The Meaning Behind Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s Jersey – Number 33

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, also known as Lew Alcindor, is a retired professional basketball player who is widely considered one of the greatest of all time.

During his career, Abdul-Jabbar wore the jersey number 33, which became synonymous with his name and legacy.

Jersey numbers have long been a hallmark in the NBA.

In the league, a few numbers are extremely valuable. Michael Jordan’s 23 is an example of such a number.

He created such a lasting impression that his number was retired by two separate teams.

But what was the significance of this particular number for the basketball legend Kareem?

Let’s find out with a quick answer summary…

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s decision to wear the jersey number 33 was motivated by his admiration for his mentor, John Wooden, and the personal significance of the number in his own life.

Reasons why Kareem chose the number 33

You’ll want to read the rest of this article for the longer version…

1. A tribute to his mentor

One reason for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s choice of the number 33 jersey was to pay tribute to one of his mentors.

This was UCLA coach John Wooden, who went by the nickname “Wizard of Westwood“.

Here is one of his most famous quotes:

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

Source – The Wooden Effect

Wooden had a profound impact on Abdul-Jabbar’s life and career, and the number 33 held special significance for both men.

According to Abdul-Jabbar, Wooden always emphasized the importance of the number 3 in basketball.

The number represented the triangle, a fundamental principle of the game that Wooden believed was crucial for team success.

Wooden also famously said, “Be quick, but don’t hurry,” which Abdul-Jabbar took to heart and incorporated into his own playing style.

In honor of Wooden and his teachings, Abdul-Jabbar chose to wear the number 33 jersey, which is three times the number 3.

This decision not only paid tribute to his mentor but also served as a reminder for Abdul-Jabbar to always strive for excellence and embody the values that Wooden had instilled in him.

2. Personal significance

In addition to honoring his mentor, the number 33 also had personal significance for Abdul-Jabbar.

Abdul-Jabbar has said that the number 33 represents his belief in the power of mind over matter.

why kareem abdul jabbar wore jersey number 33 - power of mind over matter

He felt that if he focused on his goals and worked hard, he could overcome any obstacle and achieve success.

The number 33 became a symbol of his determination and drive to be the best.

3. Leaving a lasting legacy in the sport

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s jersey number 33 has become synonymous with his incredible career and lasting legacy.

He won a record six NBA championships, was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player a record six times, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s impact on the game of basketball and his commitment to using his platform for social justice have made him a beloved and respected figure in the sports world.

His choice of the jersey number 33 serves as a reminder of the values and beliefs that guided his career and continue to inspire others.

why kareem abdul jabbar wore jersey number 33 - leaving a lasting legacy on the sport

Unlike the players who dominated the game after his prime, Abdul-Jabbar’s dominance was not universally acknowledged until the very end of his career.

His interaction with the press during the 1970s aided this.

He kept his personal life private and avoided interviews whenever possible.

The popularity of the “Showtime” Lakers and their five titles in the 1980s caused perceptions to shift.

Late in his career, Abdul-Jabbar began to open up, and as his career came to an end, fans, players, and coaches praised his achievements.

When the Lakers came to town during his final season, he was honored by every club in the league.

Whether during his NBA career or his college days at UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar was an unstoppable force both on and off the court.

His platform as a legendary basketball player also allowed him to shine a light on many controversial topics, cementing his status as one of the more politically active professional athletes.

Pat Riley, Abdul-Jabbar’s Angeles coach for eight seasons, famously said in a toast recounted in Sports Illustrated:

“Why judge any longer?” Why judge a man who has set records, won championships, and faced enormous criticism and responsibility? “Let us raise a glass to him as the greatest player of all time.”

Source – Sky Sports

Which other NBA players wore the number 33 jersey?

Kareem isn’t alone in wearing this particular number, as there are quite a few notable NBA athletes who’ve opted to have this number on the back of their playing shirts as well.

Here are the most famous examples.

Larry Bird

Larry Bird was another athlete who wore the famed number.

The Boston Celtics star wore No. 33 during his 13-year NBA career, which ended in 1992.

Larry Bird won three NBA championships and two Finals MVP awards during his career.

Not only that, but he became a legend due to the way he played.

He was the team’s scorer, defender, playmaker—you name it.

Larry Bird was the last player in recent history to win the NBA MVP award three times in a row.

Since then, no one has accomplished the feat.

A year after he decided to end his playing career, the Celtics retired his number.

Scottie Pippen

Scottie Pippen was one of the players who wore the number 33 during his career.

He played for the Portland Trail Blazers and the Chicago Bulls, where he made an impression.

Many referred to him as Michael Jordan’s sidekick on the road to glory with the formidable Bulls squad at the time.

Scottie also has six NBA championship rings to his name, all of which he played a critical role in.

Final thoughts

The number 33 has become a symbol of greatness and has been made iconic through Abdul-Jabbar’s excellence and determination on the court.

He has certainly cemented his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

What’s more is that, in spite of LeBron James finally beating his scoring record, Kareem will always be remembered for the goggles he wore during games, not to mention his decision to convert from Christianity to Islam and change his name.

Little did anyone know or predict that such a piece of eyewear would grow to be associated with a supremely talented basketball player.

About Samuel Waihenya

Samuel is an avid fan of basketball and has been following the sport for over 10 years. He now intends to dedicate his time to produce great content for his own little basketball blog that aims to help its readership with whatever basketball-related topic they can think of. Have a read through Samuel Waihenya's author bio page here.