OMAHA, Neb. -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar says the NBA should raise its minimum age for entry into the league to 21.
The NBA's career scoring leader and center on the Los Angeles Lakers' 1980s "Showtime" teams said Wednesday there's a disturbing sense of entitlement among many of today's young pros.
"They get precocious kids from high school who think they're rock stars -- 'Where's my $30 million?' " said Abdul-Jabbar, who was in Omaha to speak at the B'nai B'rith sports banquet. "The attitudes have changed, and the game has suffered because of that, and it has certainly hurt the college game."
The 63-year-old Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson led the Lakers to five NBA titles in the 1980s. Before Abdul-Jabbar retired in 1989, he set the NBA record for career points (38,387), MVP selections (six) and All-Star selections (19).
He now is a special assistant to the Lakers and a best-selling author.
Abdul-Jabbar met students Wednesday at Boys Town, the nationally acclaimed home for troubled youth. He told them about his time at UCLA, where he played on three national championship teams for John Wooden and graduated in four years with degrees in English and history.
"Coach John Wooden encouraged me to be more than just a jock," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He said if I let my intellectual life suffer because I was so into being an athlete that I would be less than I could be. I would tell all students to pursue your dreams but don't let your education suffer."
The NBA in 2005 changed its entry age to 19. Players who previously might have jumped from high school to the NBA now end up playing one year of college ball before declaring for the draft.
Those players are still too young, Abdul-Jabbar said, and many deprive themselves of the emotional and physical maturity necessary to meet on- and off-the-court challenges.
"When I played, the players had to go to college and earn their way onto the court, meaning that there were upperclassmen ahead of them," he said. "Players who had to go through that and had to go to class, when they got to be professional athletes, they were a lot better qualified."
Abdul-Jabbar said if college weren't the right place for a player, the player should, as an alternative, be required to play in a minor league or developmental league.
Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James became stars right out of high school. The day after James all but disappeared in Cleveland's playoff loss to Boston, Abdul-Jabbar said even "King James" would have benefited from college.
"He would have come into the professional ranks very polished, given his innate gifts," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Having to go through a college system would have made him a total gem as soon as he stepped out of the college ranks."
Abdul-Jabbar commented on other topics:
• He said his role as co-pilot "Roger Murdock" in the 1980 comedy movie "Airplane" changed his life.
"I think everybody in the airline industry is required to watch it," he said. "When I get on planes, every so often the stewardess or the pilot will come out and ask me, 'Do you want to fly the plane?'"
During a flight in Europe, a pilot escorted him from his seat to the cockpit for takeoff.
"I get a good laugh from it," he said. "It's been over 25 years since I made that movie and people still watch it all the time. I guess it's a classic."
• He said he has known about Boys Town and its founder, the Rev. Edward Flanagan, since he attended Catholic school in an Irish neighborhood in New York City. "The Irish were very proud of him and what he had achieved. It's really neat for me to come out here and see it in reality and seeing they're doing such fine work. That is so necessary. People have to care about our youth. They are our most precious resources. If we don't care, what's going to happen."
• He said his greatest athletic achievement was playing on the Lakers team that beat Boston for the NBA title in 1985.
"But seeing my kids graduate from college and knowing they have a firm basis in life, that is a lot more important to me, personally," he said.
• He said 6-11 center Nate Thurmond, who played for Golden State, Chicago and Cleveland, was his toughest matchup.
"A lot of guys beat on me and said they played good defense. Nate actually used skill and knowledge of the game to play against me and make my evenings more difficult when I had to play him," Abdul-Jabbar said. "He was everything a professional center should be."
• He said the "Showtime" Lakers would fare well in the current NBA.
"We had guys on the bench who were Hall of Famers," he said. "That doesn't happen now because there is such a dispersal of talent. We would do very well in this present climate."