Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tried one last time to come back home.
He acknowledged Friday that early in the last decade, he applied to be the basketball coach at Columbia University, not far from where he grew up in Manhattan.
"Instead of The Wizard of Westwood," he said, referring to UCLA coach John Wooden, "I could have been The Wizard of the West Side."
Alas, he didn't get the Ivy League job, and life has gone on for the man who was arguably the greatest college basketball player ever. The Hall of Famer was honored Friday at Madison Square Garden, along with David Thompson and Christian Laettner, at halftime of the NIT Season Tip-Off as part of the NCAA's 75th anniversary of March Madness.
Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, was such a force at UCLA that the NCAA changed the rules to prohibit dunking (the rule was changed back in 1976, long after he had gone on to NBA superstardom).
"I think it was unfortunate that people tried to limit my effectiveness by changing the rules like that, but sometimes stuff like that happens," he said. "Everybody wants to win and sometimes people go out of their way in using the wrong methods. I'm glad they restored the dunk to the game."
"Me, too. [The rule] ruined my career," said Thompson, who was known as Skywalker at North Carolina State in the early 1970s.
College coaching probably is out of the question now for Abdul-Jabbar, 65, who said, "I think I'm a little long in the tooth."