Lew Alcindor - best ever "almost" UMer?

Submitted by robpollard on June 18th, 2010 at 5:48 PM

Since Big 10/Big 12/Demar Dorsey/USC-probation/etc-palozza seems to have calmed down, I spent some time flipping through a 2-week old issue of SI (the one with John Wooden on the cover).  The article in there was pretty short, so I went online to look for more stuff, particularly about the Ed Martin of UCLA, Sam Gilbert, and I found this incredibly detailed article:

http://www.basketballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=1153

Definitely read that if you want to know about Gilbert, and what Wooden did or did not know, but my topic here was about one part that stopped me in my tracks.

"After the 1967 season (Lew) Alcindor was making noises about a possible transfer to Michigan, while Lucius Allen was mulling a transfer to Kansas."

UM was quite the Big 10 power in those days (Cazzie Russell, etc), winning three straight Big 10 titles from '64-'66, but still - if Lew Alcindor (as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was known in those days) had transferred to Michigan, WOW!  He was literally the best player in modern college b-ball history and he almost went to Michigan.  I had no idea we were close to getting him.

I tracked down an SI Vault story (a HUGE two parter written by Kareem; pretty interesting, it's almost like a long blog post) and in it, he expanded upon the reasons (essentially, he didn't like how blacks were treated in LA):

"Well, one night Lucius and I said the hell with it, we were through with UCLA; we were going to leave at the end of the year. I was going to go to Michigan, and Lucius was going to go to Kansas, in his home state. The governor had written Lucius a letter that led him to believe that he would live in a gilded cage on the KU campus. As for Michigan, I remembered how nice it had looked when I'd visited there in my senior year of prep school, with all those trees at Ann Arbor and a representative enrollment of black and white kids. I figured I would be able to relax and enjoy myself socially for the first time in my college career. So it was decided. Lucius and I would spend our junior years elsewhere."
(Source: http://tinyurl.com/28wyeha ;  who knews trees were such a recruiting coup?)

He obviously didn't end up coming here, as he decided to stick it out and "pretend UCLA was a job."

Maybe other folks knew this, but in my recollections and searches on this board, I don't recall it ever coming up.  I realize it was a long time ago, but his coming here for '68 and '69 would have surely shifted the direction of the program (and likely given us more than one national championship in our history, would really have built the prestige of the program).

Can anyone think of a bigger and better athlete who almost came to Michigan (in any sport)?  I can't think of anyone, but since I never knew about Kareem, I may be completely missing someone (and no Demar Dorsey doesn't count!)

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