Wilt was more athletic than Kareem, stronger than Kareem, just as tall as Kareem, as good or better than Kareem offensively, straight up better than Kareem defensively – so why does Kareem have the better career? If I had to guess it would be a few factors:
- Wilt didn’t get to play with an all time top 15 player until late in his career. When Kareem was in his prime on the Bucks he had an older but still effective Oscar Robertson. When Kareem was sliding out of his prime but still effective, he had nearly the entire career and prime of Magic Johnson. Wilt only had Jerry West as his sole top 15 player – often ranked below Oscar and Magic – and it was later in his career. And I should note that after Wilt got West, he made 4 Finals in just 5 years.
- Wilt decided to call it quits after 13 seasons. Kareem had a 20 season long career and so has 7 seasons advantage on Wilt. Why Wilt quit is interesting but it involves the ABA – the ABA San Diego Conquistadors wanted Wilt to be a player-coach for them, but the Lakers sued and Wilt ended up being a coach only. Wilt was dismayed by the meager crowd attendance for the games and quit basketball after that – also probably because at the time he was quite into volleyball too.
- Wilt wasn’t very good at free throws compared to Kareem. Kareem has a good 20% higher chance of making a FT compared to Wilt.
- Wilt also was known as not having enough killer instinct or clutch ability to close out games. He had a strange obsession with not fouling out so he would stop playing aggressively when he was about to foul out. It is worth noting that Wilt was involved in two memorable chokes – in 1968 playoffs he was up 3–1 vs the Celtics and despite having on paper the more talented teammates (Hal Greer, Billy Cunningham, Chet Walker for Wilt vs Havlicek, Sam Jones, Bailey Howell for Russell) and being the defending champ he blew that series. And in addition the 1969 Finals is remembered for being a massive choke as well, his coach benching him for the last minutes against the Celtics in the Game 7 to spite Wilt. Kareem on the other hand – is noted for being clutch in a few cases – 1974 Finals Game 6 he sinks a clutch skyhook with 2 seconds left to force a Game 7. And in the 1988 Finals Game 6, Kareem was fouled (a ‘phantom foul’) and sinks both clutch free throws to force a Game 7.