Over a year ago, seemingly in response to the statues given to former Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan, Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell and Los Angeles Lakers Magic Johnson and Jerry West, former Milwaukee Bucks and Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar moaned a bit about not getting his own tribute from the team he played for between 1975 and 1989. As you'll recall, Kareem was very much put off by the terrible ordeal his former team was putting him through:
"I don't understand (it). It's either an oversight or they're taking me for granted. I'm not going to try to read people's minds, but it doesn't make me happy. It's definitely a slight. I feel slighted."
Slighted. Because they didn't build you a statue. Possibly slighted in the same way Tommy Chong felt slighted (as revealed 65 minutes into this wonderfully NSFW podcast of the brilliant Todd Glass Show) by Kareem after failing to connect on a delivery of sorts 35 years ago. Allegedly.
Kareem can moan no more, probably, because the Lakers very definitely have decided to give the man a statue. Even though Laker spokesman John Black rightfully pointed out that the team wasn't in the business of tossing up a statue "every year," the team has announced that Abdul-Jabbar will get his very own massive stone ideal. It will be unveiled during the 2012-13 season, though no date has been set in stone. Perhaps now the Kareem and the Lakers' relationship will be off the rocks.
But Abdul-Jabbar publicly criticized the Lakers last year, believing the failure to erect a statue of him sooner was a show of disrespect. Similarly, he lamented the Lakers not awarding him playoff shares, and pointed to his reduced role and pay as a special assistant coach for Andrew Bynum from 2005 to 2011. Abdul-Jabbar also mentioned how he often had to sit on the back of the plane on team trips.
The Lakers have maintained there's no set criteria on determining the order of statue inductions, and the other statues associated with the team also have extensive resumes behind them.
He's a prickly one, that Kareem. There are reasons for him to be upset at Bynum's seeming indifference to his tutelage, especially after Michael Olowokandi basically dismissed the legend when Kareem was an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers, but there are also reasons to dismiss Abdul-Jabbar in this instance.
For one, Bynum listens to absolutely nobody. Not the police (he's been cited numerous times for terrible driving and parking habits), not his coaches, not even future statue-model Kobe Bryant. And the two previous recipient players, Magic and Jerry West, worked in executive capacities for years with the Lakers. Kareem was more of a special consultant than a full on assistant coach under Phil Jackson, who apparently didn't feel Abdul-Jabbar's counsel was crucial while he discussed strategy with his longtime handpicked assistants at the front of the plane. That's a problem with Bynum and Jackson, not the Lakers.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar fully deserves this honor. He remains the NBA's all-time leading scorer and a five-time champion with the Lakers. He's a Basketball Hall of Famer that chose to make his home in the Los Angeles area before and after his time with the team. Although often wrongly dismissed as a finesse player due to his frame and gorgeous sky hook, "Jabbar" (as fellow statue recipient Chick Hearn often referred to him) put up with endless amounts of banging for his team in the low post; in an NBA that wasn't as closely whistled, mostly in an era where packed-in "spacing" was the norm. Really, the man deserves two statues.
Just don't complain about it before your time hits, if at all possible. Even by 2012-13, Kareem's 2011 "slight" will likely dominate the narrative as the unveiling approaches. Which is a shame, even if Abdul-Jabbar got what he wanted.