Kareem Abdul Jabbar in 1977-78:
This was a case of being careless, and it cost the Lakers a good start and any continuity. A year after exhibiting the calm killer attitude that exemplified his game, Jabbar lost it — and any chance at an MVP.
In the season’s opening game Jabbar punched rookie Kent Benson of Milwaukee, Jabbar’s former team. It cost him 20 games with a broken hand (the second of his career) and a $5,000 fine. His stats were basically the same: 26.2 points, 13.3 boards and 57 percent from the field as an MVP vs. 25.8, 12.9 and 55 percent shooting.
What changed was the perception you could rattle the big man, whose other gifts (sky-hook included) seemed near-impossible to stop. Can you imagine LeBron or Rose or Tim Duncan going after a player in the first game after an NBA season? Even from a pure basketball standpoint, ignoring a player’s marketing awareness, the act is bizarre but the timing made it even moreso.