Legends are made in New York. Many basketball greats started to build their legacy in high school gyms across the Empire State. From Kareem to Dr. J, the list is vast and the talent is incredible. Let us take a look at five of the greatest to ever play the game from their high school days to their Hall of Fame careers.
“I try to do the right thing at the right time. They may just be little things, but usually they make the difference between winning and losing.” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Kareem, who attended Power Memorial High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Manhattan, was dominant throughout his scholastic career. He led his team to an overall record of 79-2 and a streak of 71 straight victories. He also won three straight championships and finished with over 2,000 points. As impressive as those numbers are, they pale in comparison to his success in the NBA.
Kareem is unquestionably one of the top five players in NBA history. Throughout his 20 year NBA career he accrued 38,387 points, the most ever, with his trademark skyhook guiding his potent offensive repertoire. He also won six NBA titles, six MVP awards, made a record 19 All-star appearances, and made a record 15 All NBA selections. Simply put, Kareem is the best center in NBA history, and a legend of the game.
“If you fail the first time that’s just a chance to start over again.”—Lenny Wilkens
Wilkens high school career was an interesting one to say the least. He was the 12th man during his freshman year at Boys High School in Brooklyn and actually didn’t play his sophomore and junior season because he didn’t believe he was good enough. He developed his skills playing in CYO leagues, and in his senior year he played with his high school squad. However, he graduated halfway through his senior season and would eventually become a great player and an outstanding coach.
Lenny was an outstanding point guard for 15 NBA seasons. He scored over 17,000 points, recorded over 7,000 assists, and was a nine time All-star. He was also a player-coach from 1969-1972 and during the 1974-1975 season, something that seems incomprehensible in the modern era of NBA basketball. Once his playing career ended in 1975, he continued on as a full time head coach and compiled 1332 victories—the second most in NBA history. Lenny’s legendary career as a player and a coach earned him the ultimate respect. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989 as a player and in 1998 as a coach.
“Do your best when no one is looking. If you can do that, then you can be successful in anything that you put your mind to.” – Bob Cousy
Bob Cousy attended Andrew Jackson High School in Queens, and was amazingly cut from the JV team twice. In an unfortunate accident later that year, he broke his right hand falling out of a tree, but the injury forced him to play basketball with his left hand, and his ambidextrous skillset allowed him to flourish on the court. He only played a year and a half on the varsity team, but in his senior year he led his school to the divisional championship and led all NYC basketball players in scoring. He was the most talked about player in the city—a sign of things to come in the future.
Bob Cousy was the first great point guard in NBA history, as referenced by his nickname “The Houdini of the Hardwood.” In his fourteen NBA seasons, he won six NBA championships, was a thirteen time All-star, led the league in assists eight times, and was named to twelve All-NBA teams. His legendary legacy includes a 1971 Hall of Fame induction, but more importantly he raised the status of the league with his flashy passing and versatile dribbling. Bob Cousy will forever be a legend of the game.
“When you lose…you don’t feel good. But you still have to get up, address things, change them. And when you win, it feels a little better.” —Chris Mullin
Chris Mullin actually played for two high schools during his scholastic playing days. He began at Power Memorial Academy in Manhattan and then transferred to Xaverian High School in Brooklyn for his junior and senior season. Although he played for two schools, Chris’s incredible talent was clear during his tenor at each. He ended up staying in New York and further developing his legacy at St. John’s University when his high school playing days concluded.
Chris Mullin was a dominant shooting guard during his sixteen year NBA playing career. He was extremely difficult to guard because of his prodigious ambidextrous shooting and dribbling ability. He averaged over 18 ppg for his career, he was a five time All-star, and a two time Olympic gold medalist. His legacy was cemented with a 2011 induction into the Hall of Fame—an honor well deserved.
"Julius Erving did more to popularize basketball than anybody else who's ever played the game. I remember going to the schoolyard as a kid the day after one of his games would be on TV. Everybody there would be saying, 'Did you see The Doctor?' And we'd all start trying to do those moves." —Magic Johnson
Julius Erving was a solid player for Roosevelt High School in Long Island. More importantly however, a defining piece of his legacy was created during his high school playing days—his nickname. His nickname, Dr. J, stuck with him throughout his playing career, and along with his afro, was a defining part of his persona—a player with spectacular individual talent and incredible aerial displays with the basketball.
Julius “Dr. J” Erving is one of the most influential players to ever play the game. His above the rim playing style revolutionized the sport and set the footprint for modern day NBA basketball. Julius was the first player to ever dunk from the free throw line and had countless legendary aerial moments. Dr. J actually began his career in the ABA, winning two titles, and then became a huge NBA star when the leagues merged in 1976. He was an 11 time NBA All-star, scored over 30,000 points for his career (ABA & NBA combined), and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993. Simply put, Dr. J was the Michael Jordan of his era and a player who helped bring basketball into the mainstream.