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Did Michael Jordan Play Against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?

Comparing two stars that excelled in different times has proven to be unbelievably difficult. That comparison gets a little less confusing when it comes to players who played against one another at least once, then we have something to base it off of. This is an interesting question when it comes to Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, undoubtedly two of the best to ever play the game of basketball.

Did Michael Jordan Play Against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar? Yes, Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did play against one another throughout their overlapping time in the NBA. In total, they wound up going against one another eight times, all of them being games in the regular season. They were always in different conferences, so playoff matchups weren’t a possibility unless it came in the NBA Finals. Jordan entered the league in 1984 and Kareem retired in 1989, before Jordan would make the NBA Finals for the first time.

That doesn’t mean that these games aren’t worth diving into. In fact, each put up some strong numbers in the eight matchups they played against one another.

Eight Matchups – between Jordan and Kareem

All of the Jordan vs Kareem matchups came between the years 1984 and 1989. The two players never gained an edge on the other, as they split the games up evenly. With Jordan winning four of them with the Chicago Bulls and Kareem winning four of his own with the Los Angeles Lakers.

During those matchups, Jordan was able to average 31 points, 6 rebounds and 7 assists to couple with 46 percent shooting from the floor.

Kareem on the other hand posted 16 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists during those matchups with 58 percent shooting from the floor.

Kareem vs Jordan Head to Head – Totals
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar844828.56.4110.583.54.30.8245.52.40.621.92.816.3
Michael Jordan844840.111.524.90.46289.30.8655.

Unfortunately, there weren’t many close scores in these eight matchups, outside of a couple games. The Bulls were able to win two games by one point, but the other six weren’t close. The other two Chicago wins wound up being complete blowouts and the four Los Angeles Lakers wins were all decided by at least seven points.

Jordan wasn’t really lined up against Kareem all too much during these contests. At the time, Magic Johnson was still running the show for Los Angeles, and served as the primary opponent for Jordan to go up against on court. Jordan was just starting out on his Mount Rushmore career, whereas Kareem was “winding” down (he’d still make 4 Finals, winning 3 in this time). So, in the end, the Lakers dominated four games and kept it close in two others while Jordan carried Chicago to four wins of his own.

It should be said that the Lakers were the far superior team between 1984 and 1989. During the 80s they made the Finals 8 out of 10 times, winning 5 times. The Bulls were yet to assemble the squad and team  mentality that drove them to 6 Finals and 6 Titles in the 1990s.

Kareem Vs Jordan – by the numbers

Below we have a box score breakdown of each match that Jordan and Kareem played head to head (stats courtesy of StatHead Basketball)

As you’ll see Jordan grabbed the first one, probably wanting to prove himself in his rookie season vs the dominant franchise of the time. Then Kareem went on a tear, the Lakers taking the undermanned and under-gunned Bulls apart in 4 straight games. Before Jordan teamed up with Pippen and the Bulls started their rise to dominance, winning the next 3 head to head vs Kareem and tying them up at 4-4 all time.

Kareem vs Jordan Head to Head – Game by Game
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar02/12/198437-23037:00:0012190.632890.88946083232
Michael Jordan02/12/198421-289Jordan 0-142:00:007130.538680.7523114320
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar19/02/198537-309Kareem 1-140:00:0011170.647590.55696132427
Michael Jordan19/02/198522-00230:00:006130.462450.868003516
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar28/11/198639-226Kareem 2-134:00:005110.45522182013412
Michael Jordan28/11/198623-28445:00:0019430.442340.75103113441
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar20/02/198739-310Kareem 3-131:00:007120.583340.7571013417
Michael Jordan20/02/198724-00340:00:0011270.40711120.91725522433
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar02/02/198840-292Kareem 4-130:00:00470.57155182222213
Michael Jordan02/02/198824-35040:00:0014260.5381111124313339
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar03/10/198840-32925:00:006120.511112101213
Michael Jordan03/10/198825-022Jordan 4-242:00:0017340.544197312238
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar20/12/198841-24810:00230.667001010014
Michael Jordan20/12/198825-307Jordan 4-339:00:0011230.47818220.81878401042
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar21/03/198941-33921:00:00470.57144160011312
Michael Jordan21/03/198926-032Jordan 4-443:00:007200.35780.875816105321

Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player to ever suit up. Jordan played in 15 NBA seasons after being selected with the number three overall draft pick back in 1984 to the Chicago Bulls. He went on to completely dominate the league from that point forward and was really one of the most well-known faces that the league has ever seen. Jordan averaged 30.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game in his career and was able to win six championships over that time. He also had a brief moment where he retired after his father passed away and spent some time playing baseball. He never made it past the minor league but he didn’t back down from the insane amount of criticism that he received for the switch. Eventually, Michael returned to the court and dominated once more for the Bulls. Jordan was always putting up insane numbers on the floor and trash talking his teammates and opponents to keep the game as competitive as possible. The shooting guard was certainly not the same type of player that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was. This is why a comparison between the two is difficult, though the matchups they played against one another showed how special Jordan really was at this stage in his career while Abdul-Jabbar might have been winding down.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Kareem was really nearing the back end of his career at this point with the Lakers when he started to go head-to-head with Michael. He played 20 years in the league after being drafted with the number one overall pick in the 1969 NBA Draft. As you could tell, there was a large 15-year difference between him being drafted and Jordan being selected in 1984. Kareem averaged 24.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists over the course of his career but all of those numbers dipped against Jordan due to him being in a significantly reduced role and being in the final five or six years of his playing days. Abdul-Jabbar was able to tie Jordan’s total of winning six championships as well, coming with multiple teams. The first one came with the Milwaukee Bucks in 1971 and the other five followed when he switched over to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, where Magic Johnson accompanied him for some years. He wasn’t as vocal of a player as Jordan was, but he was a dominant post player who couldn’t be stopped on the inside.

Putting Them Against One Another

While we didn’t get to see them often line up to defend one another, we could imagine what could have happened. These guys excelled in their own play styles, and dragging them away from it might not end well. For example, Jordan would likely roll past Kareem on the perimeter with his explosiveness and speed outside. He would be able to consistently create offense outside as Kareem tries to retain the same speed as him. However, if you put Jordan on the inside against Abdul-Jabbar, then he would likely get pushed back underneath the rim and get punished in the paint. It’s exciting that we were able to get eight games with these two legendary players in NBA history, though it would have been even better if we got some more action between them as time progressed.