a vestige of the long-abandoned 'religiosity' of my youth ... but in 1967, I was still 'all in.' So ... do I root for my fellow NYC guy, still Lew Alcindor from a Catholic H.S. in NYC (and ... I think ... an actual Catholic then) -- but playing for a religiously unaffiliated U.C.L.A. when he shoulda been 'at' St. John's (and playing WITH Sonny Dove) -- or for the Catholic College kids of The U. of Dayton? I rooted for Donnie May and Dayton ... but not for long, as my rooting proved useless right quick.

  31. God bless Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

  32. big man. small gesture. lots to see here.

  33. Great story. Top notch stuff....thx NYT

  34. Not to take anything away from Dan. But it looks like Dan jumped earlier than Kareem -- look at where their waistbands are. And I wonder if the ball had reached its highest point. If the ball is still on its way up, it's a violation. But that's a tough call for a ref to make -- who knows if the ball has reached its highest point? ---- Moral of the story? God bless them both, and Ms. Miller, and thank you for the good reporting.

  35. Has Kareem ever received the Presidential Medal of Freedom? If not, President Biden should do so during his first 100 days of his first term!

  36. Kareem is a great man. GOAT

  37. Kareem had fine parents, a good formation at (Catholic) Power Memorial HS and John Wooden as his college coach. 'Nuff said.

  38. Compare the gentleman Kareem Abdul Jabber with the malcontent Spike Lee. Jabbar has been steadfast in his stance on race relations and the phony concern of many politicians, yet manages to be respected and appreciated.