Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s nicknames included Lew, Cap, Tower from Power and Murdock. Various other names have also been used to refer to Kareem including Big Fella and the Big A. While Lew was the most used nickname before his name change, Cap has stuck with him the longest.
Why was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar called Lew?
As a sports fan of a certain age, I know exactly why Kareem was called Lew. But for a young fan without a lot of knowledge about his life, it probably needs some explaining.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. on April 16th, 1947 in New York City. He grew up in the city with his Mom Cora Lillian who worked for a department store and his father Ferdinand Sr. who was both a transit police officer and a musician.
Much like my real name is James but everyone calls me Jim, Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. was called Lew from a young age.
Why did Lew Alcindor change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?
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Kareem’s parents were catholics. While they were not strict, they had raised him to believe in christianity.
The day after winning the 1971 NBA title with the Milwaukee Bucks, Alcindor announced he had converted to Islam and was changing his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In an article published on Al Jazeera America many years later, Kareem discussed his decision and expressed no regrets. He explained the conversion as part of an awakening of “heart, mind and soul”.
Abdul-Jabbar explains it as part of a rejection of western history and those who had enslaved his ancestors. He viewed the church as complicit in the institution of slavery because they had failed to act forcefully enough to stop it.
With his religious conversion came a new name. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar means the noble one, servant of the almighty.
“I wish I could have done it in a more private way…at the time I was adding my voice to the civil rights movement by denouncing the legacy of slavery and the religious institutions that had supported it.”Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
While Kareem has no regrets nor lack of dedication to his chosen faith, he does say “I wish I could have done it in a more private way” but “at the time I was adding my voice to the civil rights movement by denouncing the legacy of slavery and the religious institutions that had supported it.”
Why was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar nicknamed the Tower from Power?Embed from Getty Images
The Tower from Power nickname dates back to Kareem’s days in New York City. By 8th grade Kareem was 6’8” and could dunk a basketball. He says he was often depressed about his height in those days.
He went to Power Memorial Academy in New York for high school. The school, long-closed at this point, was a basketball powerhouse graduating NBA players Mario Elie, Len Elmore and Chris Mullin in addition to Kareem.
While setting the scoring record for New York City, Kareem, then Lew, led the team on a 71 game winning streak and to a 79-2 overall record. He was the two-time national Mr. Basketball USA and a three time Parade All-American.
Standing 7’1” by the end of his time at Power, and dominating in the way he did, the name the Tower from Power is easily understood.
Why is Kareem Abdul Jabbar called Cap?
Kareem sometimes refers to himself as Cap on twitter. He got the nickname in his playing days for the obvious reason: he was the long-time Lakers captain. It has stuck more than most other nicknames because of his history.
Without the name change, it is likely that Lew would have stuck as Kareem’s most common nickname. And the Tower from Power is a fun name, but long nicknames specific to a high school don’t usually last.
Some of his other nicknames are fairly obscure as well. But everyone knew Kareem was the Cap. This name appears most often when people are referring to Kareem during his Laker years.
While Kareem won a title with the Bucks, he played 14 seasons, won 5 NBA titles and 3 MVPs with the Lakers. That is where the larger part of his professional legacy was created.
And the Laker years are where he was Cap. You can even get a throwback Lakers jersey with his number 33 on it but with the name Cap on the back.
Why was Kareem Abdul Jabbar called Murdock?
Kareem’s most fun nickname comes from one of his most fun jobs. He hilariously played pilot Roger Murdock in the movie Airplane! If you have not seen the movie, it is very much worth a watch when you want a laugh. Watch Kareem’s best moments below.
Kareem got the part when the producers could not get Pete Rose.
Kareem’s role is amazing. A boy visits the cockpit (the world was different then…) and picks out Kareem as who he is: an extremely famous 7-foot Laker. Murdock denies it.
They go back and forth before the kid says his dad says Kareem doesn’t really try anyway. Then Murdock breaks character and says “The hell I don’t! Listen Kid,… I am out there busting my buns every night! Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and own the court for 48 minutes!”
The scene is great.
And Kareem is great in the movie as airline pilot Roger Murdock. And that’s why he is sometimes called Murdock.
What other nicknames did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have?
Possibly because he did not have a singular nickname like Earvin “Magic” Johnson or Julius “Dr J” Irving, Kareem Abdul Jabbar seems to have racked up the nicknames.
Two other names he has been called are Big Fella and the Big A.
Big Fella seems like an obvious choice. It is the kind of nickname writers will use in stories about the team’s center. It was used enough that some people associated it with him.
Big A seems to have come from Kareem’s days in Milwaukee. There he was paired with the famous Oscar Robertson: the Big O.
Since the Big O was one of those defining nicknames, some people began calling his partner with the bucks the Big A.
Neither the Big A nor Big Fella seemed to stick too much to Kareem.
Summary: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Nicknames
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had many nicknames. Lew was the obvious nickname for him when he was named Lew Alcindor, which he was through college and his first NBA title. His name change to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar killed the Lew nickname. His high school nickname the Tower from Power was gone by that point and, while it comes from a cool story, Murdock never really stuck. Thus Cap, his name from his Lakers days, is the nickname most closely associated with Kareem in retirement.
I have been a Boston sports fan for more than forty years. I write about games, players and seasons from the past.