This coming month, a number of fine astronomical events are in store–a lunar eclipse on the 15th, an annular solar eclipse on the 29th, and a meteor shower in between–but earlier in April, the moon will seem to hover above the constellation Orion in a sort of skyhook that might even suggest an unlikely anniversary commemoration.
Orion is an easy constellation to pick out, the three stars making up his belt being so distinctive. In addition, the star at his left foot, Rigel, and the other at his right shoulder, Betelgeuse, are among the brightest in the night-time sky. Myths the world over attach to this constellation. To the ancient Greeks, it represented a hunter. In the Arabic world, this set of stars was called al-Jabbar, “the Giant.”
Now, I cannot hear that word without instantly thinking of Lakers
great star, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. If you know anything about basketball, you will know Kareem was born Lew Alcindor, but took the name “Kareem Abdul-Jabbar” when he converted to Islam. The name, roughly translates–I’ve read–to “Noble (kareem) servant (abdul) of the Powerful One (Jabbar),” although Jabbar also means “giant” (appropriate enough for a man who is 7’2″!)
As a Celtics fan in the ’80s, naturally I loathed Kareem and his deadliest weapon, “the skyhook,” seen being unleashed on the left. But there is no denying that Kareem was an amazing player, the NBA’s leading scorer of all time–and not likely to be displaced anytime soon.
Because the skyhook put Kareem’s body in the way of the defender, it was almost impossible to stop. For some reason, though, the shot is out of fashion these days. Younger players find it too traditional and “old school.” Shaquille O’Neal said of the skyhook, “My father made me shoot it all the time. Being a hip-hop kid, I didn’t want to do it.” ESPN has a wonderful history of the skyhook you can read here, with plenty of great photos. But recent reports indicate that LeBron James, the brightest star in basketball firmament these days, has been working on his skyhook.
On April 5th, 1984, Kareen powered an enormous skyhook over the head of two Utah Jazz players to score his 31,420th point, thus passing the record held by Wilt Chamberlain. If you look up to the sky this week, thirty years later, you can see Al-Jabbar with the half-moon in his left hand, and looking for all the world like he will hurl it over Taurus’ horns to swish through the net of the Pleiades.