Born: August 29, 1946 (Kansas City, KS)
Graduated: Kansas City (MO) Central H.S., 1964 / Wichita State University, 1968
Deceased: July 13, 2012 (Miami, FL)
If you want to know anything about Warren Edward Armstrong Jabali, just ask those who knew him. Go ahead. They likely won’t be shy telling you about his greatness, not only on the court, but off it as well.
“He was certainly athletically ahead of his time,” a former Wichita State teammate Ron Mendell told the Wichita Eagle in 2016. “I think of Warren in the ’60s and he was playing above the rim long before others were.”
Jabali, who stood 6-foot-2 and weighed about 200 pounds, was a legend in the Kansas City high school basketball community before even arriving in Wichita. Born Warren Armstrong as on the Kansas side of the state line, he played his high school years on the other side for Kansas City (MO) Central. Blair Kerkhoff from the Kansas City Star referred to him as the best high school basketball player in Kansas City history. Kerkhoff chose Jabali over former NBA star and fellow KSHOF inductee Lucius Allen, a high school contemporary of Jabali’s. Of course, Allen and Jabali became friends later in life.
Allen, who played at Wyandotte High School, told Kerkhoff that he had never seen “anyone that good,” when they met in high school. Again, even fellow hall of famers won’t be shy telling you about Jabali’s skills.
After a stellar high school career, Jabali chose to attend Wichita State University to play for the Shockers and coach Gary Thompson. Unfortunately for Jabali, freshmen weren’t eligible to play on the varsity teams at the time but the makings of a star were visible as Jabali averaged 29.1 points on the freshman team. The Shocker varsity squad made it to the Final Four later that season and no doubt could have used Jabali’s athleticism on the floor during their tournament run.
Once Jabali was eligible for the varsity squad, the Shocker record book would never look the same. He was a three-time first-team All-Missouri Valley Conference selection. As a sophomore, he averaged nearly twelve rebounds, over four assists, and over sixteen points per game. The numbers improved over the next two seasons and by the end of his Shocker career, Jabali had set a school record for assists with 429, was second all-time in career rebounds with 839 (one more than fellow KSHOF inductee Dave Stallworth), and ranked fourth in career points with 1,301. Jabali also tied a school record for career triple-doubles with four.
It was during his time at Wichita State that Jabali got involved in the civil rights movement and also changed his last name from Armstrong to Jabali, the Swahili word for “rock.”
Jabali was drafted 44th overall by the NBA’s New York Knicks, but elected to join the American Basketball Association’s Oakland Oaks, who had drafted him in the third round instead. In his first season, Jabali helped the Oaks overcome the injury of the great Rick Barry in route to the 1969 ABA Championship. He averaged 21.5 points per game and earned Rookie of the Year honors the year. He was also named ABA Playoffs MVP. Barry also had a many great things to say about his teammate Jabali, “No doubt he’s one of the best guards I’ve ever played with--or against.”
He played seven seasons in the ABA before retiring at the age of 28. He had played in four ABA All-Star Games over his seven-year career and was the MVP of the All-Star Game in 1973. In total, Jabali averaged 17.1 points, 6.7 points, 5.3 assists, and 2.0 steals per game, during his seven-year career.
Jabali passed away in Miami in 2012 at the age of 65 but the legacy of his greatness lives on in the people who knew him and watched him play. Just ask them, they’ll tell you.
by Nathan Enserro