In Week 8 of TSL, Steven mashes two of the biggest names ever – matched by their humble, hard-working commitments to their respective crafts.
Led Zeppelin is largely considered the greatest rock band of all-time. Constructed of four of the greatest musicians to ever play— the late drummer John Bonham, bassist John Paul Jones, guitarist Jimmy Page, and singer Robert Plant—the band formed in London in 1968.
Page originally wanted to put together a “supergroup” featuring himself and Jeff Beck on lead guitars, The Who’s Keith Moon and John Entwistle covering drums and bass, with vocalists Steve Winwood and Steve Marriott being in early consideration for the project. Eventually, Page reached out to his first choice for lead singer, Terry Reid, but Reid declined, instead suggesting Band of Joy singer Robert Plant—who eventually agreed and subsequently brought his former drummer, John Bonham, with him to the new group.
John Paul Jones then inquired about the bass vacancy at the suggestion from his wife, and Page agreed having had recording experience together with Jones as session musicians.
An earlier quip from Moon and Entwistle suggesting that a Beck/Page led band would go over “like a lead balloon” is said to have inspired Page to rework the phrase as the current group’s name. Switching “lead” to the easier to read “led” at the suggestion of their manager, Peter Grant—and changing “balloon” to the heavier, broader “zeppelin”—this officialized the start of the high-powered quartet. The band went on to earn record sales of 200 to 300 million units worldwide and cement themselves as one of the top-5 best-selling acts in US history.
With deep blues entrenched in their sound and the expansion and growth of their talents through world instruments, intricate compositions, Page’s virtuosic journeys on guitar, and the gravelly, soulful wailing of Plant’s vocals, the band was able to create the heavy, heartfelt, delicate yet huge sound that was impossible to miss. Absolute icons of the 70s, they are thought to have a comparable impact over that decade as The Beatles’ did in the ‘60s. The defensive mindset of their own craft is what I, personally, find especially inspiring.
In November 1968, Grant locked in a $143,000 advance contract from Atlantic Records, the biggest deal of its kind for a new band at that time, worth about $1.05 million today. The record executives signed without ever seeing the band live—a deal that gave the group full autonomy over when they would record, release and tour off of new albums as well as full creative control over the artwork and album design. They also maintained full power over what songs would be used as singles and how to go about their promotion. They even formed Superhype, their own company that handled publishing rights.
Led Zeppelin had all of the talent and creativity to become bonafide stars in any era, but their meticulousness, dedication, rigid ideas, and drive to become the most rounded version of themselves is what truly defined their path to legendary heights and worldwide stardom. Massive hits “Whole Lotta Love,” “Houses of the Holy,” “Kashmir,” “Black Dog,” “When the Levee Breaks,” “Immigrant Song,” “Stairway to Heaven” and so many more, their refusal to play on TV broadcasts, and their dedication to the immersive, full-body experience that is their live show, only makes their status that much more captivating and intriguing.
Though the group disbanded in 1980 after the death of drummer John Bonham, the jams, passion, soul, and energy these four blasted into and throughout the world continue to be felt and reverberated in and all around us to this day.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was born Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. on April 16th, 1947 in New York City. By age 9 he was 5’8” and by eighth grade, he had grown to 6’8” and was already dunking a basketball. He led his high school to a 79-2 overall record during his time there, including a 71-game winning streak.
After sitting his freshman year at UCLA due to first-year athletes not being eligible (until the rule change in 1972), Alcindor had reached 7’1” when he debuted for the Bruins in his sophomore season. In his first game, he set a UCLA single-game record with 56 points, and in his three seasons with the team, they had an overall 88-2 record.
The only two losses came against Houston, where Alcindor had an eye injury, and USC, who took advantage of there being no shot-clock and executed a “stall game” victory. Alcindor won three national championships, two Player of the Year awards, three Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament awards, and became the first-ever Naismith College Player of the Year recipient in 1969.
At the time, players were not eligible to leave school early to declare for the draft so instead, Alcindor finished with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in history and practicing martial arts in his free time, learning Jeet Kune Do under Bruce Lee.
In 1967, the dunk was banned from college basketball, largely due to Alcindor’s frequent use of the dominating shot. The rule was not rescinded until the 1976-77 season, shortly after Alcindor’s college coach, John Wooden, retired from the game.
In the summer of 1968, Alcindor took the shahada twice and officially converted from Catholicism to Sunni Islam, adopting the Arabic name Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the process. He didn’t begin using the name publicly until 1971. He also decided to boycott the 1968 Summer Olympic Games held in Mexico City in protest of the unequal treatment of African Americans in the United States.
After declining a $1 million offer from the Harlem Globetrotters, Abdul-Jabbar was selected as the first pick in both the NBA and ABA drafts. The Milwaukee Bucks won a coin-toss against the Phoenix Suns to secure the top pick in the 1969 NBA Draft, meanwhile, the New York Nets of the ABA felt they had the upper hand in securing Abdul-Jabbar’s play since he grew up in the city.
Instead, Kareem stated he would only accept one contract and ended up going with the $1.4 million dollar offer to join the Bucks. After one last attempt by the Nets, putting forth a guaranteed $3.25 million dollar contract, Kareem declined, saying, “A bidding war degrades the people involved. It would make me feel like a flesh peddler, and I don’t want to think like that.”
Kareem went on to play six seasons with the Bucks, winning a ring and a Finals MVP in 1971, before initiating a trade to the Lakers in 1975. He went on to be a key member of the Lakers dynasty of the ‘80s, partnered with the younger Magic Johnson. Known for his even-keel attitude and unstoppable skyhook, Kareem ended his 20-year NBA career a 6x NBA Champion, 2x Finals MVP, 6x league MVP, 2x scoring champion, 19x All-Star, and remains the all-time points scored leader in NBA history with 38,387.
Abdul-Jabbar had expressed interest in coaching after his playing days but found offers were non-existent when the time came, admitting he had earned a reputation of being introverted and sullen throughout his playing days. He did not speak to the press often which led to the narrative that he didn’t like journalists.
He refused to stop reading the newspaper during interviews and even Magic Johnson received the cold shoulder when asking for an autograph as a Lakers ball boy early on in Kareem’s career. Abdul-Jabbar reflected on how his attitude came across, saying, “I didn’t understand that I also had affected people that way and that’s what it was all about. I always saw it like they were trying to pry. I was way too suspicious and I paid a price for it.”
Aside from cornea damage from under-the-basket physicality that resulted in Adbul-Jabbar’s signature goggles becoming a personal staple, the 7’2’“ center remained relatively healthy in a career highlighted by unstoppable scoring but extended by rigorous physical training. Kareem values practicing yoga, as well as his study under Bruce Lee, as vital aspects of the playing career that he endured into his 40s, citing “the discipline and spirituality of martial arts, which was greatly responsible for me being able to play competitively in the NBA for 20 years with very few injuries.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is, without debate, one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Yet, his attention to detail, willingness to expand, grow and adapt—combined with a never-ending fight for justice, peace, and acceptance for all—is what remains most prominent within his accomplishments, lifestyle, and awe-inspiring legacy.
Combining Kareem’s dominating highlight tape with the soul, power, weight, and beauty of rock’s greatest act ever is too fitting to pass up and I hope you’re left as motivated, excited, and inspired as I am!
These two great examples of recognizing your own talent and humbly, yet confidently, navigating what life can throw at you amidst the whirlwind of worldwide fame—all while continuing to enhance the mind, body, and soul in the process—serve as terrific guidance and direction in today’s age of widespread self-absorption and in-your-face arrogance.
Have a wonderful week and, as always, stay Strong!